The following is an op-ed piece from yesterday’s edition of the Taipei Times that considering I myself went to Taiwan instead of China to study Chinese makes a very good point. Time Magazine’s goddawful article on learning Mandarin can be found at their web site here.
Taiwan still a good place to learn Mandarin
By Dan Bloom
Tuesday, Jul 25, 2006,Page 8
“Time” magazine published a long feature in its June 19 edition about the benefits of studying Mandarin — in China. Not once did the magazine’s 10-page report mention that Taiwan is also a good place to study, learn and live the Chinese language. How could such a reputable, international magazine, with many readers in Taiwan miss the boat on this?
When a reporter in Taiwan queried a Time editor in Hong Kong about the cover story, which was titled “Get Ahead, Learn Mandarin,” he received the following note: “The story did not discuss Taiwan because the subject of our cover story that issue was the rising interest in studying Chinese. That phenomenon is directly related to the growth of the Chinese economy, hence the focus on China. People study Mandarin in Taiwan, of course, but that has long been the case and isn’t really news.”
Good answer, but it didn’t really answer my question. When an international news magazine devotes its cover story to “learning Mandarin” in Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea and does not once mention the country of Taiwan as a place to learn Chinese, something is very wrong in the biased way the editors perceive things. Perhaps Time’s editors in Hong Kong believe that Taiwan is a mere province of China and therefore not worth a mention in the article in question?
Mark Caltonhill, a longtime resident of Taiwan, recently wrote an online commentary in the Taiwan Journal about his own learning curve in acquiring Mandarin. He noted that Taiwan was a very good place to learn and live the Chinese language, and is not in any way inferior to China.
Caltonhill wrote: “Whatever [a] student’s interests and specialties — art or history, religion or philosophy, literature, martial arts or Chinese cuisine — Taiwan has as much or more to offer [than China].”
Taipei, of course, is a very good place to study Chinese. Time’s editors know that. Time even has reporters who work for the magazine here. And there are many schools here that offer Mandarin classes, such as National Taiwan Normal University’s Center for Chinese Language and Culture, the National Taiwan University Language Center and the Tamkang University Language Center.
The Time article stressed that “while English may be the only truly international language, millions of tongues are wagging over what is rapidly becoming the world’s other lingua franca: Mandarin.”
Quoting a statement by British linguist David Gaddol, the magazine added: “In many Asian countries, in Europe and the US, Mandarin has emerged as the new must-have language.”
Time even quoted a professor in China, who said: “Promoting the use of Chinese among overseas people has gone beyond purely cultural issues. It can help build up our national strength and should be taken as a way to develop our country’s `soft power.'” That was Hu Youqing, a Chinese-language professor at Nanjing University talking.
Time mentioned that China has sent more than 2,000 volunteers to teach Mandarin overseas, mostly in Asian nations such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea. Why didn’t it also mention that Taiwan also has sent volunteer teachers to several Asian countries? China’s goal is to have 100 million foreigners studying Mandarin by the end of the decade. Well, won’t some of them be studying Mandarin in Taipei or Kaohsiung? Time missed the boat again.
Will Mandarin ever overtake English as the world’s common language? Probably not, but as Time notes, “just as knowing English proved a key to getting ahead in the 20th century, learning Chinese will provide an edge in the 21st.” This was a good point and was an important theme of the entire cover story. But by ignoring Taiwan — not mentioning Taiwan even once in the entire feature — the magazine’s editors showed their ignorance and bias against Taiwan, even though they work and live in Asia.
Taipei is a very good place to learn and live the Chinese language, and Time magazine did a huge disservice to its readers around the world by ignoring Taiwan completely in its June 19 cover story.
Wake up, Time magazine, China does not have a monopoly on Chinese-language centers and Mandarin schools. Wake up and smell the coffee — in Taiwan, too.
Dan Bloom is a freelance writer based in Chiayi.