An Interpretation of the “Taiwanese Way of Life”


Both the government and the society in Taiwan have repeatedly stressed the supposed superiority of the so-called “Taiwanese way of life”, something that all people on the island take pride in. Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou says that “Taiwan’s democracy and way of life are the sources of its creativity and vitality, which are the pride of the Chinese world.” He also contends that “the gist of the Taiwan question is not the dispute over sovereignty, but the way of life and core values”. So, what is the Taiwanese way of life? What does it mean and what is so special about it? And what are the intents behind the emphasis of the Taiwanese way of life? 

1. Two fundamental views on “way of life”

There are numerous views on “way of life”, and discussions along separate lines may happen if we don’t straighten out some basic concepts and find out more about the recent progress of academia in the study of this topic. Countless theories and viewpoints on “way of life” have been raised by academics, and in what follows, I will only elaborate on the two fundamental ones.

1 Definitions of way of life

Some contend that there is no “universally” recognised definition of “way of life”. However, it is still necessary to come up with a widely accepted description, a concept of way of life in a general sense, for our discussion to proceed. For instance, The Chinese Encyclopaedia defines “way of life” as “all forms of activity and all systems of behavioural characteristics that dierent individuals or groups or all members of society have developed, for the purpose of satisfying the needs of their own lives, under certain societal constraints and the conditioning eects of values that they hold.” Elsewhere the term is defined as follows: “Way of life is a term covering more than one aspect; it includes various material aspects, such as clothing, food, shelter, transportation, work, recreation, socialising and interpersonal relations; it also

involves various spiritual aspects, like values, morals and aesthetics”. In such more generalised definitions, values and ways of action are clearly emphasised.

The term is also defined in narrower senses. In some cases, “way of life” is defined as “the features of activities and behaviours in all facets of everyday life”, or “the idiosyncratic state and way of living of individuals in their respective living contexts”. 

Besides, there are some rather special definitions of the term. They include the definitions that “way of life is a reflection of human ideology”, or that “way of life is the behavioural patterns that people from dierent classes of society display in their social circles”. Some put the term on a par with culture, examples of which include the following definitions  “culture refers to all ways of life in a given society; so if culture is the sum of all forms of human activity, way of thinking and abilities, then way of life is the essence of culture”, or “culture means a people’s actual way of life, code of conduct, and abstract aspects such as values, logic of thought, and ideals”. In the contemporary Western world, people usually see themselves as living in an era of consumerism, and therefore ways of life are often studied as patterns of consumption

The definitions are too numerous to list individually here. Therefore, in any discussion about the Taiwanese way of life, it is necessary to clarify whether the concept is used in a general or narrow sense, or whether it is commonsensical or has special connotations, and it is also necessary to check whether the account is appropriate and adequate or not. 

1.2 Way of life dynamic and multifarious, temporal and social

Ways of life evolve with the passage of time and advancement of society. As pointed out by He Zhonghua, “The format of living is different in the agricultural society, the industrial society and the informational society. The rapid and extensive penetration of Internet technology has not only radically changed the way people interact; more profoundly, they have revolutionised the ideas people hold and have even redefined human existence”. Now that we have stepped into an era of the new media, changes happening today in our way of life were hardly imaginable a few years back. People from different classes, ranks and professions all have their respective way of life. Many researchers, including Marx and Weber, have demonstrated that “the way of life corresponds to the social hierarchy determined by economy; the class or rank you come from will automatically speak about your way of life”. Simply put, “in any given society, clear distinctions exist in the way of life of different

classes, ranks, professions, and individuals”.