There is a common misconception that any banquet hosted by the President is a state banquet. In fact, a banquet held by the President only qualifies as a state banquet when the President formally hosts a visiting head of state. In most cases, state banquets are held in the evening. Whether the first lady attends or not depends on whether the spouse of the visiting head of state is present. Exacting protocol, intricate meals, and live music are features of state banquets, most of which are held at major hotels in Taipei or the Auditorium in the Presidential Office Building. State banquets have also been held in many places around Taiwan to coordinate with the itineraries of foreign heads of state on their visits here. In order to pay the highest respect to the foreign leader, guests not only include members of the delegation accompanying the foreign head of state, but also ambassadors to the ROC, high-ranking government officials, and leaders from the private sector. These banquets are usually attended by about 100 guests.
Cuisine is one of the focal points of a state banquet, and many people are quite curious as to what sort of things are typically on the menu. The foremost consideration in selecting ingredients is whether the main guest particularly likes a certain food or does not eat specific foods. Any food the consumption of which would affect a protected species, such as shark fin or bird’s nest, is typically avoided. Other foods that are hard to eat, such as fish with bones, unpeeled shrimp, or crabs, will also not be selected. Special dishes that highlight Taiwan’s unique culinary culture, such as local snacks and well-known dishes, have all been served in the past. In addition, the meal will have an array of seasonal fruits, and Taiwan oolong tea is commonly served during the meal.
Live music is another highlight of a state banquet. The Ministry of National Defense Symphony Orchestra is responsible for providing the music. This band is composed of outstanding conscripts who graduated with music degrees from colleges or universities. Music is carefully selected and will include well-known local and Western melodies, as well as songs popular in the nation of the visiting head of state. In addition to introductions by the master of ceremonies, an exquisitely printed program provides more detailed information.
State banquets usually start off with a pre-dinner cocktail, brief introductions of the invited guests to the heads of state, and then the banquet itself. Invited guests and dignitaries arrive at the venue about 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the event, after which they exchange pleasantries and have a pre-dinner cocktail. At this time, the two heads of state will retreat to a reception room for discussions. About 10 minutes before the beginning of the banquet, a protocol officer will guide the invited guests, in order of their rank, to meet the two heads of state. Each guest is introduced to the two leaders by calling out his or her name. Then, after all of the guests take their seats, the two leaders walk into the banquet hall as The President’s March is played by the band.
Once the two leaders take their places and before the state banquet begins, the national anthem of the visiting leader is played to express respect and a warm welcome. The two leaders exchange decorations, deliver remarks, and raise their glasses to toast each other either before the beginning of the banquet or at an appropriate time during the event. After the banquet begins, the guests enjoy a lovely meal and engage in conversation, all the while being serenaded by orchestral music. The entire banquet is held in a festive atmosphere. After the meal is completed, the master of ceremonies will at an appropriate moment invite the two leaders and all the guests to stand up for the playing of the ROC national anthem. This marks the end of the banquet, after which the two leaders depart the banquet hall, again to The President’s March. The President escorts the visiting head of state to the main entrance of the venue, where they shake hands goodbye. Starting from the pre-banquet introductions to the heads of state, the entire state banquet lasts about 150 minutes.