Since former US President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, Taiwan has remained in a diplomatic limbo; it is treated as a de facto autonomous state, but yet it is also recognized as part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  Such existential vulnerability perfectly illustrates why Taiwan is described as “on the edge” (Weller 2000: 2).  Historically, Taiwan has had no right to self-determination: it has been under Dutch rule since 1624, only to be absorbed by the Ming then Qing dynasties, and it was later occupied by the Japanese until the end of the Second World War (Weller 2000: 3).  And, while Taiwan’s export-oriented industrialization quickly brought wealth into the semi-state nation, its economic growth remains heavily reliant on small-scale entrepreneurs unlike that of Japan or South Korea.  Consequently, Taiwan deals with an unusually large informal sector, which the government has no control over – rendering Taiwan’s economy more vulnerable to economic shocks (Weller 2000: 5).  However, the recent series of historical events have sharpened this sense of “existential vulnerability”.  While Cross-Strait relations have thawed after the US broke off diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, the institution of One-China policy (1992) and the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis (1995-96), have soured Taiwan-China diplomatic ties.  The Taiwanese youth grew up during this period of hostility and diplomatic vulnerability.  This generational cohort is conscious of China’s suppression of Taiwan’s right to self-determination, democratization, and that the mainland is penetrating Taiwan’s economy.  Such narrative directly runs against the party platform of the Kuomintang of China (KMT).  The KMT has enjoyed the ruling party status in the Parliament Yuan for the majority of Taiwan’s modern existence (Jung 2012: 36).  It has ideologically pushed for Chinese nationalism, Chinese unification, and stronger economic ties with the mainland (Rigger 2006: 6).

This paper will argue that the KMT’s hegemonic ideologies of Cross-Strait unification and liberalization of Taiwan-China trade failed to interpellate the Taiwanese youth into “pro-China”, neoliberal subjectivities.  This is because of their shared historical experience of the recently heightened Cross-Strait tensions and the KMT’s failure to uphold democratic institutions or Taiwanese sovereignty – all of which deeply delegitimized the KMT’s discourse.  Such experiences instead interpellated the youth to increasingly subscribe to Taiwanese nationalism.  This newly awakening of national consciousness, which embodies the notions of Taiwanese independence and democratization, has been reproduced especially in youth political activism and youth subcultures; it has challenged and rendered the status quo highly vulnerable.  Critically, this paper refers the works of sociologists Karl Mannheim and Dick Hebdige as a theoretical tool to explain two main points.  Mannheim’s theory on generations as a sociological phenomenon is employed to explain why horizontal comradeship has manifested more intensely amongst the Taiwanese millennials than their older counterparts.  As well, Hebdige’s theory on youth subcultures as symbolic forms of resistance is referred to better understand the reproduction of Taiwanese nationalism in Taiwanese punk scene.  The information presented in this paper predates the recent 2016 Taiwanese general elections, which historically marked the first instance the KMT lost its majority rule in the Parliament Yuan.

Aforementioned, the KMT has pushed for an ideological discourse that largely favors stronger ties with China – both diplomatically and economically.  However, it should be understood that such ties are not meant to be equal: the greater the tie, the stronger influence China has over Taiwan.  Because of this, such discourse remains deeply unpopular amongst the Taiwanese millennials.  An opposition to the mainland’s influence over Taiwan predates the birth of millennials.  However, the series of hostile Cross-Strait events that swept the 90’s have reproduced this opposition view – which the Taiwanese youth have adopted growing up.  The KMT’s failure to review the 2013 Cross-Straits Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) item-by-item with the opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP), was the catalyst that reproduced and disseminated Taiwanese nationalism amongst the youth – an ideology that embodies discourses that run counter to that of the KMT (Rowan 2015: 6).  To be clear, CSSTA was exclusively aimed at liberalizing trade between the two economies; it had no measures for or against Taiwan’s self-determination or democratic institutions.  Nevertheless, it reproduced nationalistic sentiment because China’s bolstered economic influence over Taiwan could render the semi-state more vulnerable to the mainland’s political pressures – which places the values held by the Taiwanese youth at stake.  This was what the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement specifically aimed to address.

