Talkin' 'Bout Their Generation

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The mainland, communism, reunification--it's all, like, so yesterday. Better to go and buy more CDs, says Crystal Yang, a 22-year-old graduate student. For young Taiwanese like her, the issues of China, the upcoming election and politics in general are remote and kind of, like, bor-ring. Who is the President of China? asks Shih I-i, 19, a student at Taipei's Fu-Jen University. Is it Jiang Zemin? I thought he was kicked out.
Whatever. One quarter of Taiwan's electorate is under the age of 30, and while the more mature set may revel in the island's spanking new democracy, the youth are blasť or, if anything, just itching to throw some bums out. Politics is a dirty business, says Yang. The three presidential candidates are disappointing. The implications of that ennui are potentially significant: if Taiwan's youth ever become politicized, they will almost certainly vote to oust the establishment that has ruled the island since 1949. Youngsters are tired of the Kuomintang, says Liu I-chou, professor of political science at Taipei's National Chengchi University. They want a new party that is spunky and energetic. Carol Huang, 22, who works at an Internet company, is one of those who want something new. I will vote for anyone but Lien Chan, she says. He promises nothing but the baggage of the KMT.After more than half a century, the KMT is hauling a lot of baggage. Outsiders may think the big election issue is the standoff with the mainland, but young Taiwanese view things differently. They are concerned with domestic issues such as crime and corruption, and they assume that relations with China will trundle along unchanged. I don't think China would wage a war, says Li Ching-hwa, 25, a Kaohsiung native now doing the 22-month military duty required of all Taiwanese men. That has no benefit for either side. Besides, the international forces would intervene.

For many young Taiwanese, China is a non-issue. We have nothing to do with them, says Lillian Hsieh, 28, a management executive. Taiwan is a country. We are different. Why do they want us? Carol Huang visited China last August and returned less than impressed. China is dirty, she says. People spit on the street. They think of us as subordinates--and blast us as snobs. I wasn't very happy. According to George Chang, a veejay on MTV's Taiwan service, young Taiwanese crave pop songs from the mainland but associate them with a China that doesn't actually exist. They love them because the artists represent an affluent Chinese culture. They don't really have an idea of what mainland China is, he says. That's bad news for a China that is determined to bring Taiwan back into its fold. The image of China is becoming a blur, says professor Liu. It is going to be a hard task to reunite Taiwan using patriotic arguments. The oldsters may debate whether Taiwan is a part of China, a state or an entity. For the younger generation, it's simply home.