El Salvador
South Korea


by Ken Colson

Context for Taiwanese Immigration

History and Government

Originally Taiwan was settled by people of Malay-Polynesian descent. Subsequent settlement of the island by the Dutch and people from the mainland of China forced these original inhabitants to live in the mountains, where they reside to this day. Modern history dates from 1590 when a Dutch navigator on a Portuguese ship, exclaimed “Ilha Formosa” (beautiful island), which became its name for the next four centuries. The Dutch brought in Chinese laborers as sugar and rice plantation workers. Many of these laborers married native women. In 1662 the Dutch were defeated by Chinese pirates.

In the 18th century many Chinese fled war and famine on the mainland and migrated to Taiwan (Formosa). The Manchu rulers from Beijing attempted to extend their control of the island but were repulsed during several years of intermittent battles. Manchu Imperial authority declared Taiwan to be a province of their Empire. In 1895 the Japanese defeated the Manchus in the Sino-Japanese War. China ceded Taiwan to the Japanese. The same year Taiwanese with help from Manchu officials attempted to establish an independent nation. This led to the landing of Japanese troops to crush the independence movement.

In 1943 the Cairo Declaration was signed by allied powers agreeing to Chiang Kai-Shek’s request that Taiwan be returned to Nationalist China. In 1947 inhabitants of Taiwan demonstrated against Chang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang’s occupation of Taiwan. Kuomintang troops were sent from the mainland to crush the demonstration and imprison the opposition. In 1949 Chiang Kai-Shek lost the war on the mainland and fled to Taiwan. Martial law was declared and remained in effect for four decades. When U.S. policy shifted in 1971 recognizing the People’s Republic of China, Beijing replaced the Kuomintang’s seat in the UN.

Today’s government is a multiparty democratic system headed by President Chen Shui-bian.


Taiwan’s GNP per capita has increased from $1,132 in 1976 to $12,100 in 1999. This economic development has also been associated with improved income distribution. The impact of income distribution is especially significant for the infant mortality rate of children under age five, which has decreased from 21 per 1000 in 1953 to two per 1000 in 1995. The life expectancy at birth has also increased for males and females respectively from 58 and 61 years in 1953 to 72 and 78 years in 1995.

Taiwanese Immigration

Beginning in 1953 the Ministry of Education in Taiwan encouraged the best Taiwanese students to go to the U.S. for studies. Following the Immigration Act of 1965, another wave of Taiwanese immigrants came to the U.S. to pursue advanced studies. Many Taiwanese students intended on returning to Taiwan once their studies were finished, but the majority stayed. The last wave of Taiwanese immigrants came in 1979 when the Taiwanese government allowed its citizens to apply for tourist visas. Many changed these visas to employment-based visas in the 1980s.

The main reasons for coming to the U.S. given by Taiwanese immigrants who responded to the survey of public assistance recipients were family reunification (59%) and educational opportunities (41%). Survey data indicated that the average number of years that respondents have been in the county is less than 8 years.

Significant numbers of Taiwanese immigrants are professionals, H-1B visa holders. In a focus group, one 62-year-old Taiwanese American said: “…the pressure of the schools in Taiwan is very severe. For both economic reasons and the child’s education, we decided to settle down here.” In a different study conducted in 1973 at Dartmouth College, Taiwanese students listed political and academic advantages as the main reason for immigration and listed economic and social betterment as secondary reasons.

Social Characteristics of the Taiwanese

Ethnic & Religious Diversity

“Native” Taiwanese are descendants of Chinese who migrated from Fujian and Guangdong Provinces on the mainland, primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries. On the other hand, after 1945 the “mainlanders” who arrived in Taiwan came from all parts of China. While Han Chinese represent the major ethnic group, there are nine major indigenous groups in Taiwan Province (Atayal, Saisiyat, Bunun, Tsou, Paiwan, Rukai, Puyuma, Tsou, and Yami ). As of 1992 about 370,000 aborigines inhabited the mountainous central and eastern parts of the island.

According to Taiwan’s Interior Ministry figures, of those individuals saying they practice a religion 75% identify themselves as Buddhists or Taoists. At the same time there is a strong belief in Chinese folk religion throughout the island. These are not mutually exclusive, and many people practice a combination of the three. Confucianism is also an honored school of thought and ethical code. Christian churches have been active in Taiwan for many years. Today the island has more than 600,000 Christians, a majority of whom are Protestant.

Family Life

In Taiwan, the cultural ideal is the extended family. Filial piety is very important in the extended patriarchal/hierarchical system and the father/elder wields much authority. Parents are to be respected, and older siblings have authority over younger siblings. Within marriage a woman usually becomes part of her husband’s family. The traditional preference among parents for boys over girls is still visible in some families.

