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Tying the Taiwan knot

CROSS-STRAIT links are getting closer, and Shanghai is a magnet for more than 200,000 Taiwanese settlers, some say as many as 500,000. Here's a look at a few islanders on the Chinese mainland. Tan Weiyun and Xinhua report. Since direct chartered flights between Shanghai and Taipei were launched last December, the link between the two cities has become even closer.

It was announced early this week that travelers from Shanghai can now book cheap tickets directly online and no longer have to deal with travel agencies or airline companies. The price is now 15 percent lower than in December.

The Lianyang Community in Shanghai's Pudong, Gubei area in Minhang District and Hongqiao in Changning District have become the three major areas with the highest number of residents from Taiwan.

Shanghai is a vital business link between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. City statistics show that since the early 1990s, Taiwan merchants have invested in more than 7,100 projects in Shanghai, with a contract capital of US$21 billion.

In addition, the city receives a steady flow of Taiwanese tourists for sightseeing and others who visit their relatives on the Chinese mainland. Each year, there are more than 1.5 million person-trips between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland through the port of Shanghai. This represents one-fourth of the city's total.

A recent survey shows that more than 200,000 Taiwanese have settled in Shanghai, according to Yang Jianrong, director of the Shanghai Taiwan Affairs Office.

Meanwhile, quite a large number is working in nearby Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces but living in Shanghai.

"Thus the exact number of Taiwanese in Shanghai exceeds 200,000, maybe 300,000 to 500,000," says Yang.

Parenting blogger

Taiwanese writer Gao Ying has been living in Shanghai for seven years and has become a celebrity among mothers on the Chinese mainland.

Her blog, focusing on parenting, on the popular mainland Website, has attracted about 3 million hits in the past two years. She published a book on parenting in January and two more books are coming out soon.

But before she moved to Shanghai in 2002, Gao was mostly known for travel books that introduced ethnic minorities on the mainland. They were popular on the island in the 1990s.

"I moved to Shanghai because my daughter went to a college of traditional Chinese medicine here," Gao says. "I was thinking about writing something new because I might not be able to compete with writers here in writing about the Chinese mainland."

A friend suggested a new direction. "Very few writers wrote about parenting on the mainland and I have an advantage. I am a mother of a boy and a girl. I have hosted radio and television programs about parenting. And I am from Taiwan, sharing a similar culture with the mainland," she says.

In 2007, she started the blog. "I want to learn more about what Chinese mainland mothers are thinking and worrying about. I have many friends online now."

From Taiwan to the mainland, her life and career changed. "No matter how successful I was in Taiwan, I feel new here," she says.

An estimated 1 million Taiwanese live on the Chinese mainland, where some expand their careers and some begin to realize their dreams.

Farmer's ambition

During the hour-and-40-minute flight from Fuzhou city in Fujian Province to Beijing, Huang Yi-chung buries himself in work, even too busy for a sip of water.

Running a Taiwan fruit company, Huang has three wholesale centers and 13 outlets on the Chinese mainland, selling 5 to 10 tons of Taiwan fruit a day.

"I'm just an ordinary Taiwanese farmer, doing business across the Strait," he says. "I have realized my dream of introducing Taiwan's best fruit to the Chinese mainland, and next I will grow it here."

He was among the first group of Taiwanese farmers to come to the Chinese mainland after it lifted duty on 10 varieties of Taiwan fruit in May 2005.

But many were deterred by transport issues. Taiwan fruit had to be shipped to the Chinese mainland via Hong Kong or Japan as direct shipping was banned across the Taiwan Strait at that time.

"It took at least six days and we had to dump them after the 15-day shelf life," he says.

Huang recalls he once threw away 1,200 boxes of rotten fruit. "I cried. All of them were grown with our hard work," he recalls.

But he persisted. "I always had confidence in the mainland market and mostly in the development of the cross-strait relationship."

After two years of hard work, Chinese mainland customers began to recognize his brand and his toughest problem was solved when direct shipping resumed between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait in December last year, cutting transport costs by two-thirds.

"I hope to expand my fruit shops to 300 cities on the Chinese mainland," he says.

He is also applying to build a trading center for Taiwan produce in Xiamen city in Fujian Province.

"It will be a platform for Taiwanese farmers to market their products and for agriculturists to introduce the island's latest technologies," he says.

Speaking Mandarin

Wearing a checked shirt and baggy jeans, Shen Chih-sheng looks like his classmates and other young people in a small cafe near the Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University in Fuzhou.

Seven years ago when he first entered a high school classroom in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, he was very "Taiwan."

"I did not know who Lei Feng (a model soldier in the 1960s) was. I spoke Mandarin with a strong accent," says Shen, whose Mandarin now sounds better than many locals.

In college, he won awards twice in the Mandarin-speaking contest among Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan students in Fujian.

Born in Taiwan, Shen moved to the Chinese mainland at the age of 16 with parents who run a logistics company in Shanghai.

"The mainland was clean, pretty and modern, totally different from my image of a remote and backward place," he recalls of his first impressions.

Majoring in urban planning, he will graduate next year. "I plan to find a job on the Chinese mainland. There are always more opportunities for Taiwanese here," he says. He cites Chinese mainland's opening of more professions to Taiwanese, including social workers, and civil and structural engineers.

For years Shen avoided talking about Taiwan with his Chinese mainland friends. "My parents wouldn't want me to stand out as a 'Taiwanese.' They want me to be just an ordinary teenager," he says.

But after entering college, Shen began to discuss politics on the island with classmates and friends.

"I find they are open-minded. We debate sensitive issues, understand each other and sometimes reach agreements," he says. "The cross-strait situation is easing. Taiwan is a more common topic than before."

Stirring a cup of coffee, he says: "See, we Taiwanese students on the Chinese mainland are like this spoon, mixing the bitter with the sweet."


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