As the nation celebrates Youth Day today in commemoration of the dozens of young patriots who sacrificed their lives for the birth of a new country more than a century ago, Taiwanese should also be proud of today’s young people, who, in some ways, are even more courageous than their predecessors and perhaps deserve their own Youth Day.
Youth Day was designated in memory of the more than 80 revolutionaries killed in the Huanghuagang Uprising (also known as the “Yellow Flower Mound Uprising”) on April 27, 1911. The uprising failed, but eventually led to the Xinhai Revolution later that year that overthrew the Qing Dynasty and led to the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC).
In the past century, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime in Taiwan has advocated the spirit of the “72 martyrs” — only 72 bodies were identified in the aftermath of the failed uprising — using their patriotic act to inspire young people.
Let us first put aside the potential argument that some, staunch Taiwan independence supporters in particular, might raise about the relationship between the ROC and Taiwan, and how young Taiwanese nowadays could relate to and find motivation in the bravery of the martyrs across the Taiwan Strait more than 100 years ago: For them to die for what they believed in was truly admirable.
However, times have changed. Barring military conflicts and wars, it would be difficult for young people today to imagine that they would have to give up their lives to safeguard their country.
Born in the post-Martial Law era, they could be inspired by Deng Nan-jung’s (鄭南榕) self-immolation and death for freedom of speech and democracy, yet they probably could not imagine themselves having to do the same thing to fight an authoritarian regime, because Taiwan without democracy is the furthest thing from their minds.
While many see young people today as the “strawberry generation,” a group that is spoiled and selfish, who do not work hard and do not care, they have shown they do care about what is happening around them and when they have the determination, they work very hard.
Perhaps because they were born in a democratic era and “take democracy for granted,” these young people value equality, freedom and justice more than their predecessors, which is why, in the past two years, they have fought against injustice and the things they believe jeopardize the world in which they live.
They fought in Losheng (樂生), Huaguang (華光) and Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) against mandatory demolition by the government, as well as against the Miramar Resort in Taitung and Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co’s plans to build a chemical plant in Changhua County, projects that could endanger the environment.
They marched in the streets against monopolization of the media and besieged government buildings not once, but many times, vowing to make their voices heard.
In some ways, young people have taken on the spirit of the 72 martyrs and the ideology the former authoritarian regime bestowed upon Taiwanese with its slogan: “This is your country; save it by yourself.”
Some of them may go into politics, some may work for civic groups, while others will simply become fathers, mothers and employees who work in fields unrelated to advocacy. However, it seems very likely that they will be citizens who care and try to change the world for the better.