One incredible thing about Taipei (and many cities across Taiwan) is how short the wait is before a taxi will spot you on the sidewalk and drive you to your destination for a fraction of the price one would pay in capitals of similar size worldwide. Another fascinating aspect about the business is the dazzling number of taxi companies that vie for customers.
While one can expect a relatively uniform service regardless of the company, one cab service, the Taiwan Grand Chinese Taxi Association (台灣大中華出租車司機聯誼會, or 大中華 for short), stands out for its rather transparent political affiliations and ideology.
Launched in 2008, the Association began with approximately 300 cars. According to reports in Chinese media at the time, the association intended to expand its fleet to more than 1,000 cars under the uniform 大中華 logo. Initially focused on cities in northern parts of Taiwan, the company was to expand its operations to provide services across Taiwan.
In an interview with the Ta kung Pao at the time, Chen Guo-ching (陳國青), vice chairman of the Chuan Ming Taxi Driver Reception (台灣全民計程車司機協會), said the Grand Chinese Taxi Association aimed to recruit “very blue” drivers.
Gearing themselves for an increase in cross-strait tourism following the election of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Kuomintang (KMT) earlier that year, the association would offer comprehensive training to its drivers to ensure they offered proper service — from idioms to etiquette — for Chinese tourists.
However, 大中華 provides more than just courteous service for Chinese visitors. Among other things, it gravitates around the China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP) established by the gangster-fugitive-turned-politician Chang An-le (張安樂), who claims to have a close relationship with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office. Its drivers are regularly seen accompanying Chang and his party at protests against the green camp, and more recently against President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her Democratic Progressive Party. Many of Chang’s followers are believed to have ties to organized crime and have the physical attributes to prove it. Chang himself was a former boss of the Bamboo Union. The Chinese Communist Party has a long tradition of working with triads to further its political aims.
大中華 was also involved in the high-speed chase in 2009 when Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), a disgraced pro-unification official who was pulled back to Taipei after it was discovered he had penned anti-Taiwanese articles while posted at Taiwan’s representative office in Toronto, Canada, landed at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Chang, who goes by the nom de guerre White Wolf, told media then that he had arranged for Kuo’s transport. A CUPP official confirmed that the party had arranged for different cars to transport Kuo — among those, two taxis belonged to the Grand Chinese Taxi Association. Media reports at the time indicated that the Association was a “chapter” of the CUPP.
Indicatively, the Chuan Ming Taxi Driver Reception’s Facebook page contains a number of pictures of Chang.
I recently broke my rule against jumping onto a Taiwan Grand Chinese Taxi Association cab. It was raining and the wait for a cab had been unusually long. After ensconcing myself in the back seat, I noticed a sign on the dashboard. “Special massage,” it said. Above it, the text in Chinese offered the same “service” but specified that the massage was “for men only.” Given the taxi company’s ostensible associations with crime syndicates, there was little doubt in my mind that had I asked for the so-called “special massage,” I would have been driven to a hotel and offered a prostitute — very likely a young Chinese woman working in Taiwan illegally. I couldn’t help but wonder into whose pockets the proceeds of such activities ended up.
Next time you flag a cab, bear in mind that your next transporter could be part of a network that finances and facilitates the work of pro-unification forces in Taiwan. Choose wisely!