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Yung-mei Tsai Texas Tech University Mei-lin Lee Asia University Temu Wang National Chung Cheng University
Accelerated globalization in Taiwan has affected the work, jobs, and lives of people since the 1970s. Examples reported here are from in-depth interviews with eight principal income earners selected from a sample of 1,000 households during 2000. Among them were more losers than winners. Those hardest hit were people whose work or business was in the informal, traditional economic sectors. (Globalization, Taiwan, personal economic consequences)
This article describes how internal economic growth and external globalization forces have jointly affected the lives of ordinary people in Taiwan. Toward the end of the last millennium, Taiwan faced domestic political and economic turbulence. The major economic problems centered on the outflow of capital and industries, mostly to mainland China. The total amount of Taiwan’s FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in China in 2004 ($3.18 billion) was far less than that of South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. (US-China Business Council 2004), but a perception of a massive exodus of capital and industry to China shook consumer and investor confidence. The Taiwan Stock Market Index dropped to nearly half of its valuation in one year in 2001, from 7847 to 4907, although it has since recovered to a high of 6842 in 2006 (Taiwan Stock Exchange). Unstable political conditions involving the transfer of power from the ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT), to an opposition party added to a heightened sense of anxiety. All these conditions are part of the context of rapid globalization affecting Taiwan. As a nation with scarce natural resources, the Taiwanese economy depends a great deal on international trade. The labor-intensive textile industries that brought foreign currency into Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s was followed in the 1990s by capital-intensive electronics industries. These export industries were highly successful (Derber 2003) but also brought problems for subsequent development. Success in economic development created a rising standard of living. At the same time, labor costs concomitantly increased for four successive
000 randomly selected households from Chia-yi City and Chia-yi County in southwest Taiwan. and generated a new and intense competition (Castells 2000 .276 ETHNOLOGY decades. The increasing cost of labor put many employers at a disadvantage in the world market for their products. face additional operating costs. Last but not least. and escalating land values. lower environmental costs. Other problems are external or supranational in origin. Unfortunately. Land for development thereby becomes increasingly scarce. which made the “digitalization of economy” possible (Tapscott 1996). These technologies made the global spatial restructuring of labor and production a reality. such as Federal Express and United Parcel Service. and the demand for limited land increases the cost of building factories and office space. globalization’s rapid development increased with computer-mediated communication technology. One consequence of the political liberalization in the late 1980s was an increasing demand for a safer and cleaner environment. Mittelman 2000). In this article it refers to an accelerated process in recent years (Polanyi 1957. Sassen 1999. especially with industries that use large amounts of energy. Today. industries. raised the standard of living for many. especially those whose products involve the use of chemicals that generate toxic waste. Korea. To meet government environmental safety regulations. Workers whose factories were relocated lost their jobs. Rapid globalization has also increased with the establishment of regional and international express transports. as in Taiwan. which has resulted in vagueness and imprecision. its industries had to compete ever more intensely with those elsewhere in the world. more docile workers. This restructuring has created widespread dislocations. all of which prompted them to relocate their factories and invest capital in foreign countries for cheaper labor. increased energy needs. . workforce attitudes. globalization has become a very popular academic term in recent years. Taiwanese industrialists increasingly had to wrestle with the cost of domestic labor. These problems are primarily domestic. Mittelman 2000). During the past two decades. environmental safety and health constraints. and Japan (Liberty Times on the Net). and are best considered under the general concept of globalization. Population growth has accelerated urban and suburban development. but it also has helped open new opportunities for many previously impoverished regions of the world and. The observations reported here are part of a two-year study on income and occupational dynamics of the principal income earners of 1. and cheaper energy sources. As Taiwan’s economy became a part of the globalization process. The affluence brought about by economic development also created a generation of young people who are disinclined to work as hard as their parents. increasing demands for energy for homes and industry escalate production costs. the Taiwanese government’s standards for environmental protection are said to be higher than those of China.
