1999 / 10月
（Basic Agricultural Statistics, 1998）
Laura Li /photos courtesy of Diago Chu /tr. by Brent Heinrich
When the ROC government relocated to Taiwan in 1949, it brought along with it military personnel from 36 provinces throughout China. Native sons of Taiwan, sad to part with the edifying influence of Japanese culture, lived side by side on the same small island with old soldiers from Shandong, who sang anti-Japanese battle hymns every day. The exiled elite of Shanghai, right out of a Pai Hsien-yun novel, found themselves rubbing shoulders with local vagabonds that could have been Huang Chun-ming's "Bumpkin Kin-ah."
Since then, Tainan-style pork noodles, spicy Hunan chicken and Peking roast duck have formed a chorus line on Taiwan's restaurant buffets. Disciples of Tibetan lamas have worshipped next door to followers of the mother goddess Matzu, and gents from northeast China have made brides of Penghu ladies. For half a century, southern accents have mixed with northern ones. The Three Gorges of the Yangtze and the Chuoshui River have both nourished the imaginations of Taiwanese people.
The tragedy of history has allowed Taiwanese society in the last half century to exhibit a rich character seldom seen in the world. Nevertheless, Taiwan society, once repressive and closed, has yet to find a path clearly its own. Taiwan moves with a constantly shifting vitality, only waiting for the people to move in a common direction.
"The changes in Taiwanese society can be summed up in one word-'fast'," says Chai Sung-lin, professor of psychology at National Chengchi University and president of the Chinese Association for Human Rights. "This has especially been the case over the last five years, when there was as much change as in the previous fifty."
The gas oven explodes
Chai, who as early as 1980 blazed the trail of Taiwanese social activism with the Consumers' Foundation, is both a leader of Taiwanese society and a witness to its growing power. He created Taipei's first literary society (the Li-Ho Chung Memorial Museum), the first care center for the mentally challenged (Taipei First Children's Development Center) and the first environmental group (the New Environment Foundation). Recently he has introduced the United Nations' newest perspectives on human rights. Nevertheless, Chai, whose head of white hair reveals his years, admits he feels that society is changing too fast. "Everyone is groping in the dark as we face new situations. We don't have any kind of life experience that's worth being proud of, that we can pass on to the next generation."
The astoundingly diverse changes in society are due to the loosening of ideological shackles, which has given free reign to creativity and thought. The abundance of wealth, knowledge and leisure among the people has provided fertile ground for inspiration and ideas. This would have been difficult to imagine in the past.
Well-known UFO radio host Yu Mei-jen recalls that 30 years ago, when the Taiwanese Little League baseball team the Dragons won the world championship, the Taipei night nearly boiled over. When the game finished at 3 a.m., the streets of the city erupted with the constant banging of firecrackers, as ordinary citizens opened their windows and yelled out to the night sky, "Long live the Republic of China!" President Chiang Kai-shek immediately dispatched a congratulatory telegraph: "You have won glory for the nation, and I am greatly delighted." The humiliation of being unrecognized as a part of the international community, the repressiveness of martial law, and the frustrations of a fatiguing life had built up emotions in Taiwanese society to a boiling point.
Taiwanese felt unsure of themselves in all aspects of life. Chai Sung-lin recollects that in the early 1980s, when air conditioning was still uncommon, Taiwanese men couldn't bear to keep their suit coats on during the summer. "As soon as you put it on, you were soaked with sweat. With only one or two suits at home, you couldn't avoid getting them cleaned, which ran up quite a bill at the dry cleaner's." Therefore, it became acceptable not to wear a blazer, but unthinkable to leave home without one. "When you walked down the street, every male you'd meet had a coat draped over his wrist, because they were afraid other people would look down on them." Thinking back on those days, Chai can't help narrowing his eyes into a contented smile.
