Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Can birthrate slogans produce more kids? Doubtful, doubtful, says an aging observer

Can birthrate slogans
produce more kids?
Doubtful, doubtful

OPED commentary

By Dan Bloom

The judges for the current Ministry of the Interior's increase-the-birthrate
slogan contest have chosen 20 slogans
that will now be voted on online during the month of August by the
public around Taiwan. Take a look at the ministry's website --
100.moi.gov.tw -- to
find out which 20 slogans had made the final round, and while many of
them will seem cute and funny and
warm-hearted, and some are even creative, not one slogan chosen by a
panel of judges for the final top 20 is in Hokklo
or Hakka or any of the many Aboriginal languages in this country. Why?

20 slogans are in Mandarin. It's hard to understand
why in a nation so ethnically and linguistically diverse as Taiwan --
in a good, positive way -- there were no slogans
chosen by the judges in Hokklo, Hakka or any of the Aboriginal
languages. Surely of the estimated 28,000 entries submitted last month
many slogans must have been submitted in languages
other than Mandarin. So why did the judges only choose Mandarin
slogans for the public to vote on in the final round?

Can this happen in this day and age in Taiwan? Of course it can, and it did.
Now some readers of this newspaper might
think my comments here is just a bit of sour
grapes on my part since I entered
the contest and sent in a slogan in Hokklo that I was sure be a winner
-- "bon lah gyam seiko" [ 摸蛤兼洗褲 ] -- but, alas,
my witty entry did not make the top 20. That's okay. But surely there
should have been some slogans in the top 20
list in Hokklo, Hakka or Aboriginal languages for the public to vote
on. No?

"Bon lah gyam seiki" is Hokklo slang that means "when you go down to
the river, you use your pants
to be fishing net and therefore you can do two things at once, wash
your pants and catch fish, or most literally, clams."
What I meant by submitting that slogan to the birthrate contest was
that a man and a woman, by having a larger family, could do two things
at once: add to their family's happiness and at the same time help
boost the nation's birthrate. Humor helps.

Some of the top 20 slogans chosen for the final round in Mandarin
include (and please excuse my poor translations):

-- 多生寶貝,寶貝台灣 - Children are a treasure, so please treasure Taiwan.

- 人生要美好,養兒育女不可少 - For a happy life, a large family is best.

- 幸福很簡單,寶貝一,二,三!! - Happiness is very simple; treasure one, two and three.

- 孕釀~~下一個希望 - Pregnancy ferments hope for the future.

- 孩子~是我們最好的傳家寶 - A child is your best family heirloom.

- 誠徵下一代! - Let's solicit the next generation.

You catch the drift. Cute, warm, fuzzy slogans. All in Mandarin.
Couldn't there have been at least
one slogan in the final round in Hokklo or Hakka or an Aboriginal language?

In case you missed the news: the ministry will award NT$1 million
(US$31,000) for a catchy slogan to help boost the nation's dwindling
birth rate, one of the world's lowest. A government statement earlier
this year noted: "We are seeking a creative slogan that would appeal
to the public and make everybody want to have children." In the past,
the government has offered various incentives in an unsuccessful bid
to boost birth rates here amid growing concerns that a severe manpower
shortage will trigger social and economic problems in the future.
Taiwan's birth rate stood at 8.29 births per 1,000 people last year,
compared with a global average of more than 20 births per 1,000

In the end, however, as many pundits have said, this slogan contest is
not really going to boost
the nation's birthrate at all because public relations campaigns do
not translate into larger families
or even inspire young women into wanting to have children at all. Just like in
Japan and other wealthy nations,
modern "girls" just don't want to be baby factories anymore.

Let's face facts. Until Taiwanese men are willling to share in the
housework, cleaning and cooking chores
of a modern household, the birthrate is going to continue to plummet.
Just look at neighboring Japan. It's in a birthrate freefall. And
there's a reason for this. Japanese women are not stupid. The same
goes for Taiwanese women.

Marriage, of course, will continue as an institution, and happily so
in most cases (the divorce rate be damned). But no amount
of creative public relations campaigns can convince couples to have
more children than they want, if they want any at all. Not
even financial incentives will boost the birthrate. It's not your
grandfather's Taiwan anymore.


Dan Bloom is an freelance writer in Taiwan.

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