Slogans won't stop Taiwan's falling birthrate
Taiwan's population is graying very fast, while its young people do not want to get married early enough to bear more children. As a matter of fact, Taiwan's birthrate is the lowest in the world. That's why the government is doing what it can to encourage our younger generation to have more kids. The special municipality of Taipei is offering a cash subsidy of NT$20,000 to any female citizen who gives birth to a baby. Mayor Hau Lung-bin is also asking all corporate bodies in Taipei to help develop preschool education of children by joining with his municipal government to raise the extra funds required, the purpose being to encourage childbirth by easing the financial burden of the young parents.
Much earlier this year, the Ministry of the Interior came up with a new idea to encourage childbirth. It advertised for new attractive slogans to persuade people of child-bearing age to help increase Taiwan's soon-to-shrink population. That's the repetition in reverse of what the Kuomintang administration did in the 1950s and 1960s, when the population was increasing at the highest speed in the world. The best slogan at that time was: "One (child) isn't few and two are just right." Those were the days when the government kicked off the much-hated family planning campaign to prevent the people from adding an equivalent of an extra city of Kaohsiung each year.
Well, the interior ministry has just announced the selection of 20 best entries for new slogans, of which one will be chosen for a cash prize of NT$1 million. One entrant, who did not make the 20-slogan list, was an American who speaks Hoklo. Dam (sic) Bloom, a freelancer, deplores that there are no slogans in any of the local languages. He wonders why all the winning slogans are in Mandarin, not because he wasn't a finalist but because he is more than reasonably convinced that slogans in the dialect spoken by eight out of every ten people on Taiwan are much better than those in Mandarin, which is "guoyu," or the national language, to make the government campaign a success.
Mandarin is a dialect, too. But it's popularly spoken, with some variations, by about two thirds of the Chinese living north of the Yangtze River, and that's why it was made the national language by the Kuomintang government in Nanjing, which, then, was used as the medium of teaching in postwar Taiwan. It is the lingua franca in Taiwan now, replacing Japanese imposed on the people in the all but half of the twentieth century. Hoklo or Amoy and Hakka are dialects like Mandarin, but they all belong to the Chinese or Sinitic language family.
Hakka and Hoklo, however, have no standard or codified form. They are rarely used in writing, lacking prestige with respect to Mandarin. Bloom's entry, "Bonn lah gyam seiko," probably wasn't selected for lack of creative originality, for it's a little-known saying, albeit none of the 20 winners are any better. (Incidentally, it means one goes clamming and washing pants at the same time.)
As a matter of fact, the people are now so used to speaking their new lingua franca that they have forgotten most of the Hoklo or Hakka sayings. Few of the reviewers of the entries could appreciate the clamming/pants-washing slogan. They are more comfortable speaking Mandarin, just like practically all young Hoklo or Hakka-speakers who converse better in a hodgepodge of the national language and their mother tongues. Mind you, they are "corrupting" Mandarin in the process. Read newspapers or watch TV or listen to radio broadcasts, and you'll find the language used is getting all the harder for non-Taiwan resident Mandarin speakers to understand.
But the government campaign is bound to fail. Slogans can't persuade the young people to bear more children. Nor can subsidies or anything else. The root cause of the loss of interest in continuing the family line is the erosion of China's top virtue of filial piety. There are three major offenses against filial piety. They included: "Do not support parents when they are alive; do not give them a decent burial upon their death; and do not produce an heir." And the last of the three don'ts is the gravest offense. As Taiwan has been fast industrialized and modernized, this gravest offense is almost totally ignored by the people capable of reproduction.
The trend thus set can't be reversed. Nothing the government can do can get our young people to increase our population. We fully understand the government wants an increase in population to make the economy sustainable. But Taiwan can't admit a large number of immigrants, and the only way to cope with the problems of our fast aging society is for the young people to have more children.
The time has come to change that strategy, however. The government has to follow the example of Switzerland or the Benelux. These European countries are doing fine without significantly increasing their population. Their economies do not suffer any serious downturn. Our economic planners simply have to map out a new course of action to make it possible for Taiwan to sustain the economy without a continued expansion of its workforce.
Let us cite a Japanese example to increase the population. The Japanese colonial authorities didn't spend any extra money to coax the people of Taiwan to expand their families. They just officially acknowledged the meritorious services rendered to the country by families with 13 members each. One such family consisted of legally married parents with 11 children. The campaign was a great success, thanks also, or probably mainly, to the upholding by the people of the virtue of filial piety and the lack of contraceptives
This unsigned editorial from the China Post is the kind of blather
that's inhibited me from reading the China Post for many years.
Examples of the current editorial writer's idiocy, above:
"Hakka and Hoklo, however, have no standard or codified form. They are
rarely used in writing, lacking prestige with respect to Mandarin."
His editorial POV presents this as a matter of objective fact, rather than
explaining that there has been ongoing social pressure to marginalize
the cultural beauty of these languages, fostering in the process the
low-prestige perception that it in itself has created.
"[Dam Bloom] (sic) is more than reasonably convinced that slogans in the
dialect spoken by eight out of every ten people on Taiwan are much
better than those in Mandarin"
Is Bloom really saying that? No way. Come off it. Bloom is just saying that having 10 out of 10
finalists all in Mandarin is out of balance. RE: "more than reasonably
convinced"? What exactly does that mean? This editorial writer seems brain dead. Who is he? Or she?
"Mind you, they are "corrupting" Mandarin in the process."
Even in quotes, this claim is arrogant. A language is forced on your
people and then you're criticized when you don't speak it exactly like
their parents? Is that what one really means when you say "filial piety"?
"But Taiwan can't admit a large number of immigrants, and the only way
to cope with the problems of our fast aging society is for the young
people to have more children."
Why on Earth would it be okay for young people to have more children
but not okay to admit immigrants? How about the sentence: "To cope with
the problems of our fast aging society, Taiwan can admit a reasonable
number of immigrants better than it can cope with people having a large
number of children?" (Point being, why does the sentence use the word
"large" only with respect to "immigrants", not to "children"?)
"They just officially acknowledged the meritorious services rendered to
the country by families with 13 members each. One such family consisted
of legally married parents with 11 children. The campaign was a great
success, thanks also, or probably mainly, to the upholding by the people
of the virtue of filial piety and the lack of contraceptives."
-First of all, this is how the letter ends off, completely up in the air
and well before having made any determinable point. Secondly, how is
enslaving women to entire lives of pregnancy "a great success"?
I think the writer of the China Post editorial above is existentially bankrupt.
(S)he looks down upon the native Taiwanese, has a high regard for 'the
Queen's' Mandarin, is anti-immigrant (presumably Sinocentric), and
chauvinistic. On the other hand, (s)he sees no way forward for Taiwan,
is critical of what the government has been able to accomplish, and is
apparently oblivious as to the kinds of cultural contributions Taiwanese
could make to world should they just embrace an already existing, strong
identity. Yes, the identity is there, it needs to be embraced, and the
writer of this letter is NOT HELPING!