Given the dual influences of population growth and social change, Taiwan has undergone large-scale transformations in the area of intra-familial relations. Spousal relations have faced great pressure to adjust under these circumstances. Large numbers of women entering the workforce has led to issues within the family household in terms of husband-wife relations and the distribution of spousal rights. Younger women now tend to have much greater economic and personal freedom in their daily lives. Moreover, as women develop a growing sense of independence, one finds a corresponding increase in the number of single-parent households, a phenomenon that has influenced traditional child-rearing practices as well.

In the survey of public benefits recipients in Santa Clara County, 73% of the respondents had children under 12 years old. Of these, the principal caregivers were mothers (27%), other relatives (20%), fathers (13%), grandparents (13%) and nannies (13%).

The survey showed that Taiwanese prefer elderly or disabled family members to be cared for at home. About 45% preferred this option of care by family members or trained caregivers over institutional care, preferred by 36% of the respondents. It should be noted that respondents in this sample had an average age of 65.

Health Care Practices

Traditional health care beliefs and practices are similar to those found in the People’s Republic of China, described in this publication. Health is seen as a balance between positive (yang) and negative (yin) energy in the body. Illness could occur from an imbalance of body elements, and balance of food groups and diet can restore health. Illness may also be caused by moral retribution by ancestors or deities for misdeeds or negligence. The remedy is to appease this anger through ritual. Superstition and Fung Shui also play important roles in health beliefs.

Traditional Chinese therapeutic medicine treats the person as a whole using acupuncture, acupressure and herbs, dietary therapy and supernatural healing. Older people often use traditional folk medicine, but the younger generation and particularly children born in the U.S. are most likely to rely upon Western medicine.

Mental health problems are often psychosomatic and mental illness is frequently not clearly differentiated from physical illness. Repressed feelings often increase the mental health burden.

Taiwanese are often reluctant to embrace psychological treatment, but when they do they may accept traditional treatments such as exorcisms, incantations and ceremonies or use them together with or instead of Western drugs. However, more educated and urban Taiwanese are likely to prefer Western treatment to address mental health problems.

Educational System

A nine-year public educational system has been in effect since 1979. Six years of elementary school and three years of junior high are compulsory for all children. About 95% of junior high graduates continue their studies in either a senior high or vocational school.

Taiwan has an extensive higher education system with more than 100 institutions of higher learning. Each year over 100,000 students take the joint college entrance exam and about two-thirds are admitted to a college or university. Opportunities for graduate education are expanding in Taiwan, but many students travel abroad for advanced education, including 13,000 who study in the United States annually.

Special classes for mental and physically challenged students are provided in regular schools. Severely disabled students attend programs at any one of eleven special schools. The Education Broadcasting System and the Chinese Television System broadcasts cultural and educational programs daily for the general public. Credit courses are offered on the “School of the Air”.

Taiwanese Immigrants in Santa Clara County


The average household size for the survey respondents was three, with 29% of the families having 2 to 6 non-relatives living in the home. The total annual income for 40% of the households of public benefits recipients in the sample was $10,000 or less, and a majority had family income of less than $50,000 per year. The average age of respondents in this sample was 65. Respondents lived primarily in San Jose (45%), Sunnyvale (23%), Santa Clara (9%) and Saratoga (9%). In terms of educational attainment, 44% had 13 or more years of formal education, 28% completed 10 to 12 years, and 28% had one to nine years of schooling.

Social Customs

Interpersonal Communication

The ability to speak or write English varies with the individual. But older and some recently arrived immigrants may be unable to communicate well in English. Respondents in the public benefits sample stated that the language they communicated in the most was Chinese (72%). Among older and the recently arrived, eye contact with authority figures is a sign of respect. Asking questions is seen as disrespectful, and silence may be a sign of respect. Taiwanese immigrants are often very shy, especially in unfamiliar environments.

Older people should be addressed as Mr. or Mrs. and their last name. Use of the first name could be viewed as disrespectful among older individuals. The Chinese language is very expressive and often appears loud to non-Chinese. This “loudness” may occur when speaking in English and may sound harsh and abrupt. Immigrants with limited English may nod politely at everything being said, but not understand much. Except for intimates, hugging, kissing, and touching are not common to interactions.

Emotional Support

Respondents from the public benefits survey reported that they rely upon the following persons whey they have emotional problems: friends (50%), spouses (30%), relatives (18%) and religious advisors (8%). In addition, 16% reported that they talked to no one.


Younger generations tend to wear westernized clothes. Jade pendants are commonly worn by women for good health and luck.


While all styles of Chinese cooking can be found in Taiwan today, Taiwanese cuisine is largely a variant of Fujianese style from the mainland. Among the favored dishes of Fujianese cuisine are soups and seafood. The style of cooking involves simmering and quick deep-fat frying. Chopsticks are preferred to forks.