In her newest book Centenary Reflections, author Lung Ying-tai, who lived in Europe for many years and has recently returned to Taiwan at the request of Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou to serve as director of the Taipei City Cultural Council Planning Office, offers insight into the "wildfire phenomenon" that she sparked a decade ago. She describes Taiwan in the 1980s as a gas oven with the pressure building inside, and her appraising eye and sharp pen as a match that unintentionally set off an explosion in the island's stifled society, which had "grievances but no place to seek justice, pain but nowhere to call out."
Today, with democracy, prosperity and a high level of education, the people of Taiwan radiate an inner sense of confidence. They do not need a world championship to prove the existence of their country, nor do they need a clumsy blazer to display their own status. Even direct provocation barely incites the passion of people. Old ladies and gents would rather chat about traveling to see the snow in Japan, or visiting the grandkids in America, while young people stay up all night in a queue to buy Hello Kitty dolls. Getting them to reflect upon the prospects of society is no easy task.
A tale of two generations
Amidst the leisure, confidence and pluralism, there are also feelings of bewilderment and conflict. What kind of new values are needed for this new era? Family values, work values, social values; person-to-person, individual-to-environment, citizen-to-government-it is evidently more difficult to resolve these questions than to satisfy purely material needs.
"The Japanese call the people born after the war the 'bee generation' or the 'ant people.' That's a very accurate description of Taiwan's post-war baby boomers too," says Chai Sung-lin. When they were younger, the bee generation had very simple expectations in life: social stability, family togetherness, filial piety from their children, diligence at work and the chance to set some savings away. They didn't consider anything beyond that. Yet as society grew more free and diverse, the baby boomers, who represented the dominant force in society, couldn't help but undergo their own revolution in consciousness.
The elderly Mr. Wang, who enjoyed a long career in academia, has a daughter who went to school abroad for many years, and married an American. In her early years of marriage, she made up her mind not to have children, shocking her own parents, who had their hearts set on grandkids. Recently, she divorced but chose to stay in America by herself, and she never even came back to Taiwan to discuss the matter with them.
"Ah! The two generations are so different," Mr. Wang sighs. "Just what are young people thinking? We don't even dare ask!"
Family values have broken down all over the world. What makes Taiwan unique is the swiftness with which this has occurred.
Chai Sung-lin observes that Taiwan's divorce rate has skyrocketed in recent years. Currently, it is the highest rate in Asia, and even surpasses many Western countries. Today, nearly one out of four marriages ends in divorce. Similarly, one recent survey indicated that the pregnancy rate among Taiwanese girls aged 15-19 stands at 1.7%, several times as high as Japan's 0.4%.
A closer analysis reveals that the profile of the typical Taiwanese couple getting a divorce is shifting. In the past, the peak period of divorce was five to seven years after marriage, the most frequent reason being infidelity on the part of the husband-the standard "seven-year itch." Now divorcing couples are polarizing into two different types. The first are those married only a year or two who discover their personalities are incompatible and hurriedly part ways while they are still not burdened with children. The other major group is older couples, who, having suffered through a long and unhappy marriage, finally divorce after their children have grown and constraints have been removed.
Marriage expert Peng Huai-chen commented in a seminar, "The moral restraints on divorce have decreased; women have become economically autonomous; education and information are flourishing. All these things have heightened people's expectations about marriage and dramatically decreased their tolerance for marital frustrations."
Dissolving family, exploding society
The structure of the extended family has broken down as the size of households has shrunk. Currently, the number of people in the average Taiwanese household has dropped to 3.4, and the traditional functions of the family have nearly ceased.
"When today's older generation was young, extended families still had the ability to look after themselves. If a big clan lived in a traditional compound centered around their own courtyard, anyone that was sick or out of work could recuperate under the protective wings of the extended family," says Taipei County deputy chief Lin Wan-yi, who is currently planning the county's social welfare system. Within a single generation, the functions of the family declined greatly. Today, young married couples prefer to buy everything: When a mother bears a child and takes the traditional month of rest, she does it in a special center. Children are sent to day-care schools. Elders are sent to rest homes. . . . When the cost of services becomes too great, people cry for the government to provide them.
