1993 / 11月
Jenny Hu /tr. by Christopher Hughes
Established during the period of Japanese occupation, the Ho Cheng Group (HCG) is an old, well-known native Taiwanese company. In its first 50 years of operations, from the boss to the lowest level of workers, all were pure "fellow Taiwanese." That is up until 198l, when a seemingly rather naive "mainland lad" broke the provincial circle.
Presently working in the management section of HCG as an assistant in the general services department, Ku Cheng-tung is truly an image in miniature of the age of provincial integration in business.
His father is from Zhejiang and his mother is Hakka. When he recalls the process by which he, as a "mainland lad," came to enter into a 100 percent Taiwanese ethnic group, he cannot help but exude something of a proud and mischievous air. He says that at that time the job he applied for was a basic level legal clerk. At the interview the manager knew he was a mainlander, and used Mandarin to ask him if he could speak Taiwanese. He summoned up his bravado and used faltering Taiwanese to answer "I can speak a little." He even used a few daily greetings, with rather unusual pronunciation and intonation. He never thought that he would actually be employed, against all the rules. "In fact at that time I basically could only say two or three sentences, that is all. My real ability in Taiwanese only came through working in the company," he laughs.
Do mainlanders entering into the Taiwanese ethnic group face an integration process in which they are basically incompatible? When he first entered the company, he was actually very sensitive in feeling that many of the older managers in the factory adopted a very negative and contemptuous attitude towards mainlanders--working together on what had to be done, but keeping quiet about their private affairs.
"I had an expert knowledge of law and would often enthusiastically help my colleagues solve domestic or private legal problems. I did as the Romans did and took part in all their group activities, drinking and toasting generously. So I made very good relations amongst the younger generation." After a while, his friendliness and practicality led many of the company's old hands to gradually change their view that "mainlanders are all bad tempered and poor charactered."
When he had just joined the company, his Mandarin-Taiwanese accent actually drew quite a bit of attention and became the object of much mirth. "Hey! Ah Tung, have a go at speaking some Taiwanese." When, red faced, he spluttered out some broken sentences, everyone would burst out laughing; the provincial barrier was daily reduced. During meetings, when everyone was talking Taiwanese, he would be given special attention: "If you do not understand, then do please ask." Some people would even enthusiastically offer to translate for him.
But that is not to say there were no setbacks at all. In the first one or two years at the company, he was assigned to go out of town to negotiate with distributors throughout the island. He had to work alongside native Taiwanese from all areas with very bad Mandarin, which made him realize even more the importance of speaking Taiwanese at work. With this steeling, in his third year he was able to give answers fluently. Today, because of his bilingual standard, he has become the natural master of ceremonies at all the company's important large meetings.
These days when Ku Cheng-tung interviews newcomers, he asks them: "Can you speak Taiwanese?"
With his attitude of industriousness and sincerity, Ku Cheng- tung (center) has won the acceptance of his native Taiwanese colleagues.