Religious Traditions and Holidays

Listed below are some of the national holidays in Taiwan:


  • January 1: Founding Day of the Republic of China, New Year’s Day
  • April 5: Tomb-Sweeping Day/Passing of President Chiang Kai-Shek
  • October 10: Double 10 National Day (marking the Republic of China’s birth at the uprising in Wuchang on October 10, 1911)
  • October 31: Chiang, Kai-Shek’s Birthday
  • November 12: Dr. Sun Yet-Sen’s Birthday
  • In addition to these, there are also some holidays defined in terms of the Lunar Calendar:
  • January 15: Chinese New Year
  • May 5: Lantern Festival
  • July 1: Dragon Boat Festival
  • July 15: Chung-Yuan Day (also known as Ghost Day) vAugust 15: Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival

    Challenges in Santa Clara County

    The top needs identified by Taiwanese respondents in the public benefits sample were medical care (96%), learning more English (87%), help in becoming a citizen (73%), immigration legal services (60%), vision care (37%), and dental care (34%). Taiwanese focus group participants reported similar needs, especially 1) the need for more information provided in Chinese, 2) medical care, 3) better public transportation, 4) difficult INS procedures and long INS processing times, and 5) affordable housing.

    Suggested solutions for these needs included hiring more employees who speak Chinese, translation of forms and government documents into Chinese, interpretation services for the elderly, ESL instructors who speak Chinese so that they may better explain class materials, assistance with transportation, extension of BART to San Jose, an increase of bus service in residential areas, more information about government programs, free medical service, more INS collaboration with Chinese community organizations, changing English language requirements for citizenship to accommodate seniors and people who have been in the U.S. for over 10 years, and making housing available regardless of income or immigration status.


    One-half (50%) of the public assistance respondents said they were not respected when stopped by police, and 33% said they felt discriminated by the police. However, none reported that they were mistreated, scared, or had a communication problem when stopped by police. Two thirds (67%) felt discriminated by teachers and school officials. One half (50%) said they didn’t know much about American laws. One-third (33%) felt discriminated against by co-workers, bosses, job interviewers and restaurant workers.

    Barriers to Education, Services, and Benefits

    Taiwanese public assistance recipients indicated that the biggest barriers were insufficient English (63%), lack of information (31%), having no time (13%), and fear of government, mistrust of providers to help, expensive programs, or inability to leave the house (6% each).

    Employment & Working Conditions

    Occupational Data and Barriers

    The largest group of this elderly group of public benefits respondents (40%) were homemakers, with 8% working in technical fields. Before entering the United States, 48% indicated they did not have a job, 12% were homemakers, 8% were retired, and 8% were students. Reasons given for not following the same career in the United States included limited English skills (80%), no U.S. license or credential (60%), and lack of employment training (20%).

    Working Conditions

    The average family in the public benefits survey had only one member (73%) who worked an average of 32 hours a week for a single employer (80%). One-fifth of the respondents (20%) worked three jobs at the same time. Most respondents expressed overall satisfaction with working conditions. However, 60% had no pensions plans, 60% had no medical benefits, 40% had no paid vacation and 20% had no sick leave. None of those responding to the survey held a union job, and 40% had an immigrant employer.

    Small Businesses

    Of the survey respondents 31% owned a business or were self-employed. The three most significant obstacles to starting a business were getting a loan (63%), knowing what business idea might be successful (63%), and lack of information on how to start a business (38%).

    Public Benefits in the Taiwanese Community

    Knowledge and Adequacy of Benefits

    Of the respondents receiving public benefits, 60% said they knew the requirements for SSI and 67% said the amount was adequate. Only 24% knew the requirements for CalWORKs, and all the respondents (100%) said CalWORKs benefits were not adequate. More than half (53%) did not know the requirements for food stamps and 100% said the benefit amount was not adequate. Almost all (96%) of those surveyed knew the requirements of MediCal, but only 54% said the level of benefits is sufficient. Only 50% knew the requirements for General Assistance and the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI) and all felt that the benefits were not adequate.

    Culturally Competent Services

    All of the CalWORKs and MediCal recipients indicated that they were treated with respect by agency staff. Of those receiving food stamps, only 50% said they were treated with respect by agency staff. Most of the respondents felt agency staff communicated with them effectively (100% receiving MediCal, 83% for those on CalWORKs, but only 50% on food stamps). As for understanding their cultural background, 100% on MediCal and CalWORKs said agency staff knew about their culture, but only 50% of those on food stamps said agency staff knew about their culture.

