OPINION: Taiwanese — Ignorantly Progressive?

OPINION: Taiwanese — Ignorantly Progressive?
Photo Credit: Ipsos MORI

What you need to know

While Taiwan is spending time and energy on raising awareness of social issues, Taiwanese have been neglecting the importance of cultivating, through education, both local and international cultural sensitivity.

Marriage equality has been one of the biggest topics in Taiwan in the past month as the country is on the verge of becoming the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage; this past Monday, the marriage equality bill passed a committee review in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s Parliament.

However, on Dec. 14, a report by U.K. market research company Ipsos MORI shows that Taiwan is the third most ignorant country out of the 40 evaluated, only behind India and China. After the report was released, a group of high school students dressed up in Nazi uniform to celebrate the school’s anniversary. The series of events bears the question: how can Taiwan be ignorant but also progressive?

(of a group, person, or idea) favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.

-Oxford Dictionary

It seems Taiwanese people do not know themselves and their future well enough. One question asked in the IPSOS report reads: "When asked in a survey in [country], what percentage of people do you think said they personally believe that homosexuality is morally unacceptable?"

Survey takers believed that 47 percent of Taiwan believe homosexuality is morally unacceptable when in actuality only 22 percent of survey takers believed homosexuality is morally unacceptable. This was the lowest amongst all the Asian countries in this survey, with Japan and Hong Kong taking second and third with 31 percent and 32 percent. The rest of the Asian countries were all more than 50 percent.

With the marriage equality bill under review, protesters are claiming it is being passed without the consent of the people. If this survey is accurate with a margin error of less than 30 percent, even with a referendum, the marriage equality bill will be passed.

Other questions in the survey on progressive values also placed Taiwan as the top three amongst all other countries. These numbers show that Taiwan is progressive compared to other Asian countries. However, in categories about liberal and progressive values, respondents always overestimates how conservative Taiwan is.

  • Sex between unmarried couple is morally unacceptable

    • Perception: 36%

    • Actuality: 23%

  • Abortion is morally unacceptable

    • Perception: 53%

    • Actuality: 32%

While the report shows that Taiwan is progressive regarding social issues like homosexuality, sex, and abortion, it displays Taiwan’s lack of understanding of its economic situation.

  • Percentage of total household wealth the least wealthy 70% own

    • Perception: 39%

    • Actuality: 17%

While social issues are important and need to be fought for, Taiwan is unaware of the needs of its middle and lower class. Taiwanese need to spend more time and energy in fighting for economic improvement while continuing to build awareness of progressive values.

lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated.

-Oxford Dictionary

But it seems despite Taiwan’s progressiveness in many social issues, it remains ignorant of its own history and future. While the students of Guang Fu High School in Nazi uniforms dominated the Taiwanese internet and even making international headlines, what is more telling of Taiwan’s ignorance is the class that dressed up to reenact the Musha Incident (霧社事件.) The Musha Incident was a mass killing of the Seediq tribe in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. However, the announcer of the event at the school event disseminated false information about the incident, shouting, “Down with the Japs! Unite with China!” when the Musha Incident did not involve the Chinese at all; it was before the Chinese Nationalist Party’s occupation of Taiwan.

It is one thing when people defend the Nazi dressed high school students by saying, “Why is it that society suddenly decides to use European standards to judge this group of students when Taiwanese society never had the awareness to begin with?” But it is another when Taiwanese students are unaware of their own history. This is the equivalent of high school students in America reenacting the Battle of Little Bighorn and shouting “Kill the Indians! Free the South!”

While the students are in the spotlight for these stories, the fault lies with the educators. Teachers are meant to be there to guide the students and, in this recent case show them the potential insensitivity dressing up as Nazis or reenacting the Musha Incident may exhibit. After this incident, the school's principal resigned. Resignation is a common action in Taiwan, but it is the greatest demonstration of irresponsibility. Resignation is a white flag in the face of change. If the leaders are to be held responsible for the actions, the greater act is to stay and change what has been wronged. Instead of resigning, the principal should stay to improve the student’s awareness of world history and raise the student’s sensitivity and respect toward others’ culture.

This incident and the IPSOS report is but one display of Taiwan and should not be taken as a representative of the nation. It does, however, remind Taiwan of the importance of a proper and well-rounded education in cultivating Taiwan’s progressive future. While Taiwan is spending time and energy on raising awareness of social issues, Taiwanese have been neglecting the importance of cultivating, through education, both local and international cultural sensitivity.

* IPSOS Mori asked 500 Taiwanese about certain factors of their country. Questions include:

  • Q1. What do you think the current population of [country] is? By ‘population’, we mean all residents of [country] regardless of legal status or citizenship. Please give your answer to the nearest 1 million.

  • Q2. And what do you think the population of [country] is projected to be in 2050 by the United Nations? Please give your answer to the nearest 1 million.

  • Q3. Out of every 100 people in [country], about how many do you think are Muslim?

  • Q4. Now thinking about 2020, out of every 100 people in [country], about how many do you think will be Muslim?

  • Q5. What percentage of [country’s] total annual Gross Domestic Product (that is, the total value of all economic activity in [country]) do you think is spent on health expenditure each year? This includes public and private health expenditure. It covers the provision of health services (preventive and curative), family planning activities, nutrition activities and emergency aid for health, but does not include provision of water and sanitation.

  • Q7. And what percentage of [country’s] total household wealth do you think the least wealthy 70% in [country] own? When thinking about wealth, we want you to think of the total value of everything someone owns (including their bank account, savings, property, stocks, shares… etc) minus any debt that they owe (like loans and mortgages).

See more here.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White