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Taiwan student movement reveals elders' democratic hypocrisy

Publication Date : 12-04-2014


In Taiwan, society allows no one to stay in limbo, at least when it comes to political preference. You are either for unification with the mainland, or you are for independence; pro-Kuomintang or pro-DPP.

The labelling starts from a young age. Children usually side with their family's political leanings and begin to engage in political arguments that gradually become more heated as they develop a more complete — yet biased — knowledge of Taiwan's political scene.

Taiwan's history lies forgotten in the course of these developments. Before 1986, students were schooled in the history of China. Taiwan's history was only introduced after Martial Law was lifted and taught by teachers who seemed uncertain of the content they were suddenly expected to explain.

Deeply rooted political preferences aside, Taiwan's next generation of leaders were born at a time when “traditional thought” was crumbling. Democracy was a raw concept that was first introduced to students by the same teachers who enforced the outlandish rules of holding a “class conference” that allowed students to propose and vote for their class officials and other issues. Respect for different voices was the first rule seared into their minds. Grown-up democracy is also fledgling; our current president is only the third to be elected directly by the people. Many find it unbelievable that our democracy is as young as it is — something taken for granted by the younger generation.

Educated to think independently, yet to retain the slavishness that is found in so much of Chinese society, we are also taught to cower before the elders who feed, clothe and enlighten us. Having the audacity to question authority is unthinkable. Fortunate as they are to have missed once-legal corporal punishment in school, today's students are destined to grow up as the “strawberry generation” — crushed at the slightest hint of pressure.

And as they charge into the nation's — if Taiwan is one — parliament, oblivious to laws that democracy was structured on, the older generation roared its disapproval. Who do these students think they are? Who are they to claim they represent the people's opinions? Their arrogance should be stamped out of them.

It became apparent after a couple of days inside the Assembly Hall that the government was trying to smother the people whom they saw as ungrateful brats; physically, through a lack of fresh air, and by waiting for them to break mentally. Many in the government hurled belittling insults, some beautifully wrapped in fancy speeches, at the generation that had begun to ponder the same question: who do you think you are? How did you attain the position from which you glare down at us now?

The relationship between the majority and minority is another element that comprises the concept of democracy. The majority's wishes are granted while the minorities' opposing voices receive respect and tolerance. Some 20 years ago, several leading Democratic Progressive Party politicians gathered tens of thousands of people for sit-ins, calling for the government to amend the Constitution and allow the people to elect their own president, as opposed to the status quo of being appointed by the National Assembly. Among those who loudly opposed this new-fangled idea was Ma Ying-jeou, who now basks in the halo of the same controversial position, obtained in the very same way he once condemned.

A common trait of ruling politicians is that they reap what others have sown, standing high atop their podiums and shouting down at people who once voted for them. Being the actual representative of people's opinions as indicated by their votes, it is a wonder that our leaders are brazen enough to distance themselves from the voices that should be respected and heeded in a democracy.

For 24 days, both sides waited. The students and the supporting activists were reported to be losing steam and forced into a corner that would no longer hold them if they continued the stalemate. The government continues to repeat its propaganda for the cross-strait trade pact and pretend the entire incident was a mere teenage revolt that will die down like all teenage trends.

If someone isn't what the others want him or her to be, they become angry. To put it crudely, opposing opinions are allowed but only when you are in power. Of course, it was predictable that civilians and students would lose when pitted against the government, but the least the government could do was truly heed the people's voices.


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