Is Chinese Taipei in China or Taiwan?

Watching the opening ceremony of 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, have you wondered why there are more than one Chinese teams? You might have noticed the People’s Republic of China (“China”), Chinese Taipei (“Taiwan”) and even Hong Kong are participating separately.

Especially, there seems to be a good amount of confusion and misunderstanding of Taiwan. After having been living in Taiwan only for one and a half years, I can’t claim myself as an expert. However, I want to share my observations and learnings with you to help you better understand the country I live in and love.


Lack of Understanding

Taiwan has little international recognition as a country, not to mention as a desired travel destination. Some people confuse Taiwan with Thailand. Others recognize Taiwan as a city of China.

I think the lack of recognition is partly driven by Taiwan’s interesting and complicated political state that hinges the country from promoting its name. Even locals I have talked to have different views about where Taiwan belongs to. I will come back to this, but let’s begin with an easy one!


Taiwanese vs. Thai

When Taiwan was brought up in the conversation in the U.S., I noticed many people went on about how they loved Thai food. They mistakenly assumed that Thai is an adjective form of Taiwan.

People in Taiwan and the local language* are referred to as Taiwanese. You can say Taiwanese food, Taiwanese culture, and so on. On the other hand, Thai is referring to the people or language of Thailand.

In a nutshell, Taiwan and Thailand are two separate countries.

*Interesting facts about the language in Taiwan:

  • Taiwan’s native (spoken) language is Taiwanese.
  • However, the official (spoken) language is Mandarin Chinese.
  • In Taiwan, people write traditional Chinese whereas mainland China adopted simplified Chinese.


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Taiwan vs. Chinese Taipei

1971 The United Nations General Assembly voted to admit the People’s Republic of China (mainland China), which forced out the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Despite the fact that Taiwan has its own government, language and people, China claims Taiwan to be one of their territories. In the news, it is referred to be the “One China” policy. (If intrigued, read this CNN article.)

Considering China’s growing political, economic power, more and more countries accept the policy in favor of establishing diplomatic relationships with China. As a consequence, Taiwan continues to lose its “foreign friends” and political voice in international society.

This is (partly) why Taiwan is not part of the United Nations, and why you see Taiwanese athletes compete in international sports games for “Chinese Taipei” as opposed to “Taiwan” or the “Republic of China.”

Speaking of its names, Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China (ROC;中華民國), whereas China’s is the People’s Republic of China (PRC; 中華人民共和國). Confusing, huh?


When in Taipei…

History is a tricky subject matter. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what to believe.

My suggestion? Just remember, it is important to respect locals and try not to offend anyone no matter what your view is. When you visit Taiwan, stay away from referring to Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei” or locals as “Chinese” or “Thai.”

It is a really sore spot for many Taiwanese. For sure, you will get uncomfortable smiles or frowned upon by otherwise super-friendly folks.


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