Taiwan Debate Team Scores Historic Result at International Championship

Taiwan Debate Team Scores Historic Result at International Championship
Photo Credit: Taiwan Debate Union

What you need to know

Team Taiwan placed 11th after making it to the quarterfinals at the 2020 World Schools Debating Championships.

By ChiChi Tsai

Taiwan’s debating team completed a successful run at the 2020 World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC), reaching the quarterfinals for the first time. Team Taiwan placed 11th internationally. 

The team of Taiwanese high school debaters defeated Wales and the Netherlands in the preliminary rounds. Although the team lost in the quarterfinals to Singapore in a unanimous decision on July 28, the results mark an impressive milestone for Taiwan in the international debating community.

WSDC is an annual debate competition for high school students from around the world. Each country is only allowed one representative team. While this year's competition was planned to take place in Mexico, the Covid-19 pandemic led to the first online version of the debate championship.

Photo Credit: Taiwan Debate Union
Screenshot from Taiwan's debate contest against Singapore in the quarterfinals of the 2020 World Schools Debating Championships conducted by live stream, July 28, 2020.

Over the past week, students from all corners of the globe have spent hours debating serious political, economic, and social issues facing their laptop cameras while judges assess their arguments remotely. This unprecedented change in medium came with several benefits. This year's online competition has attracted a record 67 teams, many of whom were able to participate because of the reduced costs of holding a remote tournament. 

The increase in participants makes Team Taiwan’s achievements this year more impressive. Taiwanese debaters outperformed previous world champions, England and India. Having sent their first nationally selective delegation to the WSDC only six years prior, Team Taiwan is also one of the youngest teams in the World Schools circuit to pass the preliminary rounds into the top eight. 

For the five debaters representing Taiwan, Aaron Chen, Kohei Watanabe, Si-Wai Chiu, Jessica Oh and Frank Chiu, it has been a difficult but rewarding journey. They were selected in tryouts late 2019 and have been training rigorously since then. 

Katharin Tai, one of the head coaches for the team, told The News Lens about her experience working with the debating community in the past three years. “I keep being blown away by all the impressive young people I meet, who are both friendly and supportive, but also super smart," she said. "They keep surprising me and that’s also one of the reasons I keep going."

Photo Credit: Taiwan Debate Union
Screenshot from Taiwan's debate contest against Singapore in the quarterfinals of the 2020 World Schools Debating Championships, July 28, 2020.

To gain further experience in the international debate scene, the members stayed up until the early hours of the morning to participate in virtual tournaments held across Asia, Europe, and the Americas. In addition to balancing other extracurriculars and a full high school course load, the debaters had to attend regular debate practice sessions and keep up with international news so they could be informed on possible topics. 

Team Taiwan's training and selection process are organized by the Taiwan Debate Union, a non-profit organization devoted to advancing English parliamentary debate in Taiwan. Founded in 2014 by Taiwanese debaters Wen-Yu Weng and Jeff Tsai, the organization now provides regular intensive training to over 50 debaters through their high school and university level programs and serves in an advisory capacity to many of the country's debate societies. 

Photo Credit: Taiwan Debate Union
Screenshot of Taiwan's victory over the Netherlands, announced via live stream.

Compared to countries with a more developed debating scene (such as Malaysia or Singapore), Taiwan’s WSDC selection and training often start from scratch — with Taiwan Debate Union nurturing young debaters through years of training before they reach WSDC potential.

Reflecting on the fruits of over half a decade, Weng wrote in a Facebook post that though the Taiwan Debate Union has grown tremendously from their first 2015 WSDC season when the small staff didn't dare "hope for more than sending a national team to WSDC," the organization "remains committed to spreading the love of debate — choosing to always expand the accessibility of our programs instead of focusing our resources on a few elite." 

The coaches have put in thousands of hours of hard work alongside returning alums, and local university debaters to achieve Taiwan’s historic performance this year. 

“I don’t think any of the coaches teach debating purely for the sake of the sport,” said Weng. “I think we see it as a means to teach critical thinking, foster teamwork and leadership skills, and inculcate democratic thinking through better understanding of political and social issues.” For Weng and the other coaches, debate is a model for how students can learn to engage with difficult topics in the outside world. 

In the future, the Taiwan Debate Union hopes to expand by collaborating with more public and bilingual schools, training more teachers and alums to be qualified debate coaches, and organizing more accessible English debating events in Taiwan.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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