Sun, Apr 23, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Youth must rebuild an unfinished nation

By Lee Min-yung 李敏勇

The term “lost generation” describes the generation that came of age during World War I. The term was popularized by US author Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises and entered the global lexicon, with many of Hemingway’s contemporaries adopting the term in their writing.

Hemingway, in turn, credited US writer Gertrude Stein for having coined the phrase while the two were living in Paris. The term helped shape the mood of a generation and inspired a rich body of literature.

A generation shares its fate with the era in which it lives, including its politics, economics and culture. A sense of loss manifests itself through culture and is reflected in a society’s politics.

In Taiwan following World War II, Japanese colonial rule was replaced by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rule. The Taiwanese elite, schooled by the Japanese colonial government, had to overcome the imposition of a new language, the 228 Incident and the White Terror era.

After the KMT fled China and installed itself in Taiwan, new immigrants arrived, far from their native land. These “lost” people from abroad and “lost” Taiwanese eventually put aside their differences and formed a kind of common generational bond.

On the front line of the Cold War, Taiwan established itself as a thriving export economy. However, a combination of government concessions, protectionism, a miscalculated industrial upgrade and an unsound economic structure meant that Taiwanese businesses were unable to adapt and fell into a cycle of birth, growth, maturation and decline.

Taiwan’s economic prowess gradually trickled away to China, leaving the nation’s economy in dire straits and increasing the wealth gap.

The generation of Taiwanese born after World War II had to live through the Martial Law era; politics was in a state of constant distress, yet the economy was flourishing and there was money to be made.

Conversely, once martial law was lifted and Taiwanese gained their political freedom through a steady process of democratic reform, economic growth began to fizzle out.

Taiwanese businessman Hsu Chung-jen (徐重仁), president of Pxmart and formerly of President Chain Store Corp, two major national retail chains, last week criticized younger Taiwanese for complaining about low wages while spending beyond their means.

Hsu’s criticism is a metaphor for inter-generational change in Taiwan.

When Hsu made the comment, he might have been reflecting the attitude of his generation and might have privately thought that he was repeating a self-evident truth, but a disenchanted youth was stirred and enraged.

We are living in a different era and the younger generation has been dealt a different hand from that of their parents, which has created inter-generation conflict.

One only has to look at how the older generation of military personnel, civil servants and public-school teachers opposes pension reform to protect their special privileges. How should the younger generation react?

History is about the ebb and flow of one generation being replaced by the next. How did Germany and Japan, defeated in World War II, revitalize their shattered nations, and especially their sense of national purpose? Rebuilding a nation’s economy, politics and culture and its society is a question of structure.

Taiwan is still not a genuine, normalized nation: The older generation has handed down an abnormal nation. The political awakening of the younger generation has ushered in a new phase for Taiwan. It has fallen to the new “lost generation” of Taiwanese to initiate their nation’s economic and cultural revival.

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