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Future aspirations and life choices: a comparison of young adults in urban China and Taiwan

Remmert, Désirée (2016) Future aspirations and life choices: a comparison of young adults in urban China and Taiwan. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This dissertation compares aspirations and life-choices among highly educated young adults in urban China and Taiwan: places that, at least notionally, share a cultural heritage while having very different political-economic systems. The objective of my research is to assess how the different socioeconomic and political trajectories of China and Taiwan have influenced young people's decision-making and hopes for the future. Drawing upon 18 months of ethnographic research, I analyze young adults’ choices in the areas of education, career and marriage under consideration of their individual social backgrounds and economic resources. In this context I also discuss how feelings of hope, doubt and disenchantment are mitigated by the specific societal atmospheres and ideological discourses. Whereas stable employment and marriage appeared to be universal goals among my informants, I found that young adults in Beijing had much more autonomy in decision making than those in Taipei. In my research, I consider various factors behind these findings, which are linked inextricably to the specific socioeconomic and political trajectories of China and Taiwan. Among other things, China's demographic controls and urban migration policies appear to increase the independence of young people. Further, the prevalence of boarding school education in China compared to Taiwan provides an opportunity for earlier autonomy and independent decision-making in China. Due to China’s specific socio-political history, parents of informants in Beijing perceived spatial separation from children as a necessity to secure the future well-being of the family, while parents in Taipei appeared to be more likely to interpret a child’s prolonged absence as unfilial behaviour. As a consequence, young adults in Beijing arguably have greater autonomy than young adults in Taipei when it comes to issues such as partner choice, premarital cohabitation and job selection. These differences have an important impact on future expectations of family life and the realization of filial obligations. However, while young Chinese showed more agency and autonomy in the pursuit of personal goals, their Taiwanese peers were more engaged in communal political activism prompted by an economy with lackluster opportunities for the next generation. Due to the political propaganda of the CCP, young Chinese held a positive outlook for the future of their society which made them less prone to engage in communal action against the ruling party, while disenchantment with the government among young Taiwanese ignited unprecedented student protests in 2014.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Désirée Remmert
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Stafford, Charles and Feuchtwang, Stephan

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