Quotes and interviews


Uptick in China-Taiwan travel gives little signal on cross-Strait relations

Financial Times
September 22

"Comparing inbound tourism from August 2016 to August 2017 is too small a sample to draw broader conclusions about changing trends in cross-Strait relations or China’s state management of outbound tourism,” said Ian Rowen, a professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and an expert in cross-Strait tourism. He noted that the numbers for August 2016 may have been pushed lower because of a bus crash a month earlier, which killed 24 Chinese tourists...
... Mr Rowen said Chinese tourist arrival numbers are “extremely difficult to confirm with any certainty”. “Some of the ‘independent tourists’ may be group tourists whose China-based travel agents found it easier to apply for independent tourist passes after China’s government implemented widely-reported cuts to group tourism,” he said. Still, growth in independent tourism is “probably a good thing for Taiwan, as its financial benefits are likelier to be more widely distributed and social impacts on particular destinations more easily absorbed,” Mr Rowen said.


With Chinese tourism down, Taiwan looks to visitors from southeast Asia

The New York Times
17 May 2017

“Beijing has used Chinese tour groups as both carrots and sticks,” said Ian Rowen, an assistant professor of geography at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who is writing a book on Chinese tourism. Now, the stick is being deployed against Taiwan, he said, to pressure President Tsai Ing-wen, who took office a year ago, to publicly endorse a view of China and Taiwan as part of “one China.” Her Democratic Progressive Party has historically favored independence for Taiwan. Since her inauguration, Chinese visits to Taiwan have fallen significantly ...Mr. Rowen, who traveled to Taiwan from China in an organized group as part of his research, said that such tours are highly structured, with “mandatory prearranged shopping stops and rushed site visits.”

“Tourists have little choice but to comply with their local tour operator’s selection of hotels and restaurants,” he added. How much of the spending by Chinese groups remains with Chinese companies remains unclear, but suspicions run deep in Taiwan that its businesses may not be the main beneficiaries.
“The vast majority of industry insiders I’ve interviewed — even those who have championed tourism from China — are certain that hotels, transport companies and shopping destinations have been penetrated, if not dominated outright, by Chinese capital,” Mr. Rowen said. “But given opaque ownership structures and local partners, it’s difficult to demonstrate the veracity of such claims.”


Taiwan reduces reliance on mainland Chinese tourists

Deutsche Welle
20 February 2017

However, some companies catering to mainland Chinese visitors complain about a decline in business. But the overall effect on the Taiwanese economy is limited, says Ian Rowen, a cultural geographer studying Chinese tourism in Taiwan. Whether it's hotels, buses, restaurants or souvenir shops - the business with mainland tour groups, many in the industry suggest, is controlled by companies financed by investors from China or Hong Kong, Rowen added. "If so, many of the profits are being transferred abroad anyway."

Rowen, who accompanied Chinese tourists on bus tours as part of his research, thinks the strict visiting schedules make it almost impossible for Chinese tourists to meet people from Taiwan. But when mainland tourists face Falun Gong members in front of "Taipei 101," or when they meet rallying Taiwanese independence supporters once in a while, Rowen explains, they have the rare opportunity to instantly experience the differences in politics and society of the two systems.


Dealing with Taiwan’s nightmares past and present

The Japan Times
11 February 2017

Rowen argues that for many Taiwanese, transitional justice is unfinished business. “The 2.28 Incident has been the most straightforward episode of state violence that Taiwan has addressed in its evolving approach to transitional justice,” he says. “Although monuments and memorials to that bloody moment have proliferated, and youth now carry the torch forward with annual events like the 2.28 Gongsheng [coexistence] music and politics ‘festival,’ it has been less easy to name perpetrators or make comprehensive reparations for the later White Terror period, which lasted decades and implicated far more people.”


Beijing wants to crush youth activists in Taiwan and Hong Kong trying to band together

15 January 2017

“Taiwan has seen violence from these same groups before. What is shocking is seeing it directed at overseas guests, including elected legislators who have been invited from Hong Kong,” said Ian Rowen, a post-doctoral fellow researching social movements in China and Taiwan at the Academia Sinica in Taipei. 


Taiwan's president meets with Ted Cruz in the U.S., and China objects

New York Times
9 January 2017

"Taiwan has maintained relations with China hawks in the Republican Party over the past several administrations," said Ian Rowen, a postdoctoral fellow at Academia Sinica in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. “Cruz is influential above and beyond many senators, given his performance in the last election campaign. It makes sense to add Cruz, whatever his relationship is going to be with the Trump administration... In general, it raises Tsai’s national and international stature to be going on trips like this... There is, however, the potential for a shift in US-Taiwan relations, so of course she’s going to seize the opportunity to meet with as many officials as possible.”

