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What Taiwanese students should be aware of before seeking development in mainland China: Risk assessment

  • Date:2024-01-16

Introduction

The two sides have long conducted exchanges in the areas of academia, education, religion, arts, culture, among other fields. These exchanges have not only enriched the societal development on both sides, but also facilitated better mutual understanding. Over the past thirty years, Taiwan’s democracy has developed rapidly and vibrantly; Taiwanese people stand firm in their pursuit for free democracy and diversified creativity and innovation. While on the mainland China side, their economy and living standards have also improved and upgraded with time. However, even with such an increase in contact between people across the Strait, challenges also arise for Taiwanese young students when facing differences in terms of political systems, society and culture throughout the duration of their studies, therefore in the planning process, it is advised to comprehensively assess all risks.

Many adaptation problems exist due to cross-Strait differences in academic and educational environments

Taiwan’s academic environment is free and full of resources, teachers at all schools in their respective fields enjoy full autonomy; the situation is completely different in mainland China, where the academic environment is first and foremost under the rule of man and the leading of the political party. In Taiwan, free discussions flow throughout classrooms where all attendees enjoy the rights to freedom of speech and expression; whereas in mainland China, the lectures given by teachers and questions raised by students are still heavily restricted, take for example the unspoken rule of the “Seven Unmentionables” (Note). On October 16, 2017, mainland China announced the Measures for the Administration of Scholarships for Taiwanese students, in which the first requirement would be for applicants to “agree to the one China principle, support unification of the motherland”; if students granted scholarships were found to behave or speak in contradiction to the “one China” principle, schools would cancel their scholarships and report to the superior agencies. Mainland Chinese government’s thought control measures are obviously in full execution. In recent years, many mainland Chinese schools have explicitly pointed out in their admissions brochure that students should "support the 'one country, two systems' initiative and 'national unification,'" raising concerns that Taiwanese high school students studying in mainland China could be subjected to political and thought censorship by their government.

Apart from differences between the two sides in their degree of education and academic freedom, Mainland China also imposes numerous restrictions on society and life. For example, it blocks access to internet resources (Facebook, Google, etc.) and controls freedom of thought, contrary to the concept of academic freedom emphasized by higher education. Taiwanese youth who have grown up in a democratic and free environment are used to upholding human rights and freedom of speech. At Mainland schools, their comments, thinking, learning, and life will come under strict ideological controls.

The cross-Strait competition for talent lies in long-term career planning, not generous compensation

Over the recent years, some Taiwanese students, teachers, artists and cultural professionals have chosen to develop in mainland China, hoping for more opportunities. They mistakenly believed that with similar language and culture and the generous conditions granted by mainland Chinese employers, mainland China has the same free and open academic atmosphere and working environment as in Taiwan, and thus are faced with many challenges in adaptation. For instance, the recent slowdown in mainland Chinese economy was reflected by a consistently low economic growth. In addition, the number of mainland Chinese college and university graduates is going to reach 11.58 million in 2023 and the job market will be more competitive. According to statistics from the mainland Chinese authorities, the youth unemployment rate among those aged 16 to 24 is steadily rising, reaching 21.3% in June. This means that one out of every five young people is unemployed, making the graduation season this year "the toughest one in history." Students are likely to have a hard time landing a job after graduation. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic spreads from mainland China to the world at the end of 2019, and mainland China has been broadly criticized for not having proper epidemic control. People living and developing in mainland Chinese society, where political suppression is rigorous, information is not transparent, and restrictions are strict, could be faced with considerable political, economic, safety, and health risks.

Some people believe Taiwanese teachers have a better chance of employment in Mainland universities, but the fact is, Taiwanese teachers looking for work in mainland China must first confront the bias of the Chinese people due to the result of information imbalance. Meanwhile, they must also fully understand mainland Chinese university system and the unspoken rules. The said tasks are already of high implicit cost. Accommodating to mainland China’s administrative procedures, regulations and academic environments upon arrival also consumes lots of time and effort. The whole situation is different from the false impression of the public that Taiwanese teachers in mainland China were treated well and receive high compensation. In recent years, some Taiwanese teachers returning from mainland China have alerted people to various risks in the mainland Chinese workplaces, including uncertainties over contract renewal given the three-year limit of all teaching contracts, steadily declining salary, highly restrictive academic environment, and mandatory political allegiance required by the school. These are all potential issues that one should be prepared for before pursuing a teaching career in mainland China.

Therefore, Taiwanese students and people should be reminded that to seek development in mainland China, they have to thoroughly understand the related institutions, regulations and information, and prudently conduct comprehensive risk assessments to better protect their rights and interests.

Conclusion

In the era of globalization, free movement of persons is inevitable amidst international competition. However, only a free and open environment enables people to exploit their full potential. Taiwan’s excellent higher education has cultivated a wealth of outstanding talents. On top of this success, the Ministry of Education has promoted many measures such as doubling down on subsidy for Top Universities; supporting universities to conduct international or inter-school teaching cooperation; and encouraging schools to organize short-term study-abroad programs, internships, and international degree programs. The government continues to promote the internationalization of Taiwan’s higher education, while extending talent retention measures to high school students. The government is committed to advancing Taiwan’s national competitiveness through optimizing the studying environment, expanding recruitment, and upgrading industries on the basis of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. The hope is that Taiwanese youth can fully develop their creativity and vitality in Taiwan.

Mainland China is not the only option for Taiwanese youth’s career development. However, due to the frequent and extended cross-Strait exchanges, the MAC has established a “Taiwanese Students Area” on its website that collects related information and references to better protect young people planning on studying or developing in mainland China. In case of any questions, please consult the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) (02-2175-7000), or (02-2533-9995) for “emergency services.” We hope that Taiwanese students will carry out careful assessment regarding their career development, and develop their talents in a free and open environment.

Note: The “Seven Unmentionables” refers to seven subjects not to be mentioned, namely “universal values,” “freedom of the press,” “civil society,” “civil liberties,” “the CCP’s historical errors,” “privileged capitalist class,” and “independence of the judiciary.”