I had a busy weekend. I will write about it tomorrow, though, because I'm pretty wiped out from 5-hour bus rides, a conference, and a 3 hour Japanese test. For now, I thought I'd try something different and ATTEMPT to answer some questions...
First of all, Ichigo - read my older posts. I'm not posting about Italy until I get back to the U.S. Don't worry, all the details are coming, just not right now!
Now for Ross' series of questions:
"I've always meant to ask but kept forgetting. What dialect of Chinese is spoken in Taiwan? Also, what do they think of America and Japan? How is Chaing Kai Sek viewed in Taiwan? Hero Worship or is he ignored by the populace? Is it taboo to criticize him?"
Forunately you started off with an easy question. The others are much more difficult, but I can say with certainty that I know the answer to the first one.
The dialect of Chinese spoken in Taiwan is... (cue the drum roll):
Yes, Taiwanese is the name of the dialect spoken here. It is related to the dialect spoken in the nearby Chinese province of Fujian (which is called, strangely enough, Fujianese). It's not Mandarin and it's not Cantonese, but if you are looking for a better definition of what it is, then you should ask someone who knows more about Chinese than me.
Taiwanese is spoken by those descended from immigrants from Fujian province several centuries ago, but there are other indigenous languages here that should be mentioned. Hakka is spoken by the approximately 13% of Taiwanese who are descended from immigrants from southern Guangdong province. There are also many aboriginal languages that are still spoken in small villages along the East coast and in some of the smaller islands, but there are relatively few people still using these languages today.
Mandarin is still the language of education and most people here understand it, though older people often don't speak it. Citizens of the Republic of China (Taiwan) who came from the Chinese mainland at the end of the Chinese civil war and their descendents often speak Mandarin only.
As for Taiwanese opinions of America and Japan, overall they are very positive. The Taiwanese are unique among the East Asians in their refusal to continue to hold Japan accountable for it's wartime aggression six decades ago. The Japanese did oppress the Taiwanese during their occupation, but they also built schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure that never existed in Taiwan before they came. China, on the other hand, pretty much ignored Taiwan throughout most of history, considering it a rural backwater filled with barbarians - a fact that you are unlikely to hear coming from the mouths of contemporary Chinese historians.
Tens of thousands of Taiwanese died in the service of the Japanese Imperial Army during the war. The Japanese introduced public education and made Japanese the official language. Many older Taiwanese who were educated in this period still speak Japanese more or less fluently. Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's former president, once claimed in an interview with a Japanese reporter that he considered himself more Japanese than Chinese. (He answered all questions in this interview in eloquent Japanese.)
The brutal, disorganized, corrupt, and incompetent rule of the KMT (Kuomintang - Chiang Kai-shek's "Nationalists") that followed their evacuation to and occupation of Taiwan reinforced the positive image of the Japanese. Many Taiwanese began to look back at the Japanese occupation with nostalgia - especially after the 228 incident, in which tens of thousands of Taiwanese citizens were brutally massacred by the KMT government.
Not all residents of this island hold such positive views of the Japanese, but there is little hostility toward Japan like you will find in China or Corea. Some of the "mainlanders" (KMT members and their families who came here at the end of the civil war), however, fought against the Japanese during the war and still hold a grudge. Recent opinion polls, however, show that the younger generation of this "ethnic group" do not differ in their attitudes toward Japan from their Taiwanese counterparts. Most younger Taiwanese also have a fascination with modern Japan - they love Japanese pop culture, fashion, and food and admire Japan's economic power.
Another reason the Taiwanese like Japan is because it is allied with the U.S. Taiwan relies on the U.S. to deter the PRC from invading. Convincing Japan that Taiwan is worth defending has been a policy priority for Taiwanese leaders for decades. Should a war ever break out over the Taiwan Strait and the U.S. got involved, Japan would have to face the difficult decision of going to war with it's big, bad, scary neighbor or losing it's close and fruitful alliance with the world's only superpower. It's a tough choice and the Taiwanese are unlikely to allow much anti-Japan sentiment to fester here for long.
I think it goes without saying that MOST Taiwanese are very pro-American. Nobody else in the world sells them weapons or hints at coming to their defense if Beijing threatens to attack, so most feel that not liking the U.S. is not an option. This has probably caused some degree of underlying resentment among Taiwanese who dream of a day when they can be independent of foreign influence, but for the most part, it seems unlikely that many Taiwanese would be willing of throwing away close relations with the U.S. if it meant the chances of forced unification with the PRC would increase.
As for your question about Chiang Kai-Shek, I have talked to a few Taiwanese about this, including a fairly long conversation with my roommates just now, and they seem rather ambivalent toward him. He did some bad things and was very strict, but some of his policies helped benefit Taiwan. His insistance on keeping American support strong helped keep Taiwan from being swallowed up by the PRC. Some Taiwanese don't really think of him as being that important of an historical figure. For most of his reign, he focussed almost exclusively on planning and preparing for his ultimate objective - taking China back. He didn't really care too much about Taiwan since he didn't plan on spending too much time here. He left most administrative decisions to bureaucrats and kept a more or less hands off approach. According to my roommates, his wife, Madame Chiang, was more important - she was more personable, more intelligent, and better liked by the Taiwanese. I don't think it would be too taboo to criticize him, but I doubt anyone really cares that much to spend their breath talking bad about him now. There are plenty of corruption scandals in modern Taiwanese politics to focus on!
I hope these at least halfway answered your questions. It was certainly much more than I planned to write. Be back tomorrow!