The politics of protest in Asian democracies

Japan Times
17 December 2016

“For a moment during the 2014 Taiwan Sunflower and Hong Kong Umbrella Movements, it looked like an ‘Asian Spring’ may have been in store for the region,” says Ian Rowen from Taiwan’s national academy, Academia Sinica. “But as with the so-called Arab Spring which preceded it, bitter political realities take their sweet time to leaven..."
...Asia currently exemplifies what Rowen in Taiwan calls a “vibrant, volatile and re-networked region,” where tolerance, accountability and transparency confront intolerance, impunity and poor governance. How will Asia’s open societies navigate such interesting times?


【Cover story】10 Million Chinese tourists in Taiwan experience Taiwan as a part of China

The Journalist
14 September 2016

 [Translated from Chinese] Currently a postdoctoral fellow at Academia Sinica's Institute of Ethnology and holding a PhD in Geography from the University of Colorado, Ian Rowen has been a tour director in China and has observed China's tourism strategy towards Hong Kong and Taiwan for ten years. In 2014, he joined 9 Chinese tourists for an 8-day 7-night tour departing from Shanghai for Taiwan. He brought the profound insight of an anthropologist to this tour and later presented his findings at Academia Sinica. His field research brings a deep and interesting angle to understand Chinese group tourism...


A new Taiwan dreams of transitional justice

The Japan Times
13 August 2016

...According to Ian Rowen, a Taipei-based academic, the “DPP rescinded the KMT’s recent China-centric textbook revisions, which were passed by ideologues with minimal educational credentials under dubious premises in 2014-15.”


Chinese tourists push back against rant about poor manners

18 March 2015

While cultural differences and the large numbers of Chinese tourists drive some of this sentiment, the impact of geopolitics also cannot be ignored, says Ian Rowen, a Fellow at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. "Many people in Taiwan and Hong Kong resent mainland China's political influence, and the poor behaviour of some Chinese tourists is a potent reminder of their plight," he tells BBC Trending. "The 'uncivilized' behaviour of some tourists seems out of step with China's rising economic and political clout. This has not gone unnoticed by China's government, which has launched 'spiritual education' campaigns to train tourists to be better 'ambassadors' of the nation."


A Taiwan where politics is cool

Foreign Policy
18 March 2015

One way young activists have attempted to raise themselves above the partisan fray is by looking to the past for inspiration. According to Ian Rowen, a fellow at the non-profit Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, Taiwan’s youth have lionized past political figures that have contributed to the public good without attaining elected office, including democracy activists like Cheng Nan-rong and Su Beng — the former self-immolated in protest of martial law. Su, now 97 years old, is a former Marxist revolutionary turn outspoken historian of Taiwanese identity, and the subject of a recently released documentary. Posters for the film have become near-ubiquitous on the walls and windows of some coffee shops and bookstores around Taiwan. “Ten years no one knew about these people, but now they’re everywhere,” said Rowen.


Interview: Ian Rowen

New Bloom
7 March 2015

On January 19th, New Bloom’s Brian Hioe interviewed Ian Rowen, a Ph. D candidate at the University of Colorado who was present in Taiwan during the Sunflower movement and Hong Kong during the Umbrella movement, making him one of the few individuals to have experienced both movements in the past year...


In their own words: The interviews with Sunflower Movement Protestors

The Riveter
23 January 2015

"There’s a word in Mandarin Chinese that’s vital to everyday life, and to this movement in particular, and it’s very hard to translate into English. Xinku literally means difficult or bitter, and it’s also a phrase used to express sympathy when asking someone for a favor. This word, xinku, was used by occupiers both with each other and with police in and around the site, even when simply saying goodbye to someone on the way out. In this movement, instead of being treated as enemies, police were talked to like family members." - Ian Rowen


Taiwán, el año de los jóvenes

El Mundo
7 October 2014

Aquello solo fue el pistoletazo de salida de un año en el que la juventud de Taiwán ha dejado claro que su voz debe formar parte en la toma de decisiones para el futuro de la isla. "Esta no es la primera generación de activistas sociales en Taiwán. Como sus padres, están luchando por los mismos ideales de democracia, derechos humanos y justicia social", afirma Ian Rowen, Cátedra Fullbright y Visitante Asociado al Instituto de Sociología de la Academia Sinica.


Taiwan protesters to end occupation of legislature

The Guardian
8 April 2014

Ian Rowen, a Taiwan-based Fulbright scholar who has been intermittently living with the protesters, said: "Complicating all of this is an election in [autumn] – mayoral races and legislative races – and of course two years later, presidential elections. Whether [the students] remain a social force or get involved in electoral politics remains to be seen. They're very popular at the moment."


From Outsiders to Innkeepers in China’s Sleepy Countryside

The New York Times
14 August 2013

The Lindens hotel is far from an authentic representation of China, said Ian Rowen, a geography doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado. However, he said the Lindens have created a novel and tasteful way to introduce international tourists to Chinese and some ethnic-minority traditions. "It's a good example of the way that heritage tourism can proceed," said Mr. Rowen, who has worked in China's tourism industry and conducted academic research at the Lindens' hotel.