Something that always fascinates me (and also often frustrates me) is something I like to refer to as “Taiwan’s Child Culture.”
The most important thing to understand about any culture is the way they raise their children. Without question, the key to any culture is education. Education is indoctrination: it’s where we learn what society expects of us. Taiwan’s educational system is extremely simple: every question has only one answer and there is only one way to get that one answer, and anything outside of that is incorrect and you are a failure. The system of learning follows three steps:
Now, I know what my American readers are thinking: “That sounds like the awful American educational system we’re now dealing with!”
Believe me, it’s not.
Not even close.
Allow me to put it in perspective.
Your average Taiwanese child wakes up between 6am and 7am. They get to school around 8am. There’s an hour-long nap-time after lunch and children are in school until 5pm or 6pm. This is reality from the time they are 3 years old.
Creativity is only seen between the ages of 3 and 6 because most of the academic indoctrination focuses on comprehending orders and obeying them. Now, that’s the case with most children, worldwide. It’s important for them to memorize things; at that age, the human brain isn’t developed enough for analysis, so memorization and trial-and-error is really all you’ve got. So there are fun times and creative times, but it’s really just a set-up for what comes next: the early death of childhood, which leads to maturity issues that eventually and inevitably create Taiwan’s Child Culture.
After preschool (called “kindergarten” here in Taiwan), children are sent to elementary school. Again, this is an 8am-5pm day. For a six year old kid. But it gets better! Because after school lets out at 5pm, children are sent to after-school programs – privatized learning centers called buxiban or “cram school.”
The term “cram school” is perfectly suited to describe the average buxiban, because these “small classes” of 10-to-15 students (as opposed to daytime classes of 40-to-50 students) consist of nothing more than drills: memorize, regurgitate, repeat. This is important because Taiwanese students are tested in almost every subject almost every day, even as little kids. Most students don’t get home until 8pm or 9pm, where they study some more and are lucky to get to bed before 11pm. Then they wake up, 7-to-8 hours later, and do it all over again.
That’s the typical Monday-to-Friday. School for twelve hours and, keep in-mind, this is pure school: the vast majority of Taiwanese schools have no recess. Social skills are not a priority and, as such, not nurtured or developed. The closest thing to social interaction children get is in the requirement that they tattle on any student they see not obeying the person in charge.
Starting in junior high, Taiwanese schools employ a military officer to enforce discipline at the school. But, by that point, it doesn’t matter. Students have been so hammered-down in elementary school, very few of them have any rebellion in them. Confrontation is non-existent – passive-aggressive behavior rules – and any friendships are fostered in the ultra-short breaks between classes when students finally have time to talk to each other for a few minutes.
So imagine life, as a young person, where you are in school for 12 hours a day, in a school where you are tested constantly but rarely taught anything, while being expected to study and memorize outside of school (in “cram school” or at home) so you can pass all the tests you will have the next day. Saturdays are not a break – it’s just more “cram school” or, in many cases, more “actual school,” as well. A student probably has the day off Sunday, a day where they are so exhausted from their 60-to-70 hour workweek that all they want to do is crash. That is normal life from ages 6 to 18: twelve years of life where development is crucial.
In short, Taiwanese children have no childhood. The times where you should be learning emotional maturity, social skills, how to properly interact with others, how to solve problems, and how to think critically, simply does not happen in Taiwan. People mature until they get to elementary school, at which time development stops for the sake of learning one thing: obedience.
So, If Childhood Dies So Early, What Do I Mean By “Taiwan’s Child Culture”?
Because Taiwanese children are never taught how to behave like adults, once they reach adulthood, most of them are completely inept when it comes to most things a Westerner would consider “typical everyday stuff.” This becomes self-fulfilling, because it’s impossible for children to learn how adults behave when the adults essentially behave the same as children!
It’s completely normal to have never even held hands with the opposite sex before you are 20 years old. It’s extremely rare to find anyone under 20 who has ever had a boyfriend/girlfriend, let alone had a physical relationship. College is a time where the youth of Taiwan finally get to explore who they are as people, but by that time, most of their Selves have been suppressed by The System.
Taiwanese enter adulthood with little more emotional/social maturity than they had when they were in elementary school.
Finding a single 30-year-old man/woman living at home is beyond “not uncommon” – it’s completely normal.
A person living alone, paying for a separate residence from their parents, and living as independently as they can is seen as abnormal…to the point where most Taiwanese people would ask people who do it, “Why do you choose to do that?”
I know fully-grown adults who have curfews set by their parents.
I’m talking about 10pm curfews for girls who, in their 20s, still read fairy tales and await a non-existent Prince Charming to sweep them away to a fantasy land.
I’m talking about men in their 20s who have no interest in women beyond their physical appearance and women in their 20s who have no romantic aspirations beyond motherhood and a man to “take care of them.”
So this is what I mean by Taiwan’s Child Culture. It’s a culture of immature passive-aggressive people who obey anyone they see as “above them,” though they do so with resentment…not unlike what you would expect from an 8 year-old kid who obeys their teachers or parents: reluctantly, unhappily, but still doing so out of fear of retribution if they don’t.
Taiwanese people are scared. Like children clinging to their security blankets and burying their heads under the covers, they are obsessed with convenience and stability, sacrificing a great deal for a feeling of “being safe.” But there’s nothing to fear. That idea, like all the rest, is injected into them from an early age: that not doing what you are told leads to bad things happening.
It’s important to note that Taiwanese people lived under martial law for, arguably, between 60 to 90 years. Taiwan was under the Empire of Japan starting in 1895, but the Han Chinese people who would later inhabit it had been living under military rule in China since 1927. Taiwan was under martial law (dictated by the ROC government) from 1949 to 1987. That much time being spent in an “obey or die” mindset will certainly mess a culture up; that kind of thing doesn’t go away after a couple of decades. It’s unlikely for there to be significant changes in that mindset until the generation born before 1980 is no longer in power: sometime around 2030. That’s assuming these traits of obedience and fear gained from decades of military rule are not now passed down to the children, culturally…though it seems that is absolutely the case.
Because of a century of being ruled with an iron fist, leading Taiwanese people to adapt their culture to that mindset, the culture of Taiwan is left with overgrown children, robbed of childhood, without a clue of how to exist outside their myopic Small Island Syndrome. This is Taiwan’s Child Culture, so deeply-ingrained that it’s unlikely to change any time soon.
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