The almighty Taobao, China’s leading consumer-to-consumer marketplace, once again achieved the unthinkable. And this time, it’s not even about ecommerce. Taobao, by expanding to Taiwan, seems to have achieved what the Communist Party has been trying to achieve in the past 60 years – to let the people of Taiwan agree that the island is but part of China.
Numerous mainland Chinese media have picked up discussions on a Taiwan BBS PTT.CC on how Taobao has “penetrated Taiwan’s defense line” and will succeed at “re-uniting” Taiwan before the Communist Party. How exactly? If one from Taiwan wants to buy on Taobao, he or she will have to first register with “Taiwan province”, and then have their purchases ship to “Taiwan province, China.”
Such behaviors, in the eyes of many Taiwan netizens, are “unpatriotic.” Like one of them commented: “It’s selling off our country for a few cheap purchases.”
Taobao officially started its expansion to Taiwan in early 2012. By the end of the year, in the top 10 cities of per capita Alipay expenditure (third-party payment service of Taobao), four were from Taiwan. It has been a successful expansion without a doubt.
Taiwan consumers are lured to Taobao for the same reasons that their mainland counterparts love Taobao – the all-you-can-think-of inventory, the cheap price and the fast shipping. What makes it tricky for some Taiwan consumers is that many stores on Taobao offer “nation-wide” free shipping, in which “national-wide” means one either chooses “Taiwan province” to enjoy the free shipping, or pays for the delivery. For many, it’s an easy choice. Like one netizen 伦敦枪炮玫瑰 commented: “Convenience and cheap price triumph all.”
While Taiwan netizens are anxious about how Taobao may influence their subconscience of the complicated political relationship between mainland China and Taiwan, mainland Chinese netizens are congratulating Jack Ma, head of Alibaba which owns Taobao and Tmall, on his success of “bringing back” Taiwan: “Finally a peaceful way to re-unite Taiwan! This is the power of Taobao!.”
It’s still too early to tell whether and how Taobao can influence how the people of Taiwan identify themselves, if at all. The one thing for sure, as netizen Wing在广州 put it, is that while China “failed to re-unite Taiwan politically, it succeeded economically.”