This then begs the question: Why was it the millennials that spearhead this movement and not their older counterparts?  What led the Taiwanese youth to subscribe and act for a discourse that runs counter to that of the KMT?  According to Mannheim, a generation holds two defining features.  A generation is comprised of members born at the same time and as well, in the same sociocultural context.  However, this similarity alone only makes up an age cohort, not necessarily a generation.  What is required then is for the age cohort to collectively share experiences that destabilize prevailing sociocultural norms (Rigger 2006: 16).  However, the definition alone fails to explain the previously posed question.  This is because all generations, whether it be the millennials or the baby boomers, have witnessed the KMT’s political backing of CSSTA.  In response, Mannheim articulates that each age cohort experiences – in this case the KMT’s backing of CSSTA – “in its own way” since it encounters historical moments at different ages.  Specifically, Mannheim points out that experience felt in youth freshly shapes an individual’s worldview, while an older age cohort would merely incorporate into their existing worldview (Rigger 2006: 17).  Critically, Mannheim’s theory perfectly captures why the Taiwanese youth collectively embrace Taiwanese nationalism and have challenged the KMT’s hegemonic ideologies of Cross-Strait unification and liberalization of Taiwan-China trade.

Similar to the case of the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, Taiwanese nationalism has been reproduced in Taiwan’s punk scene.  Recently, despite the recession that ubiquitously swept the music industry globally, the punk scene has flourished in Taiwan (Chang 2010: 89).  In the photo essay, “The face of independence?  A visual record of Taiwanese indie music scene”, Chang makes note of well-known punk artists in Taiwan and their use of music to reproduce the discourse of self-determination and Taiwanese nationalism articulated by the millennials.  Chang notes of punk artist Freddy Lim who avidly advocates for the Taiwan independence movement, and the indie band Black Hand Nakasi, a workers’ band comprised of union organizers, workers, and progressive students (Chang 2010: 92, 94).  Again, this begs the question: Why are Taiwanese punk and indie artists employing music for political activism, and reproducing the ideological discourses held by the millennials?  According to Hebdige, youth subcultures are symbolic forms of resistance.  More specifically, they aim to challenge hegemonic ideologies symbolically (Hebdige 1979: 357-367).  Resistance is therefore manifested in style; the style of clothing, hair, makeup, and attitude associated with the punk scene are all unorthodox and “out of the norm”.  Critically, the unorthodox nature of Taiwan’s punk scene runs against the norms and values held by the traditional and highly conservative KMT.  Not only is the scene’s unorthodoxy a form of resistance in Taiwan, but the punk artists’ use of their musical platform to advocate for Taiwanese nationalism should be regarded as an another layer of resistance against the status quo.

In retrospect, the KMT’s hegemonic ideologies of Cross-Strait unification and Taiwan-China trade liberalization have failed to interpellate the Taiwanese millennials into “pro-China”, neoliberal subjectivities.  However, in the face of Taiwan’s political and economic vulnerability to China, the youth instead sought out for alternative subjectivities.  Their shared experiences with Cross-Strait tensions interpellated them to be more nationalistic and identify themselves as more Taiwanese as opposed to Chinese.  Such nationalistic sentiment embodied the discourses of Taiwanese independence, right to self-determination, and economic autonomy.  These discourses then became reproduced through different social agents – like the 2014 Sunflower Student Protest calling out the KMT’s corruption and “pro-China” position and the flourishing punk scene in Taiwan.  The works of Mannheim and Hebidge provide a theoretical account of why the youth have spearheaded the movement against the KMT status quo.

 

Reference List

 

Chang, Shih‐Lun. 2010. “The Face of Independence? A Visual Record of Taiwanese Indie Music Scene.” InterAsia Cultural Studies 11 (1): 89-99.

 

Hebdige, Dick. 1979 (1993). “From Culture to Hegemony,” IN Simon During (ed.) The Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge. Pp. 357-67.

 

Jung, Shaw-wu. 2012. “Building Civil Society on Rubble: Citizenship and the Politics of Culture in Taiwan.” Critique of Anthropology 32 (1): 20-42. http://resolver.scholarsportal.info/resolve/0308275x/v32i0001/20_bcsorctpocit.

 

Rigger, Shelley. 2006. “Taiwan’s rising rationalism: Generations, politics, and ‘Taiwanese nationalism’”. Policy Studies http://simplelink.library.utoronto.ca/url.cfm/494593

 

Rowan, Ian. 2015. “Inside Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement: Twenty-FourDays in a Student-Occupied Parliament, and the Future of the Region,” The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 74, No. 1 (February) 2015: 5–21.

 

Weller, Robert P. 2000. “Living at the Edge: Religion, Capitalism, and the End of the Nation-State in Taiwan,” Public Culture (May 2000), 12 (2), pg. 477-498.

