A Taiwan photographer captures life on the mainland
By Tao Xing  ·  2023-06-13  ·   Source: NO.24 JUNE 15, 2023

Tsai Menghan and her husband Zhang Hang currently live in Shanghai where both work as photographers. Usually, Tsai shoots portraits and Zhang does still lifes. Tsai is also a part-time blogger. "I often share my photography and things I find inspirational on Xiaohongshu [an immensely popular lifestyle and e-commerce platform in China]. I also share other art-related content on it," Tsai, a young adult from China's Taiwan region, told Beijing Review. 

"Every video Menghan makes features new takeaways. And I enjoy it every time," Zhang, who was born and grew up in the southwestern mainland municipality of Chongqing, proudly remarked.

Tsai and Zhang met in 2017 during their master's degree studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York in the United States. "Inside the naturally romantic atmosphere of a darkroom, we fell in love," Tsai said.

When they first got together, Zhang didn't know his girlfriend was from Taiwan. It was when they went to sort out some paperwork at their college that he found out.

Tsai Menghan and her husband Zhang Hang at their graduation from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, the United States, on May 13, 2019 (COURTESY PHOTO)

"Maybe people generally can't tell [she's from Taiwan] because she attended schools on the mainland since primary school," Zhang added. Tsai's father came to the mainland to do business in the early 1990s. He then met Tsai's mother, who hails from Anhui Province in east China.

"After embarking on a relationship, together we went to school, traveled and eventually returned to the Chinese mainland to work. Our complementary personalities are a perfect match," Tsai said.

"In 2021, we got married in Chongqing, which is now like a second hometown to my wife," Zhang said.

As the couple are both photographers, they have a lot of shared interests, travel and art being two of them. When entering their home in Shanghai, one is greeted by a wall decorated with photos recording their memories. And when they have some time off, they like to travel far and wide, leaving their footprints all over the world.

Family plays a primary role in Chinese society. The Chinese are devoted to the wellbeing, stability and continuity of their family, fostering a collectivist rather than individualist family environment. Zhang once told Tsai, "We met each other after leaving our respective families. And then we went on to create a family of our own. The combination of two families, to me, is something very romantic."

In daily life, the young couple tends to avoid arguments and is willing to compromise when disagreement occurs. "When two people decide to spend the rest of their lives together, there is always a way [to settle whatever may irk the other]," Zhang said.

Tsai's father works in guitar manufacturing in Huizhou, another city in Guangdong. Being one of the Taiwan business people that invested in the mainland at an early time, the 56-year-old witnessed firsthand its opening up and economic and social development over the past decades. "When I first arrived, the mainland was underdeveloped. The three-plus decades since have brought fast, massive change, probably faster than anywhere else in the world," he told Beijing Review.

Tsai echoed her father. "It's still superfast. From my childhood till now, it keeps changing. Taiwan has seen fewer changes; basically, almost nothing has changed," she added. But the mainland has changed in so many ways that the family often finds life back in Taiwan to be rather "inconvenient."

"Convenience spoils people," Tsai's father said. Given he's gotten so used to all the convenience on the mainland, from ordering whatever whenever to cashless payments, that when in Taiwan he sometimes finds himself in embarrassing situations because he forgets to, for example, bring cash with him.

"A vast number of Taiwan compatriots and Taiwan-funded enterprises have actively participated in cross-Straits economic cooperation and integrated development, achieving better development owing to the huge opportunities the mainland offers," Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, told a press conference on May 31.

(Print Edition Title: Zooming In) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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