Culture Hack: Taiwanese TaiKe 台客文化

If you’ve lived in Taiwan, or have a basic understanding of Taiwanese Culture, then you more than likely have heard the term TaiKe (台客). The term immediately conjures images of the stereotypical flip-flop wearing, betel nut chewing, scooter riding ‘TaiKe’, but in an essay written in 2005, and recently released as part of the 帝國和台客 (Empires and TaiKe) book, Dr Shi-Kou Chang takes a different look.

In his essay “From Tautology to Betel Nut Beauty – and also TaiKe Culture” (從滔滔邏輯到檳榔西施-也談台客文化) Shi-Kou Chang discusses the phenomenon that is TaiKe culture from his unique “microscopic”, or subjective perspective. Dr Chang observes that the uniqueness of TaiKe culture lies in it’s “elasticity” or “resilience”, he states:

我認為台客文化一言以蔽之,是「彈性求存」的文化,也就是「挑戰→反應」的文化。

Or in English:

Simply put, I believe that TaiKe culture is based on “resilience and survival”, you could also say it’s a culture that reacts to challenges.

This seems to be an interesting take on a culture that is usually perceived on face value from the aforementioned stereotypes. So what’s the basis for the claim of TaiKe culture’s resilience and elasticity?

Dr Chang sites his experiences driving a car upon returning to Taiwan after studying in the States, he explains that while parked at traffic lights he would become surrounded by scooters, at first this was daunting, but he came to realise that the scooters would naturally move out of the way of his car, allowing him to change lanes, just like a boat through water, or in his words:

我就發現雖然車子被機車包圍,就如船過之處水會自然分開,車子駛過之處機車也會自然分開。

This is the main argument of the essay, that the quick reactions of the scooter drivers, and the interaction and courtesy between scooters and cars represents a phenomenon unique to TaiKe culture. Dr Chang argues that the TaiKe culture is based on Elastic Logic (彈性邏輯), while western culture is binary (零和一) and as such is lacking in this traffic ‘interaction and courtesy’ – you can either change lanes, or you can’t, and if you force your way across you will crash.

Dr Chang also dedicates a large portion of the essay to exploring the behaviour of Taike, and reasons that the roots of stereotypical TaiKe behaviour (exaggerated gestures or poses, exaggerated language and stubbornness), lie in the Taiwanese ancestral roots of piracy (the pirates of the sea, not pirates of the Internet ;)).

Lastly, Dr Change makes use of architectural analogies to prove the existence of this “resilience/elasticity survival’ in Betel Nut Beauties, a truly unique perspective.

Dr Chang ultimately states that some of the defining characteristics of the TaiKe culture, if the Taiwanese are not careful, will ultimately cause it’s downfall.

The essay provides a unique look into an equally unique culture, and regardless of whether you agree or not with the premise and arguments of the essay, it’s definitely still worth a read. Due to Dr Chang’s background in computer science, the structure of the essay takes a logical progression, making it easier for Western readers to grasp, in comparison to traditional Chinese writings which tend to use unrelated experiences or stories to draw the reader in.

The full essay is available online, and if you’d like to read some more English language perspectives on TaiKe culture you can read In Search of TaiKe – Taiwanese find new identity in an old insult or TaiKe and Being Taiwanese.

If you have your own ideas about TaiKe culture, Dr Chang’s essay, or even this post, please leave a message in the comments:

  • I hadn’t ever heard the term before (that I recognized) but when I was filming the lion dance competition, the guy that I went there with tried to explain that the dancers are often thought of as…well, I gathered he was trying to tell me “low class” as there was mention of betle nut chewers, etc. I’m betting that TaiKe is what he was trying to explain to me. I’ll have to follow up to verify.

  • 台客 Taike is usually a derogatory term, what you hear a lot is that something is 很台 “hěn tái” which sort of means it’s ‘local’ and stereotypical of Taiwanese culture. The general stereotype is wearing flip flops, riding a scooter with feet and knees as wide apart as possible, chewing betal nuts.