An Ode to Taipei’s Youth

The allure of Taiwan is immediate and powerful. When we left Shanghai, we were leaving behind a city of global attention and economic power, but we were also leaving behind a city of pungent smells, smoggy air, and honking cars with no intention of braking. Simply smelling Taipei’s clean air brought a smile to my face. However, what I really found and loved most in Taipei was its blossoming culture of youth and creativity.

Call us hipsters, coffeehouse addicts, or pretentious idealists, but the conscientious youth generation is powerful in both the United States and Taiwan. In the U.S., we are the creative force behind trendy green movements, grassroots political campaigns, and countless coffeehouse businesses. In the U.S., so many college-educated twenty-somethings want to move to a big city, “live their truth” (read: find yourself through an indefinite time of self-exploration), and change the world. It is no mistake that many of us chose the Davidson in Shanghai program because we were attracted to the big city. We wanted an opportunity to be at the heart of the action, at the crossroads of international culture and economy. In Shanghai, I certainly found the center of international economy; it is impossible to travel twenty minutes in Shanghai without seeing an endless array of skyscrapers and glittering billboards. While the international economy thrives in Shanghai, the youth culture seems to flounder.

In Taipei, the twenty-somethings are truly at the cultural heart of Taiwan. They run the night markets, which churn out an endless supply of fashion and food. They listen to “World Music” from the U.S., Japan, Korea, and more, but they also create their own Taiwanese pop. College students from the National Taiwan University are political participants and sometimes even political shapers and activists. The walls of the city are full of bulletins for poetry readings, film screenings, and educational lectures. Creative graffiti lines the walls of the Old Town, as if proclaiming that the youth are firmly Taiwanese, not pawns of colonization. The youth are dynamic, active, and highly visible.

On the other end, the youth generation of Shanghai is at the center of business and economic growth. To prepare for a future of economic success, most of the high school and college-aged students in Shanghai study as much as possible. Education is truly a full-time job in China. So, instead of seeing young adults traveling around Shanghai, gathering together, promoting fashion, and creating culture, many are preparing for their futures. I am always weary of stereotypes, but in this case the stereotype is partially true: Chinese students simply study more than American students in general.

In the U.S., we value experience more than academic learning. Mark Twain’s famous quote summarizes this view: “Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education.” Fuji would call this phenomenon anti-intellectualism, but I think it is also related to a love of pragmatism and the self-made person. In Taipei, I felt the same sort of phenomenon. The college students were out trying new things, making mistakes, and learning through experience. They seemed to care more about creativity and experiential learning than money. Taipei was so comfortable to me because my age group in Taiwan felt just like my peers back home.

The youth generation can tell so much about a country: where the country is coming from, where the country is now, and where the country is going. In Shanghai, the youth generation emphasizes China’s economic development. In the United States, the youth generation emphasizes experience or anti-intellectualism (depending on your perception). In Taipei, the youth generation emphasizes Taiwan’s blossoming creativity and cultural growth.