Since former US President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, Taiwan has remained in a diplomatic limbo; it is treated as a de facto autonomous state, but yet it is also recognized as part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  Such existential vulnerability perfectly illustrates why Taiwan is described as “on the edge” (Weller 2000: 2).  Historically, Taiwan has had no right to self-determination: it has been under Dutch rule since 1624, only to be absorbed by the Ming then Qing dynasties, and it was later occupied by the Japanese until the end of the Second World War (Weller 2000: 3).  And, while Taiwan’s export-oriented industrialization quickly brought wealth into the semi-state nation, its economic growth remains heavily reliant on small-scale entrepreneurs unlike that of Japan or South Korea.  Consequently, Taiwan deals with an unusually large informal sector, which the government has no control over – rendering Taiwan’s economy more vulnerable to economic shocks (Weller 2000: 5).  However, the recent series of historical events have sharpened this sense of “existential vulnerability”.  While Cross-Strait relations have thawed after the US broke off diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, the institution of One-China policy (1992) and the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis (1995-96), have soured Taiwan-China diplomatic ties.  The Taiwanese youth grew up during this period of hostility and diplomatic vulnerability.  This generational cohort is conscious of China’s suppression of Taiwan’s right to self-determination, democratization, and that the mainland is penetrating Taiwan’s economy.  Such narrative directly runs against the party platform of the Kuomintang of China (KMT).  The KMT has enjoyed the ruling party status in the Parliament Yuan for the majority of Taiwan’s modern existence (Jung 2012: 36).  It has ideologically pushed for Chinese nationalism, Chinese unification, and stronger economic ties with the mainland (Rigger 2006: 6).

This paper will argue that the KMT’s hegemonic ideologies of Cross-Strait unification and liberalization of Taiwan-China trade failed to interpellate the Taiwanese youth into “pro-China”, neoliberal subjectivities.  This is because of their shared historical experience of the recently heightened Cross-Strait tensions and the KMT’s failure to uphold democratic institutions or Taiwanese sovereignty – all of which deeply delegitimized the KMT’s discourse.  Such experiences instead interpellated the youth to increasingly subscribe to Taiwanese nationalism.  This newly awakening of national consciousness, which embodies the notions of Taiwanese independence and democratization, has been reproduced especially in youth political activism and youth subcultures; it has challenged and rendered the status quo highly vulnerable.  Critically, this paper refers the works of sociologists Karl Mannheim and Dick Hebdige as a theoretical tool to explain two main points.  Mannheim’s theory on generations as a sociological phenomenon is employed to explain why horizontal comradeship has manifested more intensely amongst the Taiwanese millennials than their older counterparts.  As well, Hebdige’s theory on youth subcultures as symbolic forms of resistance is referred to better understand the reproduction of Taiwanese nationalism in Taiwanese punk scene.  The information presented in this paper predates the recent 2016 Taiwanese general elections, which historically marked the first instance the KMT lost its majority rule in the Parliament Yuan.

Aforementioned, the KMT has pushed for an ideological discourse that largely favors stronger ties with China – both diplomatically and economically.  However, it should be understood that such ties are not meant to be equal: the greater the tie, the stronger influence China has over Taiwan.  Because of this, such discourse remains deeply unpopular amongst the Taiwanese millennials.  An opposition to the mainland’s influence over Taiwan predates the birth of millennials.  However, the series of hostile Cross-Strait events that swept the 90’s have reproduced this opposition view – which the Taiwanese youth have adopted growing up.  The KMT’s failure to review the 2013 Cross-Straits Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) item-by-item with the opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP), was the catalyst that reproduced and disseminated Taiwanese nationalism amongst the youth – an ideology that embodies discourses that run counter to that of the KMT (Rowan 2015: 6).  To be clear, CSSTA was exclusively aimed at liberalizing trade between the two economies; it had no measures for or against Taiwan’s self-determination or democratic institutions.  Nevertheless, it reproduced nationalistic sentiment because China’s bolstered economic influence over Taiwan could render the semi-state more vulnerable to the mainland’s political pressures – which places the values held by the Taiwanese youth at stake.  This was what the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement specifically aimed to address.