They may buy directly from New Zealand companies in the future. This article presents the results of in-depth interviews with eight respondents. Tsai. either as wholesalers. in his early 50s. Restaurants in Taiwan are still buying from us because we have been doing that for many years. the self-employed. But things may change. W e imported more than half of what we sold from New Zealand. employees of private industries. Oyster fishing is the most important industry in Tung-shih village. Piles of oyster shells abound around the village. grandfather. W e are not producing enough oysters from our sea today. on the coast of Chia-yi County. TAIWANESE LIVES The Oyster Fisherman Mr. Mr. and many women work next to the oyster piles. The young. and were assumed to be concerned about their future. and greatgrandfather were all in the oyster business. elderly. currently still going on. In their 40s and 50s. and Mr. The villagers believe that chemicals discharged from this plant polluted the coastal waters and diminished marine life there. Tsai said that the government is trading the fishermen’s livelihood for chemical plants. Tsai’s wife strings oyster shells for one of them to make a little money. Tsai explained that oysters are still consumed locally but production and competition have become global in scope. They were selected after a preliminary analysis of the data determined them to be representative of the categories. will be reported elsewhere. middlemen. was a middleman in the oyster business and had been an oyster fisherman all his life. were years away from retirement. Oyster fishermen plant these on the shallow ocean bed for young oysters to occupy. and mentioned that several formerly prosperous fishing villages . Mr.GLOBALIZATION IN TAIWAN 277 Chia-yi County is one of the most heterogeneous and also one of the most impoverished counties in Taiwan. W e know each other and can trust each other. The three authors conducted interviews during the summer of 2000 with respondents chosen to cover the occupational categories of employers. Inviting the petrochemical plant to locate there was part of an effort of many county commissioners to attract businesses and capital investment to the area. Only three oyster fishing businesses remain in the village. these middle-age respondents are well suited for the research as they had much work experience. Mr. His father. or fishermen. Tsai retired recently because oyster fishing had sharply declined following the establishment of a petrochemical plant in a nearby town several years ago. and those who worked in the public sector. stringing shells on long plastic lines. The results of the survey.
Ong and the villagers who work in the textile factory is a consequence of Taiwan’s industrial dynamics during the past four decades. The problem of doing business with China. Instead. many of them in their seventeenth or eighteenth year working for the factory. Mr. but that he could be forced to close the plant. But he fears that some of his fellow workers. Their life and work in the oyster business is hard but they manage. The plight of Mr. Mr. They are his friends and neighbors. Ong did not blame his boss for considering closing the plant. China has become one of the major oyster exporters for Taiwanese customers. Ong said that the boss is a very nice person who moved to Taiwan from Shanghai in 1949. Tung-shih village oyster fishermen know no other way of making a living. Mr. Tsai wants the Taiwan government to help the villagers produce more of their own oysters and to open direct trade between Taiwan and China. Mr. They do not know the term globalization. and sometimes an entire shipment can be ruined due to transport delay. Ong had worked for this factory for the past 20 years. is that Taiwan does not have direct trade relations with China. would lose their eligibility for a pension if the factory were soon to close. The labor cost in China is about one-tenth that of Taiwan (Liberty Times on the Net). but they do know that with modern transportation technologies. they will be forced to buy oysters from other countries. They also know that the petrochemical plants employing neighboring villagers are taking away their livelihood and their future. This increases costs. so oysters from China must be imported through a third country. but they are aware of what is happening to them. oysters can be produced almost anywhere in the world. after the Communist Revolution. In a hedge against the future. Furthermore. Tsai said. He dreads the time when another petrochemical facility under construction at a nearby village is completed and starts operating. The fishermen there use artificial techniques to produce more and larger oysters. Mr. he blamed the labor laws that require workers to be employed by the same company for 25 years in order to receive pension benefits. and some are his relatives.278 ETHNOLOGY on Taiwan’s west coast are in deep trouble. He looks forward to retiring in five years. as this will cause the entire area’s marine life to vanish. He and many of his cohorts never went to school. and has fewer legal restrictions. The wages in Taiwan are getting too high for him to compete with other countries. A Textile Factory Foreman A foreman in a textile factory in Yi-tzu village. the boss recently returned to China to set up several textile plants there. Mr. . Since many of the villagers know no other trade. Taiwan cannot compete with China because China is much bigger. when he will be eligible for a pension. Ong does not know what his co-workers would do without pensions.
