The importance of being and speaking Taiwanese

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Meet Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the United States:

As you can see in the video, Bi-khim's father is Taiwanese and her American mother speaks fluent Taiwanese.

"Hsiao Bi-khim appointed Taiwan's representative to U.S.", Focus Taiwan (6/16/20)

Because she is the closest confidant(e) to President Tsai Ing-wen, Hsiao Bi-khim 蕭美琴 was appointed as representative of Taiwan to the U.S. last month. Her given name reflects the Taiwanese pronunciation of 美琴 (MSM Měiqín) and is written in Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ; Church Romanization). This is because her father is a pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. Her father is Siau Chheng-hun 蕭清芬 (N.B.: All three characters are read in the first tone, so there are no diacritic marks. I am not sure whether he uses Siau for his passport; he may likely use Wade-Giles Hsiao [Mandarin] just like his daughter).

Pastor Siau Chheng-hun holds the Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary and was president of Tainan Theological Seminary during the Kaohsiung Incident*. Some of the seminarians got involved in the incident and were arrested. As the president of the seminary he spent time attending to the imprisoned students and their families.

* Měilì dǎo shìjiàn 美麗島事件

The Kaohsiung Incident, also known as the Formosa Incident, the Meilidao Incident, or the Formosa Magazine Incident, was a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that occurred in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on 10 December 1979 during Taiwan's martial law period.


What's most unique about Bi-khim is that, through her mother's genealogy, she is a descendant of a Mayflower passenger. Her mother's name is Peggy Cooley (from North Carolina); she has a Masters degree in Music from Westminster Theological Seminary.

Here's another video (about 50 minutes long), which is an interview with Bi-khim in a "staged cafe" setting, mimicking a sort of French-style relaxed atmosphere. It provides more in depth background.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Chau Wu]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    July 21, 2020 @ 10:04 am

    From a colleague:

    Seeing the Romanization 'Bi-khim' in association with ' 美琴 ' gave me a flashback to so many good memories!

    I love the Southern Min language, partly for its sheer musicality (as expanded on below) and its ability to 'take me back' to the Taiwan of 1973-1976, but also for the more objective reason that it is arguably one of the two or three (or four?) non-pootoong languages is that is 'more Chinese than Mandarin'.

    By 'musicality' I refer to two things: First, the sound of Southern Min itself. But also the continual stream of 'counterpoint' that is generated as one hears, for example, 'Bi-khim' uttered at the moment against the backdrop of 'Měi-qín' in one's mind.

  2. Grace Wu said,

    July 21, 2020 @ 10:12 am

    Love my mother tongue!

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