What is a Taiwanese? Photog Offers Answers Through Pictures

Original images by Nana Chen.

BANGKOK — An online spat between Thai and Chinese netizens – sparked by anger over a Thai celeb’s comments that appear to support Taiwanese independence – inadvertently put the island on a lot of minds in Thailand this week.

Discussion related to Taiwan and support for its independence have been growing on Thai social media, prompting the Chinese embassy in Bangkok to warn against any attack on the “One China Policy,” which considers Taiwan to be part of its integral sovereignty.

Due to the renewed interest in the issue, we reached out to Nana Chen, a Taipei-born photographer whose recent work attempts to define the Taiwanese identity, which she said is a unique element to the people on the island.

Read: Beijing Tells Countries to Respect One-China Policy After Tsai’s Victory


Her portrait series – called “What is a Taiwanese?” – interviewed 35 subjects from different backgrounds and social classes about how they viewed themselves. Although a 2019 survey said about 27 percent of people in Taiwan support independence, Chen said she found the sentiment to be common among her interview subjects.

“Everyone [interviewed] regarded Taiwan as an independent nation,” Chen said in an email. “And many voiced their appreciation of having free speech, LGBTQ rights and living peacefully in a multicultural society.”

Chen’s previous works on the topics of identity include South Asian immigrants in Hong Kong and Thai transgender women in different occupations. Chen said she was inspired to ask Taiwanese people what they feel about their identity after protests in Hong Kong broke out last year.

The government of Taiwan, known formally as the Republic of China, or ROC, said it is the sole legitimate representative of China, a claim disputed by the mainland government, the People’s Republic of China. But in recent years, some Taiwanese advocate breaking away to form an independent nation. Beijing has repeatedly warned against such moves.

Although Thailand does not officially recognize the ROC, it maintains a friendly relationship with the island. Chen said she appreciates a show of support from Thai netizens toward Taiwan.

“I want to thank the Thai netizens for standing their ground in stating that Taiwan is a country, just as China is a country,” she said. “Taiwan is an independent self-governing democratic nation with its own set of laws, freedom of speech, LGBTQ rights, its own history and diverse culture. Let’s argue about opinions, not facts.”

Such a view is vehemently opposed by the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok, as expressed in a statement on April 14.

“I want to underline that the One China Principle is irrefutable and China is firmly opposed to anyone making any erroneous statement inconsistent with the One China Principle anytime, anywhere,” the embassy spokesperson said in the statement.

See some of Chen’s works here:

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Hsiao Liang Chao, 35, Tattoo artist, Taipei
“Taiwan is a free and democratic country. You can do whatever you want, mainly without affecting others.”

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Yeh Min Wu, 29, legal assistant, Taichung
“To me being Taiwanese means a pursuit of shared community that allows people to come in and be whoever they want to be and also to agree based on this shared identity to be Taiwanese.”

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Aniao Wu, 29, actress, Taipei
“For me a Taiwanese means if a person is asked by someone what is your identity, this person will definitely say ‘I am Taiwanese and with no fear.’ … The culture is actually very rich in itself. We are usually, used to being nice to being with. Actually, I feel Taiwanese people are pretty nice. Just like lots of us with our identity problem, are not confident of who we are but we should be.”


Fu-shian Li, 69, taxi driver, Taipei
“Taiwanese are those born on this land. The real Taiwanese have nothing to
do with China.”

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Nai-chia Chen, 27, Research Fellow at Marriage Equality Coalition, Kaohsiung
“A Taiwanese is a group of curious people in the world because you are always denied by your neighbours and other countries but at the same time you are valued by them and your experiences are so important that being a Taiwanese is always about trying so hard and being so creative to share with the world what you have achieved and what you’ve been concerned with.”

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Li-hong Lin, 39, independent worker, Yunlin
“Being Taiwanese means to be oneself, down to earth, this is what being Taiwanese is.”

The Chairman is one of the leading rock bands in Taiwan known for their pro-Taiwan views.

Kaku Hao, 41, guitarist of “The Chairman”
“Our island nation had freedom early on, but are we free? We still have pressure from China. Personally, I feel there’s a constriction.”

Wen-shian Tu, “Vincent”, 50, guitarist of “The Chairman”
“Being Taiwanese means having freedom and confidence.”

Taiki Lin, 49, guitarist of “The Chairman”, Taipei
“Taiwanese are are happy to sacrifice for what is meaningful to us.”


Yong-ji Wu, “Poki”, 49, lead singer of “The Chairman”
“Taiwanese are simply those who live on this island, including foreigners who love our country.”

Pei-wu Yu, “King Kong”, 50, drummer of “The Chairman”
“Being Taiwanese is to identify with my country’s sovereignty and defend our democracy and freedom of expression.”

Micky Lin, 42, drummer of “The Chairman”
“Being Taiwanese means to be free and democratic.”