In the wake of the machismo display of military might on China’s national day last week, Taiwan’s national day celebrations today might feel slightly overshadowed.

While it is unlikely that Taiwan will be rolling out any intercontinental ballistic missiles for the world to gawp at, firework displays and modest wavings of the national Republic of China (ROC) flag are scheduled to take place in major cities. The celebrations will be accompanied by President Tsai Ing-wen’s morning speech, which might feature a moderate, but firm criticism of China.

For the rest of the world following the unrest in Hong Kong online, it may come as a shock that Taiwan’s president would dare to risk expressing anti-China sentiment in public, or to even acknowledge Taiwan’s National Day at all.

This highlights some of the world’s most common misconceptions about Taiwan and its people. These mistakes are not only insulting to many Taiwanese, but they can also become dangerous when consistently reiterated on the global stage.

Here are some of the most common myths about Taiwan, and why Taiwanese National Day is something to celebrate:

“In Taiwan, there’s no freedom of speech.”

For many unfamiliar with Taiwan, and especially for those who confuse Taiwan with Thailand, it is often assumed that everything associated with China can also be associated with Taiwan. This is far from the truth. As a former colony that suffered under Dutch, Spanish, and then Japanese rule, Taiwan has been left with a rich and unique cultural heritage.

The following 74 years of governmental independence, although marred by the martial law period, eventually brought about a democratic constitution, very unlike the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

As a democracy, the Taiwanese government protects its citizens’ rights to freedom of speech, leading the press organization Reporters Sans Frontiers to rank Taiwan frequently among the top Asian nations in the World Press Freedom Index.

And yes, this also means you can update your Facebook and Instagram in Taiwan.

“Taiwan’s National Day celebrates the founding of Taiwan.”

This is a frequent misconception since Taiwan’s national day commemorates a day that has nothing to do with the island of Taiwan at all. Rather it marks the date of the Wuchang uprising in China, which overthrew the Qing Dynasty emperor, eventually leading to the establishment of Taiwan’s current government, the ROC.

The symbol 十十 can often be glimpsed among the celebrations, which means “ten-ten” in Mandarin, or October 10, the day of the 1911 uprising.

“Everything in Taiwan is manufactured in sweatshops.”

Back in the 1970s, Taiwan’s greatest international presence arose from the “Made in Taiwan” label found stuck on pretty much everything you could find in 99-cents stores. It had seemed like the tiny island churned out just about every cheap t-shirt and plastic toy, inevitably on the back of cheap labor in Taiwanese sweatshops.

More observant shoppers may have realized the “Made in Taiwan” label is now almost exclusively limited to high tech goods, such as machinery, medical equipment, and specialized bicycles.

This is a result of what is known as “The Taiwan Miracle” — a period of unprecedented economic growth that catapulted the island from a poor, exploited nation, to where it now sits among the four Asian Tigers as one of the world’s leading economies.

“Taiwan is an island full of trash.”

Anyone with a memory of Taiwan 30 years ago will recollect the mountains of rubbish clogging street corners, a sight that earned Taiwan the unflattering nickname
Garbage Island.” This image of Taiwan is hard to reconcile with the Taiwan of today, where residents diligently separate their recyclables in preparation for the waste truck that appears every evening in their neighborhood.

Now, thanks to the strength of Taiwan’s environmental policies, the island is a global leader in recycling.

“Taiwanese are mostly pro-same-sex marriage.”

Taiwan is internationally recognized as a leader in LGBT rights, having made headlines in May as the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. The pride parade on October 26 is expected to be one of the biggest in Taiwan’s history, with many LGBT supporters flying in from all over the continent to join the fun.

However, many may be surprised to learn that a referendum held in November 2018, prior to the recent legislation, revealed significant homophobic sentiment among the general public — with around 70-percent voting against same-sex marital rights.

Polls show that public attitudes favoring LGBT equality in Taiwan are gradually becoming more positive, even if they are not held by the majority just yet.

Clearly Taiwan and many overseas Taiwanese have a lot to celebrate this National Day. Not everything about Taiwan is "Formosa" (beautiful) as was allegedly shouted by Portuguese sailors when they first glimpsed the isle; if such a myth is to be believed. But perhaps by getting to understand Taiwan a little more, the world can give the island the space it needs to build its beautiful paradise.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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