By Ting-feng Wu
Taiwan’s young people cannot be ignored. They are the hope of the future, but also a potentially disruptive force. To get a feel for what they’re thinking, CommonWealth Magazine surveyed Taiwan’s junior and senior high school students in October to judge the effectiveness of their civic education. The survey, whose respondents ranged in age from 12 to 17, found that Taiwan’s adolescent generation has an ambiguous relationship with adults, remaining tethered to the world of the older generation, but also existing in a different universe. Young respondents demonstrated progressive values and an almost defiant bravery. But as the first generation reared on the Internet, they pose major challenges to those trying to figure out how to shape “digital citizens.” Phenomenon 1: Mixed Signals on Self and Country Cultivating identification with the country and respect for its symbols (flag, national anthem, and leader) and a sense of obligation to perform military service and pay taxes have always been the core goals behind the promotion of civic education. The survey found that traditional core civic education symbols all received the support of more than 60 percent of respondents. That is why prominent male entertainers who have found ways to dodge military service requirements have drawn the ire of students on campuses around the country. But support for fulfilling one’s military service did not translate into actually wanting to fight. When CommonWealth Magazine asked junior and senior high students, “Would you be willing to see yourself or family members head to battle if the country went to war with another country?” 39 percent answered they were “willing” or “very willing,” but even more (44 percent) said they were unwilling.
This civic-education “stress test” offered an indication that local teenagers have not fully bought into their traditional civic duties. The civic sentiment of “sacrificing myself for the greater good” is no longer an unshakable value among Taiwan’s young. In the modern age, however, the gap in translating civic obligations into actual practice cannot be interpreted through such judgmental moralism. Taiwan has no intention of returning to the days of absolute obedience, when people were expected to die unquestioningly for their country. Today, to get young people to understand why there is a need to fight and for whom they are fighting, leaders need to rely on communication and reasoning to resonate with young citizens rather than relying on the top-down propaganda of the past.