China Coast's 'Taiwan Experience'
The growth in investment from Taiwan to the mainland's vibrant 'special economic zones' is likely to promote reunification - but on Taiwan's terms
XIAMEN, CHINA — WHEN Taiwanese investors leased land in 1989 for Xiamen's first golf course, they may have thought the only possible harm from the project would be divots and wayward drives.
But orthodox Marxist officials see a subversive message of "bourgeois liberalism" writ large from tee to putting green.
Officials have held up the project by the Kaikou (Xiamen) Golf Club Company because they believe the sport of silver clubs and pastel slacks signifies "capitalist exploitation," says a Kaikou executive who asked for anonymity.
The delay of the golf course highlights the ideological gulf still dividing entrepreneurs in vibrant Taiwan from hidebound Communist autocrats on the mainland.
The recent cultural twist in Xiamen illustrates that as some officials cling to Marxism in the lofty realm of ideas, coastal Chinese are embracing Taiwanese capitalism on the prosaic ground of day-to-day living.
Taiwan executives share the culture and dialect of Xiamen citizens and have helped encourage the renewal of traditional values on the mainland side of the Taiwan Strait. The flow of cash and values is likely to promote the reunification sought by both Taiwan and the mainland - but on Taiwan's terms, some contend. Reunification pressures
"Nobody, not even the Communists and Nationalists, can stop reunification," says Sze Cheung-pang, a Hong Kong entrepreneur and chairman of Geyung International Trading Co., Ltd. His company shunts money from Taiwan into Xiamen and other mainland points
"Taiwan businessmen," he says, "will pressure Beijing to push ahead with more market reform and will encourage Taipei to reunify with the mainland."
Xiamen is one of five coastal "special economic zones" set up by Beijing to somehow muddy the flinty line between capitalism and communism. Like other such zones, Xiamen must wangle money from foreign investors. It offers tax breaks and welcomes discos, health clubs, flashy auto showrooms, and company logos on gaudy neon signs.
Taiwan investors have rushed to the call, negotiating projects totaling $1 billion in investment by the end of 1990, according to the New China News Agency. The total is $250 million more than the total invested by Taiwan businesses in all of the mainland, Taipei estimates. So far, much investment appears to have sprung from nationalism and other sentiments rather than a hard-headed calculation of profit.
About 40 percent of the businesses have lost money, a Taiwan executive, who is an engineer says privately. Several Taiwanese businessmen based in Xiamen echo the frustrated comments of a business executive, who, for weeks investigated the feasibility of investing in Xiamen.
Taipei is worried Chinese communists will slowly beguile its executives into betraying free market ideals as they did with Shanghai businessmen in the 1940s and 1950s. Taiwanese businessmen hope to ride the tiger of mainland contacts long enough to help tame the hostility of Beijing's aging leadership.
Conversations with several residents reveal that the Taiwan lifestyle is the model for the dreams of many in Xiamen. The face of Xiamen is testimony to both the vigor of a free market and the stagnation of socialism.
On the south side of the city is a waterfront of narrow, winding streets lined by dilapidated and crowded stucco buildings with narrow shutters dating from times of colonial commerce. To the north are new white town houses for foreign executives and clean, broad boulevards flanked on either side by factory workshops built by companies from Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan. In both areas there are few buildings of distinction dating from the communist era.
Xiamen (formerly Amoy) has enjoyed big payoffs from foreign money for most of its modern history. Like other colonial treaty ports on the coast, Xiamen was long a hothouse for investment, trade, and ideas, helping blaze the way for reform and revolution early in the century. 'Know your position'
Today, Taiwan investors are required first to take a step backward to traditional "reactionary" values before advancing to capitalist prosperity.
"Loyalty to those in high positions will make your family prosper forever!" says one of several maxims posted on the factory gate to Xiamen San Teh Xing Industry Co., Ltd., a Taiwan-owned factory. "You must know your proper position in society and in the family!" says another.
Next to the time clock, a woman bows with palms together before an altar and burns shiny, red-and-gold paper in devotion to the gods. She works full-time tending the factory's Taoist shrine, says factory manager Gao Bingtao. Such "bourgeois" ideas and rituals are far more politically sinful in China than golf links.
Mr. Gao attempts to explain why officials tolerate the comeback of such values by saying that adherence to Confucian ethics among San Teh Xing's 1,035 mainland employees is voluntary.
"Some workers think it's too strict here, but a lot of them like our values and accept them," Gao says.
Meanwhile, outside the city, hundreds of worshippers at the village of Zengcuoan crowd together burning reams of red-and-gold paper offerings. They lay before a shrine heaps of shrimp, chicken, apples, lytchi, and roast pig to the goddess Mazu.
Along much of China's southern coast and on Taiwan, Chinese express their devotion to Mazu on the first three days of the eighth month in the lunar calendar. Rituals as cultural bond
Official notices plastered throughout Xiamen denounce such gatherings as "superstitious" and attempt to dissuade citizens from taking part. But the rituals continue as some of the most vivid signs of the cultural bond between Taiwan and the mainland. "Everyone feels close to the people on Taiwan and our separation is unnatural," a Xiamen University student says.
A common tradition and dialect, as well as family ties between millions of mainlanders and people on Taiwan, gives Taipei a leg up in its push to bring capitalism and democracy to the mainland. Mainland officials, however, say they will hold back the tide of freedom and entrepreneurial gumption from Taiwan.
"We will not allow Taiwan to promote its system on the mainland," says You Dexin, vice governor of Fujian Province across from Taiwan.
But judging from conversations with Xiamen residents, Taiwan apparently does not need to actively stump for democracy and free-market economics. Its pop music, radio, television, and jobs are enough.
"Students look very favorably on the Taiwan experience," says a Xiamen University student. A taxi driver is more blunt: "Most people here would want to put China under the control of the Nationalist government" on Taiwan.