2010 / 1月
Laura Li /tr. by Scott Williams
I recently read an article about a 17-year-old boy who thought the stories in his history texts were pure made-up nonsense that eulogized stupidities committed under the pretense of righteousness.
The example the boy cited was that of the Ming-Dynasty moralist Fang Xiaoru, who refused to write a document commemorating the Emperor Zhu Di's accession. When Zhu Di (the Yongle Emperor) told Fang to write it or face the extermination of nine generations of his family, Fang is said to have replied, "Never mind nine, exterminate 10!" As a result, the emperor executed not only Fang and his family members, but also his students and friends. The emperor ultimately killed 873 people in the only "extermination of the 10 agnates" in Chinese history.
The story is truly feudal-Fang sacrificed his life and those of others in his refusal to condone Zhu Di's seizure of the throne. But was Fang "stupid" to do so? What is "smart?" Is it smart to serve four different emperors as prime minister in an attempt to stabilize the political situation? Is it smart to open the gates to enemies and treat them with respect to preserve the lives of ordinary citizens?
Given that values vary with ethnic group and time period, it is very difficult to make definitive statements about them. All individuals can do is act in accordance with the values in which they have been immersed. Those who fail to adhere to the values of their place and time, or who act from different premises-for example, by working with an enemy in times that stress ardent loyalty-are typically reviled.
We should nonetheless celebrate this child's ability to disagree with his textbook. After all, Taiwan has enjoyed many years of peace and liberalization. We are free to question or even reject our traditions. We've basically resolved the big questions of right and wrong, or turned them into non-issues. And while our children will still need to take care of themselves, they are unlikely to be called upon to lay down their lives in the name of a cause.
The youth movement that is the subject of this month's cover story lacks a treatise like that of the May Fourth Movement (as well as that movement's regrets). Neither is it associated with the kind of tragic events that characterized the February 28 Incident, the Formosa Incident, or the Tian'anmen protests.
The younger generation's student movement is a struggle to lift restrictions on free assembly; its women's movement is a struggle for social-welfare benefits for infants and toddlers; its workers' movement, a fight for adequate overtime pay; and its most widespread concern reserved for animal rights and environmental protection. This suggests that the major issues of the day have become more specialized and limited, more personal, and oriented towards even non-human subjects.
It isn't that student and social movements have weakened, it's that the times have changed. What's frustrating is that even as previous generations have lightened our political and economic yokes, we as individuals have become less adaptable. Nowadays, the newspapers are filled with stories on young people killing their girlfriends, unemployed children who live at home beating or killing their parents, debt collection companies hounding people to death, depression and psychological imbalances.... While survival isn't that hard, life apparently is. As a society, we seem unhappier than ever.
But, why? Are human beings just incapable of enjoying peace of mind? Do we turn on one another when there's nothing external to battle? Can we not get along with ourselves? These issues are beyond the scope of traditional social movements, and perhaps it's just as well that the younger generation is concerned with smaller questions. But entry into the working world and life's turbid waters will soon challenge their innocence and enthusiasm.
The current issue also features a report on Liu Siu-mei, the founder of Taiwan's Civilian Arts Movement. Liu argues that "art has the power to make people happy and strong" and has, through her inspirational work, succeeded in making flowers bloom among life's thorns.
Social progress never stops. While we pay our respects to those who keep us moving forward, we would also like to express the hope that our readers find in their own lives the means to be proactive and that they enjoy a wonderful new year!