Learn Chinese in Taiwan
By Joshua K. Hartshone
To learn Russian, I studied in Russia. To practice Japanese, I went to Japan. To learn Chinese, I went to Taiwan. That is not the most obvious choice. When I graduated from Oberlin College in 2002, three of my friends moved to China to continue their studies. As far as I know, none even considered Taiwan. As China opened up in the ‘80s and ‘90s and China fever caught hold, the flow of students to Taiwan was diverted to China, and Americans increasingly forgot about “free” China. There are good reasons why you should (re)consider studying in Taiwan.
First, strange though it may seem, authentic Chinese culture is better preserved on the island than on the Chinese mainland. In the 1960s, Chairman Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution and traditional culture was brutally attacked and ruthlessly destroyed. Books were burned, temples were closed, and many of the cultural elite were sent to re-education camps or brutally killed. Taiwan, which was not controlled by Mao, was spared.
Second, Taiwan still uses the traditional writing system, which Communist China has replaced with Simplified Characters. Knowing only Simplified cuts the student off from thousands of years of Chinese literature and history.
There is a third reason to bypass the Mainland for your studies, which, depending on your temperament, may or may not be important; Taiwan is not a developing country. Taipei, especially, is a modern city with all the conveniences of its Western counterparts—and more. Taiwan allows you to experience the culture and learn the language in relative comfort. Unlike Beijing, highways are never closed because of smog.
A final reason to study in Taiwan as opposed to China is that Taiwan has a vibrant and strong multi-party democracy. China obviously does not. In Taiwan you do not have to worry about upsetting the government.
The programs offered by National Taiwan Univ. and especially by the venerable Taiwan Normal Univ. (38,000 alumni of its Mandarin Training Program) are the most prestigious. The latter, where I study, runs classes in 3-month quarters with a 1-week break between each term. A normal load is two hours, five days a week, though additional “culture” courses can also be taken, as well as an extra 3-hour-per-day intensive course. Three months at the normal load runs around $700. National Taiwan Univ.'s program, in contrast, has a heavier basic load. There is of course a trade-off. More hours may mean more training but also less opportunity to practice on the street.
There are, of course, programs run by major study-abroad organizations. However, you can enroll directly in most of Taiwan’s programs. The primary advantage is that your classmates will be from all over the globe. Furthermore, programs like the one offered by National Taiwan Normal University offer classes in a wide range of subjects.