The owners of textile plants in Taiwan realize that to compete in the manufacturing of garments sold in Wal-Mart and K-Mart. but a few years ago they began to experience a sharp downturn. what will become of the people who do not know the term globalization but certainly know its implications? A Flower Farmer Mr. Chang regrets that his floral farm will have to end when he retires. automate their production processes. Things changed when shipping flowers around the world could be done expeditiously and inexpensively. They worked hard but earned enough for a decent living. However. Chang learned horticulture by working alongside his parents. Mr. was a major factor. improve management skills. and when the flowers are ready he must harvest them within three days. None of his children would consider a career doing physical labor. Ong works will close and more than 200 of its workers dismissed without a pension. There he built a two-story house for his parents after his father retired and took ownership of the family farm. Ong and his fellow workers? But if the changes do not occur and the factory moves to China. They must also raise the productivity of their workers. Mr. what will happen to people like Mr. It saddens him to be the last in his family’s business. he will sell his land and it will be transformed by developers into apartment complexes or small high-tech factories. as in this factory. however. growing flowers. and have government assistance with long-term low-interest loans and a change in labor policies (Liberty Times on the Net). In the last two decades. textile industries in Taiwan were producing 10 percent of the national GDP (Liberty Times on the Net). and the floral industry became global. He works long hours. all with much lower labor costs. Like his father and grandfather. The entire village will be affected. The competition from Southeast Asian nations and China. Chang takes pride in his children being well educated and having professions. Eventually. At one time. they need to bring in cheap labor from other countries. such as Indonesia. Using the . Taiwan has changed from a laborintensive to a capital-intensive and technology-intensive economy (Chang and Tsai 2002). If the Taiwan government makes these changes. Ong thinks it will. It is a small business with little capital. Mr. His business has become increasingly uncertain since the florists in Taipei began to import flowers from elsewhere around the world.GLOBALIZATION IN TAIWAN 279 Labor-intensive jobs. Chang has a small plot of land on the fringe of Chia-yi City. were the major factor from the 1960s to the early 1980s which helped Taiwan become one of the ”four little dragons” in Asia. as Mr. It is only a matter of time before the factory where Mr. Taiwanese textile industries cannot compete with countries such as Japan in producing upscale products.
Mr. He changed jobs because he did not want the stress that came with his former work. The Chens are sure the business will survive because their customers are their friends. like Mrs. years ago. family. now they order one or two. that one day he would be competing with floral farmers in the Netherlands. These shops and stalls fill the narrow streets branching away from the avenues of highrise buildings.2 . Customers still come. Chen said she had run a successful shop for many years based on a group of faithful clients. Street vendors in Taiwan began as immigrants from China over three hundred years ago. Business has dropped in the last few years. even though he had been making good money. which required traveling and being away from his wife. and condominiums in Chia-yi City. modern businesses.280 ETHNOLOGY internet. and friends. and make rational economic changes at the first sign of advantage or trouble. and Mrs. where department stores sell merchandise from all over the world and restaurants serve international cuisine. Chang. The contrast is stark. Mr. and client-oriented. Chang is more fortunate than other self-employed persons because he has some land where he can grow produce. Their business is personal. But that may not last long. Despite the pressure of such global forces. Other respondents in the survey must rely solely on their labor to make a living. The Seamstress and Her Husband Mrs. neighbors. Chang would not have believed. it appears that local traditional commerce will survive for as long as people continue their previous way of life. Yet. flexible. Chen to quit his hightech sales job and join his wife as a self-taught designer. invest their money where it will generate the highest returns. He wanted a life with a genuine sense of friendship and community. and every transaction is a renewal and a strengthening of friendship. the niches for traditional businesses will dry up. Despite its size. have been doing small-scale trade in a traditional economy that persists. Mrs. The future can be seen on the main streets. Mr. This encouraged Mr. where the children of newly affluent parents insist on being taken. Chen love their work and are much happier being able to spend more time together. Most of them. many of Mr. and while they used to order a half-dozen dresses. Chen’s small tailor shop for custom-made clothes lies hidden amid hundreds of other small shops and food stalls selling traditional dishes. The latter include a McDonald’s. Chang’s clients buy products where the prices are lowest. Traditional tailor shops are being threatened by the mega-department stores featuring international designers’ clothing. Chen and petty farmers like Mr. but a lot less frequently. But changes are on the horizon. It is clear that as the new generation grows up with exposure to the world through television with its hundreds of channels from all over the world.