Nevertheless, some kinds of services can't be bought, nor can the government provide them. In recent years, suicide, patricide, wife killing and child abuse have filled the headlines. "Don't underestimate the support network and the restraining capacity that an extended family provides," says Lin. "During critical moments of anxiety and emotional unsteadiness, it can often exert a tranquilizing force, holding onto a person so that he doesn't fall down."
Yet with the rapid rise of individualism, the dissolution of the traditional family is inevitable. Because Taiwan has had insufficient time to respond, the situation is exceptionally worrisome.
The drop in the birth rate and the pace at which the population is aging are other speed records for Taiwan.
Liu Yu-lan, director of Manpower Planning Development at the Council for Economic Planning and Development, which has recently proposed a pension fund plan, offers a warning: Taiwan now has more than 1.8 million senior citizens (65 years and above), accounting for 8.5% of the population. It took Sweden 85 years for the elderly population to double. In the United States, it took 60 years, and in Japan, 24. For Taiwan, it needed a mere 21 years. The shift in population structure is having a tremendous impact upon various levels of society, including the economy, education, and even national defense. This requires a high degree of preparedness. Revealing her anxiety, Liu remarks, "We don't have enough experience, and time is too short."
Aside from the breakdown of the family structure and the aging of the population, a throng of second-generation urban workers have made their appearance, making Taiwan's social structure even more fragile than in times past.
Chai Sung-lin points out that in the era following World War II, Taiwan was still an agrarian society. The total number of industrial workers was less than 100,000. Almost all the people that found work in factories were the sons or daughters of farmers. In that situation, it was common to have the attitude of, "No big deal-if this job doesn't pan out, I can always go home and work the fields."
But by the early 1960s, Taiwan gradually moved into full-on industrialization, and professional "urban workers" began to appear on a mass scale. They sold off their land in the country, left their old homes, and moved to the city. In other words, they became people without an escape route. Recent years have seen disputes arising between labor and management and laid-off workers taking extreme measures of protest, such as lying down on railroad tracks and picketing factories. They carry out these actions not only because of an increase in labor rights consciousness, but also because their prospects have undeniably dimmed.
Confronted with this transformation in society, the government began in the 1980s to create a social safety net. Step by step, national health insurance, retirement pensions, and other measures were initiated. Unemployment insurance, once seen as "something that breeds greed and sloth," was also formally unveiled at the beginning of 1999.
Social reform a flash in the pan?
As Taiwan changes by leaps and bounds, the nine million workers concentrated in its major urban areas are confronted with global competition and the information age, yet at the same time the old values and authoritarian system of agricultural society persist. Old and new values conflict. The string of social movements that began in the 1980s indicate a collision between social empowerment and the old system, as well as the determined effort of society to establish a new set of rules.
Just prior to the suspension of martial law, many social activist groups started to crop up, and in their wake, wave upon wave of protest movements. First came the Consumers' Foundation in 1980, followed by such groups as the Awakening Foundation, the Taiwan Labour Front, the May 20th farmers' movement, Snails Without Shells (which worked to reduce housing costs), and the Wild Lily movement (which sought to end political restrictions on college campuses).
"In the past, everyone believed that only the government had the ability, the resources and the duty to handle public affairs. Now we've discovered that the people have more power than we thought. Ordinary people can present their own ideas and challenge government decisions."
Looking forward to a mature society
"Formerly, Taiwan under its authoritarian political system never cultivated mechanisms to encourage autonomy. It lacked a civil society given to self-reflection. It wasn't in the habit of discussing, deliberating and making judgments, and it lacked a concern for local affairs." Ping Lu's soft, moderate tone reveals an undercurrent of hurt. "Then as soon as authoritarian rule was relaxed, capitalism rushed in to fill the vacuum, moving into every nook and cranny."
