Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Generation gaps mean very little

By Kuan Chung-hsiang 管中祥

According to recent reports by the Chinese-language China Times, 43 percent of youths find the term "Strawberry Generation" unacceptable. This result concurs with surveys I conducted in university lectures. Even if some students accept the label, most do so only conditionally.

After embellishment by mass media, "Strawberry Generation" is not only equated with "Seventh Graders," as in those born between 1981 and 1990, but also imbued with pejorative connotations such as having low resistance to stress, being losers, or belonging to the "Moonlight Tribe" -- or those who spend a month's salary before month's end. Yet, one kind of rice feeds a hundred different characters, which means even with similar life experiences, these youths remain unique, individual entities.

Unfortunately, for purposes of convenient manipulation and marketing, the mass media have simplified the richness of the generation's identity. At the same time, it creates an inflexible and derogatory prejudice against a social group.

This situation is not exclusive to "Seventh Graders." Marching into middle age, the "Fifth Graders" -- those born between 1961 and 1970 -- were likewise branded "Generation X" in their youth.

At the time, the media characterized Generation X as hedonistic consumers lacking responsibility and confidence and without definitive life goals. This formulation is no different from what the "Strawberry Generation" represents today.

Paradoxically, those who brand the nation's youths "Seventh Graders" are the "Generation X" of old. This strange designation and interpretation demonstrate not only a generation gap, but the discrepancy in authority between "Fifth Graders" and "Seventh Graders."

Other than being stereotyped the "Strawberry Generation," "Seventh Graders," another stereotypical label, are youths who don't care about public affairs. Are young people today really less civic minded?

Even during the mid-80s, when social movements were in full swing, or during the Wild Lily Student Movement, students who devoted themselves to public affairs had always been in the minority. And yet, the social reform efforts of today's students recall a lot of the passion from the days of the Wild Lily Student Movement. For example, many professors and students contributed to the campaign to preserve Lo Sheng Sanatorium in April.

Youths involved in the Lo Sheng Republic of Human Rights and Cultural Rights and the Youth Labor Union 95, as well as others who commit themselves to causes such as the community, labor relations, gender equality, education, culture, equality and anti-globalization have already become Taiwan's new force of reform.

Unlike previous generations of student movements, they do not have star student leaders and do not place the responsibility of social reform in the hands of political parties. Conversely, they see the falseness of blue vs. green politics. The spearhead of reform is no longer directed at turning the political table, but rooted in social change.

This type of civic participation differs from joining the China Youth Corps, religious missions or other organizations in that it stresses social reform on a policy level and displays a new social force through concrete resistance and the commitment to work. This attitude and spirit are outside the simple label of "Strawberry Generation."

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