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Taiwan welcomes China’s tourism boom. But Chinese tourists, not so much

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Chalk it up to a culture clash: for many Taiwanese, especially refined residents of Taipei, Chinese tourists are the bumpkin cousins tracking mud into their expensive foyer. Taiwanese stereotype the Chinese as smoking, spitting, coughing, bellowing, and generally uncouth visitors.

Still, many Taiwanese are patient with the Chinese, remembering that Taiwan tourists behaved much the same way a few decades ago, when the island first got rich and they began vacationing abroad in large numbers. And tourists’ behavior is expected to improve as smaller, more diverse groups from across China take the place of one of today’s typical groups: male, chain-smoking local Communist Party officials on a junket to the “renegade province.”

Politics also loom over tourist visits. Last year, Taiwan media reported that China had told its tour groups to cancel trips to southern Taiwan, after local pro-independence officials in the south invited the Dalai Lama – reviled by China for his support of Tibetan autonomy – for a visit.

Museum rivalry

That was only a minor hiccup, though, as a visit to Taiwan's National Palace Museum shows. The museum is a mandatory stop for Chinese tour groups, as it contains imperial treasures taken (Chinese would say, “stolen”) from Beijing's Forbidden City when the Kuomintang fled from the Japanese and, later, the Chinese communists. The KMT later brought the treasures to Taiwan and stuck them in a hillside palace in the lush hills on the city’s north side.

Now, Chinese tourists make up more than half of the 5,000 to 7,000 foreign tourists that visit every day, say museum staff – or up to 10,000 on weekend days. They come to gaze at curios, calligraphy, rare books, landscape paintings, and jade carvings that were out of reach to Chinese for nearly six decades.

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