Because of authoritarianism, people didn't know how to deliberate, and the many years in which economics dominated national life caused the populace to focus their gaze strictly on the dollar sign: "I buy, therefore I am." Nevertheless, Chai Sung-lin, who has been active in recent years supporting human rights in Taiwan, is not pessimistic.
"Which political candidate doesn't wave the banner of 'social justice'? Maybe Taiwanese society has a way to go before it achieves a just society, but much greater attention is already being placed on human rights," says Chai. No one was even allowed to broach the subject of human rights during the period of martial law, and though it was a cherished goal of activists, their efforts were limited to the political realm. Even 12 years ago, when Chai founded the Taipei First Children's Development Center, the government simply did not concede that mental retardation was a handicap which could be improved, let alone that doing so was the government's responsibility.
Today not only has the government made restitution for the February 28th Incident (an event in 1947, in which newly arrived KMT forces massacred Taiwanese), but organizations have also formed to help "comfort women" gain compensation from Japan, the constitution has been amended to recognize the rights of indigenous people, and crime victims are now allowed compensation in civil suits. From victims of car accidents to battered wives and children, the rights of every individual are being respected. This is an improvement.
From the signing of England's Magna Carta to the first stirrings of democracy, to the growth of a mature participatory civic society, it took Europe 400 years. Although Taiwan has transformed extremely rapidly, some things cannot be accomplished on the fast track.
Chai Sung-lin affirms: "There are such abundant resources buried deep in Taiwanese society. With its prosperity and high level of education, give it a little time, and it will find its own way."
Even during the hardest of times, on every folk holiday the devout people of Taiwan always packed a table with offerings to show reverence to their ancestors and the spirits. These traditions continue to the present day. (photo by Wu Yung-shun)
During the 1950s and 60s, there were many single-parent families among the destitute refugees from mainla and China. Some families ended up in such dire financial straits that they had to place their beloved children in orphanages. The photo shows a scene from the Yikuang orphanage in Taipei. (photo by Huang Po-chi)
Do you still remember Hualien's Red Leaf little league baseball team? These little tykes that used sticks as bats and rocks as balls began Taiwan's "triple champion" little league craze that spanned a full 20 years. (courtesy of the China Times Information Center)
These "delinquent youths" obediently prostrating themselves clearly show the authority of the police in days gone by. The photo was taken during the 1960s. (courtesy of the Central News Agency)
The world's first successful surgical separation of male Siamese twins, in 1979, is one of the most memorable chapters in the collective memory of the Taiwanese people. The boys had been joined at the pelvis. Today the two twins Chung-jen and Chung-yi have already celebrated their 22nd birthday, and both have entered the work force. (courtesy of the China Times Information Center)
The Association for the Homeless, which ten years ago mobilized tens of thousands of people to camp out on Taipei City's Chunghsiao East Road, set the tone for the 1980s, when social activism was at its height.
With a loving commitment to "bringing Buddhism to the people and compassion to the world," the nun Chengyen is now well known throughout the world for her long years of assistance to the disadvantaged and victims of calamity. In their blue uniforms, the members of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation exemplify the warmth and vitality of the people. (photo by Diago Chiu)
A. Population increases by a factor of 2.8 (Unit: 1000)
B. Proportion of senior citizens in total population rises sharply (Unit: % of population over 65)
C. Divorce rate climbs
(figures show crude divorce rate in couples per thousand):
D. Sharp increase in life expectancy
E. Unemployment rate varies over time
F. Crime rate causes concern (figures show violent crimes per 100,000 people)
G-1. Per capita annual rice consumption (kilos)
G-2. Per capita annual fruit consumption (kilos)
Sources: Items A-F from the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics, ROC Socio-Economic Indicators; Item G from the Council of Agriculture, Basic Agricultural Statistics, 1998)