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National Youth Commission Minister Li Chiun Cheng

Give Youths the Power to Change


The government minister most closely involved with Taiwanese youth talks about the economic, social, political and cultural challenges they face.



Give Youths the Power to Change

By Sherry Lee
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 384 )

Li Chiun Cheng has an innate rebelliousness. The year she gained admission to National Taiwan University , the Taipei resident was determined to strike out on her own and work to support herself. Only upon receiving her first report card did her parents discover that she had quietly switched majors from civil engineering to philosophy. And her studies were punctuated with daring and adventure, as she led protests in both Taiwan and France .

Her rebellion is clearly focused, because she has long known exactly what she seeks.

As minister of the National Youth Commission for the past three and one-half years, Cheng is much closer to youths than other government ministers. Without a hint of arrogance, she gives her views of the current generation of young people, offering: 'Young people around 20 years old are a highly free generation in Taiwanese history, the most democratic generation, as well as being very open, self-reliant, creative, and international.' To this she adds, 'They're the most explosive generation.'

Having visited countries around the world, she has an international perspective. Pointing out the unique strengths and weaknesses of Taiwanese youths, her observations and opinions are valuable for teachers on the front line.

Following are highlights from an interview she recently granted CommonWealth Magazine :

This crop of youths is caught amidst two big trends. From the outside we have the challenges of globalization. Although Taiwan became part of the global trade network a long time ago, the entry of former communist countries and Third World nations into the competitive platform since the 1990s, plus Taiwan's need to upgrade, has put young people in a social and economic environment totally unlike that of the previous generation.

Internally, Taiwan has entered a new democratic order, but operational efficiency is hampered by constant friction between political parties and the poor responsiveness of domestic politics.

Yet I still see opportunities. The young people around 20 years old are the first generation to come of age in a free and open society. They are the most democratic, truly creative, and relatively international generation.

The development of this young generation will shape Taiwan 's future. If it goes well, Taiwan will fare well amidst globalization. The countries that win out in globalization are those that rely on people's skills and abilities.

Four areas await the next generation:

Economically, this generation must bring about high quality across all industries. Whereas previously production was based on labor, this generation will draw on ability and wise leadership. This will determine whether or not Taiwan 's average per capita income will cross the US$20,000 and $30,000 thresholds.

In terms of social equity, due to the 'winner's circle' effect of globalization and the yawning gap between rich and poor, some young people will find themselves at a disadvantage. This makes the fairness and quality of education of primary importance to ensure that more members of this generation enter the winner's circle and to help the disadvantaged in society.

The third aspect is democratic politics. Democracy is determined by the character of the citizenry. If this generation becomes disillusioned with democracy, gives up on society, and fails to develop a community consciousness and mature civic character, then democracy will not mature further.

Fourth is cultural life. The former manufacturing-oriented economy was lacking in humanities and quality of life, but this generation of young people puts a great deal of emphasis on quality of life. Nevertheless, they must forge true cultured living if they are to become the driving force of the creative economy.

Direct Involvement in Politics

Youth policy is a top-priority policy for EU member states and numerous other nations in the face of globalization. For instance, the French prime minister is directly responsible for the country's youth commission, bringing government officials and youths together in dialogue. Taiwan does not recognize the central position of youth policy, remaining mired instead in the concepts of the authoritarian, paternalistic age and clinging to notions that youths are a problem and only know how to misbehave.

As a result, Taiwanese society lacks a strategy for bringing its young people into the mainstream. Adults see them as children, and parents prefer them to be our appendages rather than independent sovereign entities. This prevents our youths from having the opportunity to develop an adult sense of responsibility.

In 2003, Taiwan established the Youth Affairs Promotion Committee, a fairly low-level body. A Youth Consultative Task Force under the committee has 21 youths directly involved in policy discussions.

I truly believe that inter-generational communication cannot be bridged simply through knowledge, but that youths must be permitted to participate directly in policy discussions.

New Paths to Success Needed

The previous generation's path to success cannot be retraced. What's more, this generation's values are different.

Youths care about three things: First, they want to achieve self-realization. Second, they want Taiwan to shine brightly, be it in bartending or baseball, as long as Taiwan is strong and has something to be proud of. Third, society must be fair and take care of its disadvantaged. This is the vision of society and the world embraced by today's Taiwanese youths.

This generation's values are slowly taking shape, but their individual standing has not yet become clear, unlike, for instance, the post-war Baby Boomer generation's rebelliousness of the 1960s. So they submit to society's mainstream.

Putting Aside Narrow Educational Approaches

Our biggest fear is society's inability to respond to this generation's demands. That would be a waste of their potential. In particular, I am referring to narrow views of education.

Are we able to communicate to the next generation that an individual's growth doesn't come from test scores or professional accomplishments? A person's growth is about what kind of relationship one has with the world ?V one's relationships with groups, society, the country, and the world at large.

We have always been encouraging youths to get involved, to care about public issues and public policy. The country must work from here to foster young people's confidence, so that their lives and their horizons open up before them.

Taiwan 's next generation should have a worldwide perspective. By that I don't mean a focus on the international news, but rather, an interest in how other people live, their culture, history, humanities, social phenomena, systems, as well as the ability to understand and appreciate what transpires in other worlds and other corners of the globe, and even to know about the poverty of the Third World .

When you have a broad worldview you can know who you are, what Taiwan is, and what you want to do in the future.

Recently, we held a study tour of Taiwan , taking students to Taisi in Yunlin County . The cultural and historical experts that organized the event were touched, saying that Taisi hasn't had that many young people there in a long, long time.

Young people are beginning to reflect. Before, they only knew about seafood culture and nothing about maritime culture. Having taken a tour around Taiwan , they have built emotional bonds with the sea.

So many youths have never realized that their opinions are worthwhile, but once they get involved they gain a sense of accomplishment, which gives them inspiration and enlightenment. They discover they're a part of society, the country, and the world, and that is the main thing they take away from this.

Our education builds up a sense of frustration. Good learning takes practice and requires successful experience. Society should provide some guidance, opportunities, and a stage for them to believe that they can do whatever they set their minds on.

Belief is a powerful force. We should let our youths discover they can influence the course of history, and believe that society and history can be transformed. The question is what you do or don't do. The results can be either positive or negative. But at the very least, I believe we need the next generation to know that they are full of explosive power and because of that they can change the future.

Translated from the Chinese by David Toman

Chinese Version: 讓青年擁有改變的力量