1989 / 3月
Kuo Wei-fan /photos courtesy of Lin Hsin /tr. by Peter Eberly
Society on Taiwan is in a stage of transition. Quite a bit of academic discussion has been devoted to the most striking symptoms of the transformation in the nation's economy, politics, and society, but the underlying psychological factors have rarely been examined.
In fact, a "silent revolution" is taking place in which many commonplace truths of the past are being questioned by young people today. Outmoded ways of thinking have been cast off and new ideas are rapidly being absorbed, but at the same time an unhealthy trend has arisen to defy the conventional and pursue the unorthodox for its own sake. Even more alarming is the way many people, in blindly rebelling against established authority, have become obsessed with taking redress into their own hands, producing a series of fracases and farces. In sum, the value concepts of the Chinese people are clearly changing.
When a society, thanks to economic development, advances to a certain level of material abundance, people pursue things beyond the material level--in food they want atmosphere; in clothing they want taste; and in shelter they want status. They stress participation and democracy, they look for respect, and they want their own style and personality.
Traditional society was built on the work ethic. It placed prime importance on production and the virtues of diligence and frugality. But in recent years, the winds of consumerism have blown in from the West. In a mass-production industrial society, businessmen have done all they can to stimulate the urge to consume through advertising and easy credit, and the concept that "the consumer comes first" has gradually taken shape.
Consumerism has spread from the marketplace to the campus and other areas. The clamor for students' rights is a byproduct of it. The argument that the consumer comes first stresses the rights and obligations of buyer and seller, a contractual relationship that supersedes the ethical relationship between student and teacher. Consumerism also encourages the proclivity for comfort and pleasure, cheapening the value of production and the work ethic.
A pervading atmosphere of commercialism has grown ever stronger in recent years. People no longer judge things by their usefulness as such but by their relative value as determined by market supply and demand. Prices are constantly fluctuating, the most obvious example being stocks. The standing of many politicians goes up and down too.
The most glaring example of values being driven by the marketplace is popularity charts. Everybody loves a winner, but once your market value drops nobody knows you. This causes people today to excel at self-promotion, to use all their wits to show off and toot their own horn, to fear only that the public may grow indifferent or forget them. Now there are popularity charts not only for best sellers and pop music but also for politicians and universities. Once the pop chart mentality has taken over, people place importance solely on creating an image, fame becomes the measure of success, and the public's standard of judgment is no longer innate value but market value: being popular means being valuable.
Philosophers of an earlier day believed that time and space were a priori conceptual categories, but modern man's concepts of time and space have become more and more subjective. As for time, although everyone still lives 24 hours a day, the pace of life is ever accelerating and people are increasingly impatient. The days of "slow work yields fine products" have gradually vanished, and Chinese people seem to look more and more for quick results, immediate profit, and instant gratification. No wonder fast food is all the rage and speculation and opportunism rampant. Not only are white-haired scholars less and less evident on campuses, but artists willing to spend ten years to complete a masterpiece are scarcer than hen's teeth.
As to the concepts of space, physical space and psychological space have exhibited a serious dichotomy. The modern broadcast media have made us neighbors with the ends of the earth, but interpersonal relationships have become more distant by the day. Neighbors might live at opposite ends of the earth for all they have to do with one another. People are more concerned about big events thousands of miles away than the daily affairs of their friends and neighbors, and modern transportation has enabled more and more people to engage in long-distance travel. Vast spatial distances have been overcome by advances in the means of transportation, but traffic jams in the city make it hard to budge an inch. When it takes more time to get about in the city than to travel long distances by airplane, then the significance of spatial distances has gradually become blurred.
Note: The above are portions of a speech given last November 19th at National Taiwan Normal University by Kuo Wei-fan, chairman of the Council for Cultural Planning & Development.