or simply folded. and the masses purchase their clothing made in China from the street vendors or the discount chain-stores that have sprung up in the suburbs. development of human capital is the alternative the Taiwanese government has chosen. Mr. are aware of how globalization affects their business and consequently their lives. On an island that has relatively few natural resources. As the government envisions a future Taiwan based on high-tech industries and high finance. or those who will establish factories with expansive infrastructure. and even Thailand as transfer points for his shipments. husbandry faces a dead end.3 . who may be marginalized as irrelevant and excluded from the rewards of a high-finance economy (Beck 2000b. Tsai’s business had been dwindling because farmers requiring feed moved to China or Southeast Asian countries. Hindering this plan and making his business difficult is the problem of direct transportation between Taiwan and China. It is cheaper to import higher quality beef from Australia and pork from China or Vietnam. Tsai of Chia-yi City hopes someday to establish his business in China. This “McDonaldization of society” (Ritzer 2000) is killing traditional businesses in Taiwan. Thus the government is promoting high-tech development and high finance for Taiwan’s future. But small investors like him. and a constantly threatening China across the Formosa Strait. Mr. But status-conscious affluent clients want to wear Ann Taylor designer clothes regardless of the price. low-margin businesses. Castells 2000 . whose businesses are low-tech.GLOBALIZATION IN TAIWAN 281 The Chens’ business is hampered by the status symbols that come with renowned designer labels that have entered Taiwan. Chen tries to keep up with changing fashions by reading clothing design magazines from abroad. workers in the traditional economic sector and small-business people whose pension is their personal savings will have a hard time surviving. The Chens. This strategy raises the question of what will become of those with traditional economic pursuits. hard working and in their early 40s. Mrs. In response. which is more interested in high-tech industries and capitalintensive investments. He now uses Hong Kong. which creates additional costs and risks. Vietnam. 2000). In Taiwan. are not important to China. Ranching and animal husbandry are labor-intensive. Tsai’s only realistic option is to establish his business in China or Vietnam. Mr. They also require large parcels of land. high-risk. Burawoy et al. An Animal-Feed Wholesaler A wholesaler of animal feed. where land is scarce and expensive.