    Four-fifths (80%) indicated that the orientation they received to the food stamp program was not presented in a language they understood. And only 50% attending orientation sessions for MediCal and CalWORKs said they could understand what was presented. Also, 86% did not understand written materials related to food stamps, 38% did not understand CalWORKs written materials, and 31% did not understand written materials related to MediCal. Finally, 80% of the respondents did not understand phone calls related to food stamps, 67% did not understand phone calls related to CalWORKs, and 33% did not understand phone calls related to MediCal.

    Educational Access in Santa Clara County

    K-12 Education

    The majority of respondents (82%) did not have children under 18 in school. Three-quarters (75%) of the respondents with children in school preferred that their children be taught in both English and Chinese. When asked to indicate the kinds of services their children were getting in school, 100% indicated the Healthy Start Program, 100% information in Chinese, 100% parent meetings, 50% tutoring, 50% homework centers, 50% after- school activities, 50% counseling, 50% school lunch and breakfast, 50% health programs, 50% on site child care, 50% special education, 50% transportation, and 50% academic or career counseling.

    Employment Training

    Taiwanese immigrants were trained in finance and accounting (40%), as receptionists or office workers (20%), or in engineering, math, or computer science (20%). About 60% of the respondents received their training at a university while 20% received training at a private business institute and another 20% from a community agency.


    While 16 % of the respondents said their English skills were average and 16% said good, 36% reported having poor English skills and 32% said they had no English skills. The main reason given for needing better English skills was daily living situations (83%), being involved in the community (37%), filling out applications (33%), reading literature (29%), and continuing their education (21%). As for ways to improve their English language skills, 46% said having classes closer to home would help them, 40% said having longer classes, 38% said having English-speaking friends, 27% said having a better weekday schedule, and 18% said having audio cassettes.


    About 36% of Taiwanese responding to the survey were naturalized citizens. They reported that they or a family member have the following major citizenship needs: citizenship classes, 53%; literacy classes in Chinese before learning English, 47%; and legal advice, 21%.

    Communication & Outreach in the Taiwanese Community

    The survey indicated that respondents get news and information primarily from Chinese language newspapers (79 %), Chinese TV (75%) and Chinese radio (21%). Family and friends are a source of information for 25% of the respondents. In English, TV (21%), the San Jose Mercury News (17%), the Internet (17%), and radio (8%) represent relatively insignificant sources of information. Information printed in English from church, community organizations, and government publications do not inform significant numbers in these communities (4%).

    The vast majority of families owned a television (96%), telephone (83%), radio (79%), computer (71%), and VCR (58%), and 58% had a newspaper subscription. On the other hand, very few had fax capabilities (33%), an e-mail account (33%), or access to the Internet (29%).

    Taiwanese in Action: Yalin Chen and Eddie Yuan

    Taiwanese are active in many aspects of community life. For example, public assistance recipients in the survey indicated that they are involved in religious organizations (50%), community organizations (28%), social issue campaigns (22%), school parent organizations (17%), and political campaigns (11%). In addition, 32% reported that they were registered to vote. There has been a great increase in numbers of actual voters from Taiwan –from 775 in November 1990 to 3,874 in March 2000. As of December 2000 there were 10,270 registered voters born in Taiwan. The major reasons given for not voting were not enough time (33%) and language barriers (33%).

    Two Taiwanese community leaders who challenged public opinion regarding second language learning are Yalin Chen and Eddie Yuan. Parents within the Cupertino Union School District, they wanted their daughter and others to be taught bilingually and to retain the culture of their homeland. This professional couple collaborated with other parents (including Caucasian parents) who shared high-tech backgrounds and believed that the best way to prepare children for the global and culturally diverse workforce was to immerse them in a dual language (English/Mandarin) curriculum during the primary grades. They researched the effectiveness of other immersion programs, engaged in grassroots outreach, and fought hard to convince school board members, district officials and even parents to embrace the idea of starting an immersion program. There was a significant amount of resistance and the issue even provoked anti-immigrant and anti-Chinese/Taiwanese sentiments.

    The Chinese Immersion Program was established during the 1998/99 school year. It would not have occurred without activism from parent leaders such as Yalin and Eddie. The program was first offered as a language enrichment model, with instruction in Mandarin occupying 10% of the school day. As of September 2001 there were five classes included in the program. The concept and program have generated great interest and astounding success.

    Both Yalin and Eddie came to the U.S. as students two decades ago to continue their education. In Taiwan, Yalin’s major was in foreign languages and literature, and Eddie’s was in management and computer science. After they came to the U.S., Yalin also studied computer science. Both of them worked for a number of high-tech companies. They met each other in the workplace and got married.

    Once Yalin and Eddie were financially successful, they decided to re-direct their energies to civic service and community involvement. In addition to helping establish the Mandarin immersion program, they are also active in the Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute. Eddie also serves on the board of the Vision 2000 Foundation. They are both outstanding examples of Taiwanese who have given back to their community and to the community at large.