Sat, Mar 23, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Youth, the key to Taiwan’s future

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

The only aberration I have seen since 2008 were the protests surrounding the first visit by Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), then-chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, which, though it attracted mostly people from the green camp, also involved a larger mobilization of younger Taiwanese.

Beyond the protests, symposiums and academic gatherings have reflected this generational divide.

Contrast last Friday’s World Taiwanese Congress (WTC) in Taipei with the various focus groups and lectures organized to address a variety of issues, from the destruction of private property by the government to the risks posed by the monopolization of the media environment.

It is little wonder that older Taiwanese believe the younger generation cannot be bothered to become involved in political issues: If the only yardstick used is attendance at lectures (mostly in Taiwanese) in dark conference halls by people who have been regurgitating the same old message for decades, then yes, one could conclude that young Taiwanese could not care less.

However, that is not the case; their lack of participation at those events is because the issues addressed there are seen as irrelevant to young people’s lives.

In many ways young Taiwanese have moved on and no longer understand political participation as meaning opposition to KMT authoritarianism. Instead they look to the future, not harping on issues that, in their view, have already been resolved (democracy, identity), and instead focus on matters of justice and on issues that directly impact their lives: jobs, salaries, owning (and keeping) a house, and so on.

It could even be said that young Taiwanese are applying Nelson Mandela’s message of forgiveness (of past wrongs perpetrated by the apartheid regime) and inclusiveness (a new South Africa for all its inhabitants, white and black).

There is true hope for this nation and its ability to heal from the wounds of the 228 Massacre and the White Terror era when young Taiwanese turn out in large numbers to protest at the injustices perpetrated by a KMT government that seeks to demolish houses that have served as homes to Mainlanders for decades. Issues of “Taiwanese” versus “Mainlander” are unimportant to them; what matters is the injustice caused by those who wield power against those who do not. Those issues of injustice often span several years and involve both KMT and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administrations.

Old arguments about who is a “true” Taiwanese and who is not, or how “evil” a supposedly monolithic KMT is are divisive and do not build solid foundations for a nation. Solidarity does. That sense of solidarity appears to be snowballing, with more organizations showing support for, and participating alongside, other groups.

This cross-pollination of causes has become more apparent in recent protests, with young people one day rallying against the unfair treatment of laid-off workers, only to show up again a few weeks later leading a group of protesters on a 3km six-step-and-kneel walk to Ketagalan Boulevard to oppose the destruction of the Losheng (“Happy Life”) Sanatorium (a perfect example of both DPP and KMT administrations going against the wishes of the people, though the issue of land-grabbing appears to have worsened under the current KMT administration).

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