【English Corner】The Struggle for Self: Heritage and Independence in Taiwan

No matter Western or Eastern culture, children’s education is one of the more important issues in the modern world. However, there are some striking differences between how Western and Eastern society encourage independence in education. For example, while both Western and Eastern parents prepare resources for their children and hope that they will be able to have better lives, their views on what time parents should stop supporting their children is different. Western parents consider children independent when they are 18 years old. By contrast, teenagers above 18 years old are still treated as children by their parents in Eastern world. I believe different thought traditions have a huge influence on these social phenomena. 

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The Influences of Thought Traditions

Socrates and Confucius are both famous figures in Western and Eastern philosophy respectively, and their thoughts form modern society. Socrates was born in 469 BC, and Confucius was born in 551 BC. Both of them were teachers who believed that education was important to promote social advancement, so they both dedicated themselves to inspiring students to know how to ask a question, develop critical thinking skills, behave well, and have the right mindsets in order to make their countries stronger. 

However, there are some differences between them. Socrates developed "elenchus" which provides not only an approach to answering questions, but also serves as a scientific tool. On the other hand, from Confucius's point of view, He regarded Li(禮),which represented rituals and ceremonies, Ren(仁),which represented love and empathy in families and societies, and Yi(義),which represented righteousness, as principles to develop a harmonious society. Unlike Socrates who debated with his students with logic, Confucius guided students rhetorically or answered them directly in order to illustrate Li, Ren, or Yi. Due to the differences between Socrates's and Confucius's philosophy, the way people think in Western and Eastern cultures is different to this day.

Thought Traditions in Taiwanese Society 

Although there are some good qualities in Confucius's philosophy, most emperors in Chinese history utilized it as a tool to dominate and control people's thinking to prevent rebellions. There are five interpersonal relationships which include those between sovereign-minister, father-son, husband-wife, siblings, and friends. In many of these relationships, obedience is a key principle. People have to obey others who are older than them or who have more power. A son should obey his father. A wife should obey her husband. Citizens must obey their emperor. Emperors utilized this obedience to keep unrest away.

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Similarly, four traditional concepts by Confucius affect Taiwanese society as follows. The first traditional concept is emphasizing the importance of morality. People should behave properly on an ethical basis. Every person should take all responsibility in each relationship in their daily life. Second, ancestral ideas are important. People should take into account their family's or tribe's interests first, and people should have children to carry on their family's name. It also means getting married is necessary. The third traditional concept is filial respect. Filial respect is the “most important kindness among other kindnesses.” People should obey their parents and other seniors. Moreover, worshipping their ancestors is an event that presents their filial respect. Lastly, male chauvinism gives men higher status than women in a family and society traditionally. In a family, only male children belong to the man's family. Women shouldn't study or work, but they should do housework at home. People believe that they possess the virtue of  “Ren” when they obey these behaviors. These thoughts which are deep in people’s minds frame social norms that lead to a harmonious society.  

Independence Issues in Modern Taiwanese Society

In Taiwan, although modern society has changed, it is still greatly affected by traditional mindsets. 

First, people do not understand themselves. Young people are encouraged to take parent's or professor's advice rather than form their own opinions. This is because people think following elder’s advice is a way of showing filial respect, and people think their senior’s advice will be right. As a result, young people have less opportunities to learn how to be independent. For example, most of Taiwanese high school students are encouraged to study at a university selected by their parents. Parents and high school teachers usually believe that higher scores and more popular majors are better choices for students. Most students choose which college to attend and which major to study by their exam scores. As a result, some students are not really interested in their major because they never had time to learn to understand themselves. They couldn’t choose careers that they wanted to pursue. This situation lasts until they graduate. In other situations, students who are not interested in their major don't study hard and are always absent in classes, instead of developing their own interests or careers.

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Second, people commonly live with parents no matter how old they are. This is especially true if their schools or workplaces aren't too far. Living at home is considered a way of presenting filial respect to one’s parents. Parents are willing to live with their children because they think family members should live together. They view their children as kids all the time, even after their children reach adulthood. Moreover, living together helps children to save money. Parents are willing to do housework for their children no matter how old they are. Parents also institute house rules and ask their children to follow them to keep their children behaving well. These situations affect their independence, inhibiting their ability to take care of themselves. Different genders often have different standards for behavior, and girls usually have more strict rules. For example, Ella is 29 years old, and she had never left her parents until she got married recently. While living at home, she had to follow her parent's rules, such as following a strict curfew. Now she lives with her husband, and though she feels liberated, she can’t escape her bad habits developed through her parent’s careful supervision, such as staying up late.

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Third, marriage is the main milestone on the road to independence, especially for women. Marriage carries a lot of symbolic meanings in Taiwanese society. To a man, marriage means he has the responsibility to take care of himself, his wife, his children, and his parents. Before Taiwanese women get married, they have Chinese New Year's Eve dinner with their parents and give their parents money every month as long as they have a job. After she gets married, she lives with her husband's family. This not only means she has a new family, but it also means she traditionally has less contact with her original family, such as eating New Year's Eve dinner with her husband’s family. Her primary responsibility is to support her husband's family. For this reason, if a woman gets married, then her salary should be given to her newly formed family first. Traditionally, people only think that a woman is independent after she gets married. Even if a woman is older than 30 years old, her parents will still treat her like a child before she marries. Some women get married earlier than they would have wanted to be independent. Other women move away from their families early to have their own independence. 

The Future of Taiwanese Society

Due to the influences of Western ideas, the increasing number of elderly people, and the low birth rate, I believe there are some possibilities to open Taiwanese people’s minds. First, people are changing their opinions on independence through reading Western literature. Many articles illustrate Western parent's attitudes on taking care of children. Because of this, more young parents encourage their children to have their own opinion than before. The relationship between parents and children has changed to be like friendship. Second, people now tend to care about themselves rather than their ancestral families. People will not worship ancestors after their parents die, and they will not just have a child in order to carry a family name. Lastly, daughters will take responsibility for their birth parents, because people don't have a lot of children now. If parents don’t have any sons, daughters need to take care of their birth parents even if they are married. This can lead to some issues.How to consider both their parent’s needs when they schedule the Chinese New Year Eve reunions? How much money should they give per month to both their parents? These problems and responsibilities should be discussed by her birth and new families before she gets married. In the future, I believe parents in Taiwan will educate their children to think and act independently. When they become adults, they will make decisions for themselves without being affected by society’s expectations.