This then begs the question: Why was it the millennials that spearhead this movement and not their older counterparts?  What led the Taiwanese youth to subscribe and act for a discourse that runs counter to that of the KMT?  According to Mannheim, a generation holds two defining features.  A generation is comprised of members born at the same time and as well, in the same sociocultural context.  However, this similarity alone only makes up an age cohort, not necessarily a generation.  What is required then is for the age cohort to collectively share experiences that destabilize prevailing sociocultural norms (Rigger 2006: 16).  However, the definition alone fails to explain the previously posed question.  This is because all generations, whether it be the millennials or the baby boomers, have witnessed the KMT’s political backing of CSSTA.  In response, Mannheim articulates that each age cohort experiences – in this case the KMT’s backing of CSSTA – “in its own way” since it encounters historical moments at different ages.  Specifically, Mannheim points out that experience felt in youth freshly shapes an individual’s worldview, while an older age cohort would merely incorporate into their existing worldview (Rigger 2006: 17).  Critically, Mannheim’s theory perfectly captures why the Taiwanese youth collectively embrace Taiwanese nationalism and have challenged the KMT’s hegemonic ideologies of Cross-Strait unification and liberalization of Taiwan-China trade.

Similar to the case of the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, Taiwanese nationalism has been reproduced in Taiwan’s punk scene.  Recently, despite the recession that ubiquitously swept the music industry globally, the punk scene has flourished in Taiwan (Chang 2010: 89).  In the photo essay, “The face of independence?  A visual record of Taiwanese indie music scene”, Chang makes note of well-known punk artists in Taiwan and their use of music to reproduce the discourse of self-determination and Taiwanese nationalism articulated by the millennials.  Chang notes of punk artist Freddy Lim who avidly advocates for the Taiwan independence movement, and the indie band Black Hand Nakasi, a workers’ band comprised of union organizers, workers, and progressive students (Chang 2010: 92, 94).  Again, this begs the question: Why are Taiwanese punk and indie artists employing music for political activism, and reproducing the ideological discourses held by the millennials?  According to Hebdige, youth subcultures are symbolic forms of resistance.  More specifically, they aim to challenge hegemonic ideologies symbolically (Hebdige 1979: 357-367).  Resistance is therefore manifested in style; the style of clothing, hair, makeup, and attitude associated with the punk scene are all unorthodox and “out of the norm”.  Critically, the unorthodox nature of Taiwan’s punk scene runs against the norms and values held by the traditional and highly conservative KMT.  Not only is the scene’s unorthodoxy a form of resistance in Taiwan, but the punk artists’ use of their musical platform to advocate for Taiwanese nationalism should be regarded as an another layer of resistance against the status quo.

In retrospect, the KMT’s hegemonic ideologies of Cross-Strait unification and Taiwan-China trade liberalization have failed to interpellate the Taiwanese millennials into “pro-China”, neoliberal subjectivities.  However, in the face of Taiwan’s political and economic vulnerability to China, the youth instead sought out for alternative subjectivities.  Their shared experiences with Cross-Strait tensions interpellated them to be more nationalistic and identify themselves as more Taiwanese as opposed to Chinese.  Such nationalistic sentiment embodied the discourses of Taiwanese independence, right to self-determination, and economic autonomy.  These discourses then became reproduced through different social agents – like the 2014 Sunflower Student Protest calling out the KMT’s corruption and “pro-China” position and the flourishing punk scene in Taiwan.  The works of Mannheim and Hebidge provide a theoretical account of why the youth have spearheaded the movement against the KMT status quo.

 

Reference List

 

Chang, Shih‐Lun. 2010. “The Face of Independence? A Visual Record of Taiwanese Indie Music Scene.” InterAsia Cultural Studies 11 (1): 89-99.

 

Hebdige, Dick. 1979 (1993). “From Culture to Hegemony,” IN Simon During (ed.) The Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge. Pp. 357-67.

 

Jung, Shaw-wu. 2012. “Building Civil Society on Rubble: Citizenship and the Politics of Culture in Taiwan.” Critique of Anthropology 32 (1): 20-42. http://resolver.scholarsportal.info/resolve/0308275x/v32i0001/20_bcsorctpocit.

 

Rigger, Shelley. 2006. “Taiwan’s rising rationalism: Generations, politics, and ‘Taiwanese nationalism’”. Policy Studies http://simplelink.library.utoronto.ca/url.cfm/494593

 

Rowan, Ian. 2015. “Inside Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement: Twenty-FourDays in a Student-Occupied Parliament, and the Future of the Region,” The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 74, No. 1 (February) 2015: 5–21.

 

Weller, Robert P. 2000. “Living at the Edge: Religion, Capitalism, and the End of the Nation-State in Taiwan,” Public Culture (May 2000), 12 (2), pg. 477-498.