Although his business is technologically modern. as he said. An Auto-Parts Shop Owner A devoted Buddhist and family man. Mr. mostly trucks and buses. Lin has had a small auto-parts shop for 20 years. Mr Kang’s customers. the shop is small. but business is good. The shop also sells new tires from all over the world. with the owner as a father figure (Redding 1993).. Lin studies Buddhist teachings every day. e. Mr.282 ETHNOLOGY An Auto Repair Shop Owner Mr. Mr. he says. prefer his service because his shop does jobs much faster than those still using manual procedures. A lot of his trade is from car dealerships because. She cares for the home and does his books in the office. Kang’s only son. is to satisfy his customers’ needs and not to make a large . Kang went to Taipei to learn computerized wheel-balancing techniques from his father’s friend. Mr. but also autos from car dealerships. Today he owns a wheel-balancing and tire repair shop located at a busy provincial highway. Kang said that without his wife’s help he could not have been successful. This is not enough to generate a volume of business sufficient to warrant having an expensive wheel-balancing machine and a qualified technician. especially drivers of large vehicles. ownership of an automobile is no longer a luxury but a necessity as well as a status symbol. Mr. It is one of the few garages in Chia-yi City that uses computerized wheel-balancing machines and mechanized tire-repair procedures. After finishing his military service at age 21. The business.g. and added that his competitors must mechanize and computerize their operations or go out of business. Kang is a member of an automotive business association that provides information on new equipment. in graduate school studying electrical engineering. He and his wife believe that his wife’s miraculous recovery from a coma was Buddha’s blessing for all the good deeds they have done for their customers and their neighbors. Kang and four of his brothers followed their father in the automotive repair business. The shop services commercial vehicles. will take over the business. About 90 percent of his customers are regulars. dealerships are small and each is likely to have only one or two franchises. He said time running on the road is critical for bus and truck owners. and world news of the automotive business. It is unlikely that Mr. business opportunities. it is run in a traditional way. The business is thriving in part because in Taiwan today. employees eat lunch together in the shop and are treated like family members. as land is expensive. is highly competitive and requires keeping the shop open on Sundays and responding quickly to those needing emergency service. His philosophy. With only several employees. All the technicians are either friends or the children of friends.
and that the husband could. His wife helped him run the business before she was hospitalized for an extended time. mass-consumption ways of the international chain stores. such as Wal-Mart. Some of Mr. and trucked away. packaged by machine. and how much to plant. marry. Some crops do well in the market and others do not. when. though small by Western standards. serves his customers well. It was not large enough to support more than one family. is relatively large in Taiwan. familiarity. primarily the U. One went to China to start his own business. Mr. His daughter. When the crops are harvested with help from neighbors and temporary workers. His large. he will survive. Kuo’s orange trees come from foreign countries. The Farmers Association provides information about improved technologies and world market conditions. All sales are through middlemen. It is based on trust.” He thinks that it will bring more business to both of them. modern brick house of two stories is adjacent to his warehouse. Mr. Lin knows exactly where each is. after graduating college. Despite this help. The shop’s inventory consists of thousands of parts and Mr. Most of his crop is exported. help run the business. so his younger siblings left to find work in various cities in Taiwan. impersonal. especially in the auto-parts trade which is changing almost daily. and is not greedy. Kuo is doing well. but some goes to restaurants in Taiwan. Mr. decided to stay home to help in the shop.GLOBALIZATION IN TAIWAN 283 profit. every year is a gamble. Kuo felt obliged to maintain the farm. Kuo and his neighbors harvest their crops at different times and help each other harvest by bartering and exchanging work hours. It is doubtful that this traditional way of doing business. most of them village women. When asked if another auto-parts store located near his shop might be a threat to his business. they are brought to the warehouse. A Fruit Farmer After completing his military service. but overall risks and rewards even out.S. and believes that as long as he works hard. The shop is typical of the general way of doing business in Taiwan. Kuo took over the family farm. They do not make precise calculations about these exchanges because they are friends and do whatever is needed for each other. as a family member. Mr. His shop and home are typical of small businesses in Taiwan where the shop is on the first floor and the second floor is a residence. The family hopes that she might soon attract a young man. Lin replied. will remain viable in the face of the more efficient. Kuo’s farm. Mr. and personal social networks. Mr. Following Chinese tradition as the eldest son. Its size allows him to plant different types of oranges to reduce the risk of uncertain market conditions. . “not at all. They advise on what.
