Don't outsource ideological toil to Taiwan's youth

Hung Hsiu-chu, deputy Parliament speaker from the ruling KMT, waves during a ceremony to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the WWII in Taipei on July 5 2015.
Hung Hsiu-chu, deputy Parliament speaker from the ruling KMT, waves during a ceremony to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the WWII in Taipei on July 5 2015.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on July 29, 2015, Taiwan's The China Post urges the opposition party not to outsource the traditional ideological labour of its rank-­and-­file members to teenagers, and urges young activists to re-think their approach.

Last week, Taiwanese minors stormed the Ministry of Education (MOE) in a desperate move to generate attention for their months­-long struggle to bring changes to the high school curriculum guidelines touching on how the island's history is taught.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has voiced support for the youngsters and reporters who got caught up in the MOE storming, calling on the MOE to drop legal charges against the protesters, to immediately reverse the guideline alterations and provide a formal apology.

Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate Hung Hsiu­-chu said that students had the "right to make mistakes" but that demands could not be made using illegal means. She compared students to businesses, saying that businesses could not just storm the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) if the government's policies were found wanting.

Student activism is taken up ambiguously in Taiwan, and as commentary and analysis of The China Post has argued, this form of ideological leaning toward or against activism, or subsequent moves to remove the agency of students should itself be scrutinised.

Taiwan's most politically active generation has its reasons to worry about their future. Unfortunately in this case, they have stormed the wrong ministry.

History binds a collective together in good ways and in bad. If written as a form of victor's justice, official narratives lack legitimacy and are prone to politicised resistance. The current attempts to revise Taiwan's post-war history, however, do not represent a movement toward consensus, but a push to subsume one official account with another.

It is disheartening that a political party such as the DPP with deep roots with other progressive social movements in Taiwan would allow the supremacy of ethnic nationalism to undercut much more pressing issues faced by the next generation.

A more pressing issue is the inter­generational injustice that has largely denied the younger generation a sustainable and meaningful life. Taiwan's economic bottleneck is not a matter of national competitiveness, but a perpetual squeezing of value from value chain production that gives very little incentive for companies to raise wages. In the last decade, monthly income of the age group of curriculum reform protestors has actually fallen.

Stagnant income and poor employment conditions are ticking time bombs for social unrest which will bear no comparison to the current sporadic student movements.

Unfortunately, the two­-party system has not addressed these problems convincingly, because both are hiding behind terms such as "appealing to centrist voters" and "maintaining the status quo".

From the Sunflower Movement onward, we can observe a disturbing shift within the opposition party in which it has prepared to take over the reins of power from the KMT largely by keeping intact its economic policies, leaving the youth to take up "old school" ideological toil.

Students and youth indeed have the right to make mistakes. They are writing a very new history of activism, and for this they should not be belittled in the process. Our compassion can go a long way should we care to understand their misgivings and objectives.

Yet real change cannot be achieved without societal consensus, which needs to involve all parties and social movements.

Supporters of the ruling party and Hung need to reflect upon how their policies over the past seven years have led to increased social disparity and how changes can be made to give the nation's young something to work for.

Corporations do not have to storm the MOEA if their demands are not met because the government is usually a partner in deregulation and liberalising trade, or at least acquiesces to the demands of business owners more often than that of the average worker.

A caveat also goes out to the DPP. If it continues to outsource the traditional ideological labour of its rank-and-­file members to teenagers of school age, they should at least ensure proper wages and rightful employment benefits to their outsourced youth battalions.

But most importantly to the youth activists who continue to press for their ideals: Continue to question authority, but also persistently ask yourselves: how you can better gain support from the rest of society? Ask yourselves if you are pitching the right battle.

Consider how you should achieve and sustain your aspirations without betraying your idealism.

Dig deeper to give change greater meaning, and a greater chance.

Editorial Notes reproduces editorials appearing in member papers of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a voluntary grouping of 22 newspapers.