The increasingly large role played by young people in the many protests that have taken place in Taiwan lately has attracted a lot of criticism.
Some believe that participating in protest after protest, skipping classes “on a whim” and throwing shoes at people is a betrayal of previous generations’ hard work and sacrifice. Others think that these protesters are perfect examples of how the younger generation is relying on their mothers for everything, and that when all the shoes are thrown, nothing will have changed. Still others stress that “the government owes you nothing, you owe yourself everything.”
There is no doubt that these opinions belong to a generation that is no longer young, to people who already have a place in society. If you read between the lines, they are saying that young people should study hard and that protests are helpful neither to themselves nor to society at large.
Anyone who participates in mass actions must be prepared to be criticized, but if the critics do not make sense, they cannot preach to the young, and they will find no support in society at large.
One of the characteristics of being young is to have ideals and to be passionate. Implying that being radical is part of being young, someone — some say former British prime minister Winston Churchill — has said: “Show me a young conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart.”
In Taiwan, some people say the young people are part of “the strawberry generation” because they cannot handle pressure very well. However, by stepping forward to participate in the protests against media monopolization, against the demolition of houses in Miaoli County’s Dapu Borough (大埔) or the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), the young are showing that they are no strawberries.
To paraphrase National Tsing Hua University student Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷): We have already stood up, and we are standing in the darkness together with the persecuted, trying to find a new way.
Taiwan’s economy and politics have run into problems in the past few years, and anyone who is not young must share part of the blame. It is difficult for young people to find a job, real salaries are falling, housing prices have been driven through the roof, the wealth gap is widening and democracy and human rights are deteriorating.
Looking to the future, the weight of the pension system and health insurance — which are both nearing bankruptcy — is too heavy for the young generation to carry. And worst of all, we might become part of China.
In similarly difficult times, many notable people have encouraged the younger generation. Former US president John F. Kennedy once said: “Let us not despair but act. Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past — let us accept our own responsibility for the future,” while Churchill said: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never.”
For those of us who are middle-aged and older, if we do not apologize to young people, we should at least have the common sense to engage in some self-reflection. What right do we have to criticize the young?
Lu Shih-hsiang is an adviser to the Taipei Times.
Translated by Perry Svensson