Texas. 2. and petrochemical plants. California. . recently joined the World Trade Organization. globalization has reduced their income or terminated their livelihood (cf. Polarization and income inequality are part of the cost of this rapid transformation. 2001. but for many in the more traditional economic sectors. W e wish to thank Dr. CONCLUSION Taiwan. it is a major achievement. and for many businessmen like Mr. and Mrs. Chen. Phil Dennis of Texas Tech University for his very helpful comments and editorial assistance. capital-intensive economy to be competitive in regional and international markets. the workers in the textile factory who may lose their pensions. Dunkin’ Donuts. even with its relative isolation. Aristide 2000. it appears to be in good shape. Many of our respondents perceive the economy as poor in recent years and cannot understand why the news media portray Taiwan’s economy as healthy. Mr. Those in the high technology fields and those in the import-export businesses have benefitted from globalization. recently established in Taipei.284 ETHNOLOGY This farming village is located in the foothills. The examples in this article for whom globalization has been detrimental include the unemployed tailor. this is a welcome change. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the American Sociological Association 99 th Annual Meeting in Anaheim. More than half its high school graduates enter college. and elsewhere. and the number of graduate schools in all fields is increasing rapidly. is doing a thriving business. To politicians whose mission is to make Taiwan globally visible. away from highways. there are those who were too late to enter college and be trained for the knowledge economy of the 21st century. Its livelihood depends on markets in Singapore. Taiwan has changed to a high-tech. Hong Kong. the village feels the effects of globalization. who is trying to establish a feed business in China. On the one hand. the custom-tailor store owners. NOTES 1. and Southeast Asian countries. August 18–21. factories. New Zealand. On the other hand. Tsai. The effects of globalization for Taiwan are a mixed blessing. along with China. However. Australia. and the entire oyster fishing village of Tung-shih. It competes with citrus farmers in Florida. Friedman 2000). For the moment. It is near the forest and surrounded by fruit and tea farms. This paper is part of a research project funded by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange and the National Science Council of the Republic of China in Taiwan. and Japan’s Mister Donut has been in Taiwan since 2004.
and III. 1996. Firms. The Rise of the Network Society. 2003. Tapscott.tw/. and Imaginations in a Postmodern W orld. Redding. Camiller. Princeton University Press. W alter de Gruyter. http://www. 1957. New Press. T. October. et al. M. He gets some help and handouts from neighbors. G. provides an ominous answer to this question. he is too old to get a new skill. 2000a. The Brave New W orld of W ork. U. Taiwan Stock Exchange. W hat is Globalization? Trans. http://www. Chen had to sell his house and is living on the proceeds of the sale. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society. and Y. BIBLIOGRAPHY Aristide.com. 2000 (1996). Global Ethnography. Mittelman. 1. K.uschina. Industries. . He said that he has been eating rice with salty water. Pine Forge. not the Mr. Society. Picador. Liberty Times on the Net. An unemployed tailor.tse. Connections. and L. M. Blackwell Publishing. 2000. W ang. J-B. 2000. Polity Press. 2000. and Earnings: A Case Study from Taiwan.org/statistics/fdi_cumulative. US-China Business Council.libertytimes. 2000. The mass-produced clothing. In his 40s. Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization. Polity Press. 2000. The McDonaldization of Society. Polanyi. People before Profit: The New Globalization in an Age of Terror.. Burawoy. and even Costa Rica. Friedman. The Digital Economy. 2000. http://www.). The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times. 1999. destroyed his business. G. Mr. Y.. J.. McGraw-Hill. S. Anchor Books. 2000. C. and has all but given up looking for work. Chang.html.GLOBALIZATION IN TAIWAN 285 3. Big M oney. The Spirit of Chinese Capitalism. and Culture. H.. 2002. Beacon Press. The Lexus and the Oliver Tree: Understanding Globalization.. M. and Economic Crisis. Y. S. Chen depicted previously. 1993. Lee. Tsai from time to time. Sassen. American Journal of Chinese Studies 9:179–201. 2004. Flynn (ed. Derber. The Impacts of Information Age on Urban Development and Transformation in Taiwan. Ritzer. and T. II. L. Market. Special Series on Taiwanese Industries I.com. mainly from China. Tsai. Occupational Dynamics. University of California Press. Common Courage Press. Castells. Tsai. especially from Mr. Beck. Globalization and Its Discontents: Essays on the New M obility of People and Money.tw/en/. Forces. The Information Age: Economy. D. Indonesia. 2000b. The Globalization Syndrome: Transformation and Resistance. He had been doing alterations but there is no need for this line of work anymore. Vol. P.
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