Students divided by Taiwan Strait have lot in common

Cultural exchanges and internet are bringing young mainlanders and Taiwanese closer together, survey finds, but there is a way to go

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 5:53am

Cultural exchanges and the internet have helped narrow differences between young people divided by the Taiwan Strait, but they remain far apart over political ideals, according to survey by a leading Taiwanese magazine.

The survey of university students by the Taipei-based CommonWealth Magazine found that politicians remained the most admired public figures on the mainland, while entrepreneurs - especially those with a reputation for being thoughtful to workers - were most respected by young Taiwanese.

But both sides are expressing flexibility when it comes to where they work. More than half of the mainland students were keen on working in Taiwan, compared with 42 per cent of Taiwanese who said they would work on the mainland. Nearly 60 per cent of Taiwanese and more than 40 per cent of mainlanders said salary rises and bonuses were the best incentives to work harder and stay in the job longer.

Young people on both sides of the strait were anxious about spiralling home prices, the magazine said. "They are the do-or-die generation. If they don't work hard they will be left behind by the times," Lio Mon-chi, an economics professor at National Sun Yat-sen University, told the magazine.

The most obvious differences emerged over the most admired modern figures. No politicians appeared on the Taiwanese students' top 10, while the mainlanders' list included Wen Jiabao (1st), Zhu Rongji (4th), Mao Zedong (8th) and Zhou Enlai (10th).

Taiwanese students expressed more admiration for entrepreneurs like Apple founder Steve Jobs and semiconductor pioneer Morris Chang. The late Jobs also ranked third on the mainland students' list.

"The Taiwanese public, especially the post-80s and post-90s generations [those born in the 1980s and 1990s], have grown fed up with the day-and-night political wrangles between the ruling Kuomintang and the island's biggest opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party," said Lin Baohua, a Taipei-based political commentator. "The complicated political struggles on the island left younger Taiwanese very disappointed and upset."

During the 1990s, 180 million babies were born on the mainland and three million in Taiwan. The generation is seen as the most closely aligned in terms of culture since the Nationalists fled to Taiwan at the end of the civil war in 1949.

Since taking power in 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou's KMT government has pursued a series of cultural and economic co-operation pacts with Beijing. Last year, Taiwan opened its universities to full-time students from the mainland for the first time, attracting nearly 2,000.

A further 22,000 mainlanders have come to Taiwan as short-term exchange students over the past five years. Similarly, 12,000 Taiwanese students have earned degrees at mainland universities over the past decade.

Young people in both places listen to Taiwanese musicians like Jay Chou and girl band S.H.E., and watch films like You Are the Apple of My Eye and the television drama Empresses in the Palace.

They share ideas through Tencent, Sina and Renren microblogs, although Facebook and Twitter are blocked on the mainland.

"I saw students from Taiwan chatting and making friends quickly with mainland classmates," said Zhang Tongxin, a cross-strait specialist at Renmin University. "The cross-strait post-90s generation is more practical and has its own thinking."