Political beliefs divide generations and strain family ties in Taiwan

Rally of supporters of the Kuomintang presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu on 21 December 2019. From Han's campaign page on Facebook.

Taiwan's January 2020 presidential elections left a clear winner as Democratic People’s Party (DPP) leader Tsai Ing-wen dominated the polls. However, the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Han Kuo-yu's defeat was a heavy blow for his followers, many of them over 40-years-old. What has developed is a generational divide with many parents falling on the opposite side of the political aisle from their children. Some parents have even gone so far as to kick their children out of the family home because of these differing beliefs.

After the elections, Facebook support group pages were created with names like “Feeling helpless that my parents are Han Kuo-yu fans” and “Support group for children of parents who are fans of Han Kuo-yu”. These groups are a place to share stories, and also to demand that the KMT apologize for disrupting family ties.

Han fans vs. Tsai fans

Because most of Han’s opponents are less than 40-year-old, Han fans believe the anti-Han voters have been brainwashed by DPP propaganda. Similarly, young pro-DPP voters insist that Han did not deliver on his mayoral promises in the city of Kaohsiung. During the presidential election campaign, the views of those two groups were diametrically opposed: Han’s supporters did not agree with the Hong Kong anti-extradition movement and prioritized safety over democracy, while Tsai’s supporters agreed with the demonstrators in Hong Kong, as they do not want Taiwan to be politically encroached on by Beijing.

A “support Hong Kong banner” in a rally in Kaohsiung in December 2019. Photo taken by Huang Hung Yu, used with permission

The generational conflicts caused by politics created tensions in many households leading up to the elections with some Han supporters threatening their children into not voting for Tsai. Support group members shared stories about parents confiscating key documents so the children could not vote. Others found out after the elections their children had voted for Tsai, and cut financial support to punish them.

Because a number of high profile young activists, such as Lin Feifan and Chen Weiting from the Sunflower Student Movement, were students from state-owned National Taiwan University and Tsinghua University, Han fans have begun to associate state-owned campuses with the pro-independence movement. Below are some of the stories shared on the support groups:

Message #1379 said:


My family can be described as die-hard Han fans
Since Han lost the election, my dad spends the whole day bad mouthing young people saying they don’t understand anything and can’t think properly
He says all state-owned universities have been destroyed and turned into pro-Taiwan independence schools
My younger sister is preparing to take the entry exams for which she has prepared for years
But since Han’s defeat, my dad ordered (he really did order) her not to enter a garbage place like Taiwan National University, or else she won’t be allowed to return home, adding it is young people like her who destroy Taiwan.
But what is he talking about? To a person who is even too young to have voted?
The entry exams are due soon, my sister is deeply affected and the mood at home is awful. What should I do?

Message #2034 said:


In fact, it is painful to say things that are the exact opposite of what I think. I don’t want to lie but my family is always threatening me by saying that “if you vote for Tsai, we will cut off all financial support, and don’t think of coming back home”.
This resembles what happened during the 2018 local elections, they told me “You are gay, you don’t need to come home to vote [Taiwanese need to vote at the place of their official residence, which is often the home of their parents if they are younger], you just haven’t found the right man to marry yet, if gay marriage is passed, we will make sure our entire family emigrates, and you will be all alone in Taiwan.”
After that, I received insulting phone calls for a few days. Since my sister doesn't really speak her mind, they haven't suspected her, but suspect me. They say that after I went to Taipei to study I started speaking about things they don't understand. They cursed me even more saying I certainly voted against Han and that I should go to hell, shouldn't come home for the New Year, that I don't exist in their eyes, that I have studied fake things and been brainwashed by the DPP so they would cut their financial support. They even said things like “Han didn't win because of you!”

Taiwanese people emphasize respect for the elderly and filial piety, as part of their well-established acceptance of Confucian values. As emerges from the messages posted in support groups, certain Han supporters use the concept of filial piety to emotionally blackmail their children into voting for Han.

Message #1448 said:


I couldn’t help asking my Dad what he thought was so good about Han Kuo-yu. He then asked me: “What’s wrong with him? All the DPP does is to smear and suppress dissent, is this kind of persecution acceptable? He can achieve what Chen Chun couldn’t do in years: flatten the roads (He has been very upset about Kaohsiung bumpy roads).

Then he said “I regret having given birth to a daughter like you who disobeys her parents. You have all been brainwashed by the DPP. We don’t need to communicate any more. Even when I die, don’t come to pay tribute. I shouldn’t have let you read so many books […] you are so stupid which is why Tsai can trick you!

It turns out a flat road has more value than one’s own daughter, hate can distort one’s face.
Kuomintang, Han Kuo-yu, return my father to me!!!

Message #283 said:


I love my Dad a lot, even though he is a Han fan.
But I think he doesn’t trust the fact I love him, because I support Tsai Ing-wen.
Sometimes when we argue, I end up lying in my room, crying.
And then we might spend one entire week not speaking.
I always bow my head and apologize to him, repeating tirelessly that I respect his position because I love him more than anything, and hope he can treat me as an equal.
But there is no way to make progress. The relationship remains icy.
In fact, I am very tired…I can't go against my conscience and vote for Han, I am sorry.
If you think this is a lack of filial piety, and you cut your financial support, I have no choice.

Many netizens posted on the help group page that Han Kuo-yu and the KMT need to apologize and take responsibility for causing family disputes and generational conflicts because of the election. Han responded with a Facebook post on January 17, calling parents and their children to “stop tearing each other up and to start caring for their families”. Han wrote that parents should not blame younger people for opting to support the opposite candidate. In a democratic society, one needs to accept different opinions, open a dialogue and rebuild rational communication. He also said that young people need to stop using indecent words when describing Han's supporters, and pointed out that parents also need the support of their families, thus everybody needs to listen to each other’s emotions in order to restore normal families.

Even though the election is now over, the generational conflict continues. Lin Zonghong, a researcher at the Institute of Social Research of Academia Sinica, points out that the main cause of those divisions is an uneven distribution of income, wealth, power, and cultural values. The government needs to allocate resources to education, housing justice, and long-term policies in order to reconcile generations.

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