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The Geopolitics of Cross-Strait Tourism with Ian Rowen

  • 03 August, 2023
The Strait Up Podcast

Hello, welcome to the Strait Up Podcast, the show where we talk about international affairs with a focus on East Asia and of course Taiwan. I’m your host Chris Gorin, coming to you from Taipei, Taiwan. 

Obviously, there are now and always have been significant political tensions between China and Taiwan. But what about people-to-people relations and contacts? For example, how do tourists on either side of the strait view the people and land on the other side? Well, like all things about cross-strait relations, it’s complicated. Luckily, I had the chance to interview an expert on this topic, Ian Rowen (Twitter: @iirowen) who has a new book out titled “One China, Many Taiwans: The Geopolitics of Cross-strait Tourism.” Ian is an Associate Professor in the Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages, and Literature at National Taiwan Normal University. He previously served as an Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He holds a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder and has been a visiting scholar at universities in China, Taiwan, and Germany. Importantly, Ian also served as a tour guide in China in the past, which is one of the experiences that led him to begin his research into cross-strait tourism. 

In this interview, we cover several topics related to cross-strait tourism, including Ian’s experience joining a Chinese group tour leaving from Shanghai to visit Taiwan. In this way, Ian was able to see firsthand how both Chinese tourists and their Taiwanese hosts experience, and as Ian puts it, “perform” for each other in the context of tourism. Ian’s trip which he writes about in the book took place in 2014, and as I was reading it I was struck by how much different Taiwan feels now without almost any tourists for several years in a row. 

This interview was recorded here in our Taipei studios back in early May. Topics we discuss in this interview include Ian’s framing of tourism as a “performance”, the peculiar language used in cross-strait tourism, how commission-based shopping creates most of the profits for Chinese tour groups, the difference in experience between Chinese group tourists and independent tourists, how the Falun Gong interact with Chinese tourists, and many other topics. It was a great conversation about an important issue. So, it’s a pleasure to bring you, Ian Rowen.