LSESU EAST ASIA FORUM 2020 “Youth in East Asia: What comes after Generation Z?”

PANEL 1. CULTURE: “Cultural Shift toward Individualism”

Speakers:

Moderator:

Confucianism provided and still continues to provide a cultural basis to East Asian societies. Its principles led South Korea, China, and Japan toward economic progress: Its group-centric values not only shaped the society but also greatly impacted the economic boom in East Asia during the late 1900s. However, more recently, East Asian countries have shifted toward a more individualistic culture, and many more are increasingly focusing on their own needs and values, diverging away from the group-centric principles of Confucianism. Yet, there also remains some national-cultural specific traits, possibly deriving from the combination of both western ideologies and Confucianism, which forms a culturally unique concept of East Asian individualism. The wide acceptance of such swift among the youth plays a profound role in influencing the present and future of these nations. 

This panel will delve into the specifics within the cultural shifts, exploring the particular links behind the big concept of ‘individualism’. It will explore how East Asian culture shifted toward materialism/consumerism and how individualism led to a demographic change, such as the fading fertility rate along with the diminishing marriage rate. Based on the shifts in such cultural values, South Korea, China and Japan are striving toward gender equality – including the general increase in acceptance of LGBTQ+ ideas – as a result of the adoption of a more individualistic culture.

1. Individualism and Materialism 

– How diverse are forms of individualism in East Asian countries, which are the results of the combination of Confucianism and western values?

– How did individualism impact the rise of materialism in East Asia? What other factors have caused Generation Z to put more value on their material interests?

– According to The Atlantic, China and South Korea are found to measure success based on the amount of property. However, Japan was found to be an exception to this case. Why?

– How much does materialism influence the youth and their culture in East Asia? To what extent is it different from the previous generation? 

2. Individualism and Demographic Change 

– To what extent are the changes in fertility rate and marriage rate, as well as the ageing society, brought about by the rise of individualism? 

– Did the cultural shift to individualism prompt a demographic change, or did the demographic change prompt the cultural shift? – To what extent do the consequences of change in population structure a concern for East Asian countries? 

3. Individualism and Gender Equality 

– Is the gender inequality gap in actual fact closing down with Generation Z, in comparison to the previous generations? If so, in what specific ways did the cultural shift play a role in this change in gender inequality?

– What kind of challenges are young women facing in balancing their role in familial and public spheres, when calling for more gender equality? Does this reflect the rise of individualism in East Asia?

– Is the enhancing acceptance of LGBTQ+ ideas in the youth a consequence of the cultural shifts toward individualism?

– To what extent does gender inequality during the mid-1900s relate to the decline in population and the recent demographic traits in East Asia amongst the youth? 

PANEL 2. POLITICS: “What is influencing the youth’s view on politics and how will they shape the future?”

Speakers:

Moderator:

The relations between China, South Korea and Japan has been an ongoing issue. After the two global wars in the 20th century, the western world has, for the most part, seemed to put history behind them and moved towards cooperation (e.g. the European Union). Looking eastward, the three countries may still be feeling animosity towards each other, in regard to old territorial disputes, and the wartime hostility appears to be a significant factor that influences East Asian relations and national identity. 

The rapid evolution of media, technology and global network enables the youth to be involved in politics, in ways that may not always be explicit. This panel will first focus on exploring the different patterns of youth participation in domestic politics in East Asian countries, before discussing the mutual influence media and politics have on one another. Finally, the panel will analyse how Generation Z will shape the new East Asian diplomatic relations.

1. Youth Participation and Political Landscape of East Asia 

– In recent years, youth in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan are leading political movements and asserting their interests onto the national political agenda. What are the reasons behind high youth participation in politics in East Asia?

– Political enthusiasm among youth can be observed in South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, while Japanese and mainland Chinese youth do not seem to show interest in politics. Why are there different patterns of youth political participation in East Asia?

– In what ways should the youth increase their political participation in order to actively lead their respective societies?

– How should governments create an environment in which the youth can effectively participate in politics? 

2. Mutual influence of media and politics on youth 

– In East Asian countries, is the youth merely receiving information the way that the governments want them to see things as? Specifically, how is this done through censorship of media and propaganda? Why shouldn’t governments censor information through the media?

– When the Sino-Korean relationship showed a worsening trend in 2017 following the THAAD incident, the significant consequence that appealed to the public was the disappearing of K-pop in China. Is censorship in the entertainment industry being used as a new weapon of politics?

– Protests in Hong Kong and mainland China’s response to it were first revealed through social media. Given that the youth is the primary user of these platforms, to what extent does social media influence Generation Z’s view on politics? 

3. Generation Z and reshaping East Asian relations 

– To what extent do history, societal perception and education influence the youth’s attitude towards the current diplomatic relations in East Asia?

– To what extent does youth participation influence the diplomatic landscape between East Asian countries?

– What are the possibilities of East Asian cooperation in the future, and what will the youth’s role be in this process?

PANEL 3. EDUCATION: “Challenges and Opportunities for Youth Empowerment in East Asia”

Speakers:

Moderator:

East Asian countries are famous for their highly competitive and extremely rigorous education systems. Such pursuit for academic excellence has significantly contributed to the economic growth in Japan, China and South Korea and has made East Asian students continuously outstanding in many international rankings (e.g. PISA and TIMSS). Nevertheless, in recent years, there are rising criticisms toward some prominent features of such education patterns, such as the exam-oriented teaching approach and the high-pressure learning environment. Regarding the topic of youth, it is crucial to assess the controversial opinions about the East Asian education system which plays a vital role in shaping the future for the youth and will continuously have a profound impact on following generations. 

This panel starts from a discussion about the worrying trend of teenage mental health conditions and the youth suicide rate in East Asian countries, largely attributed to by high exam pressure and increasing school violence. The relationship between income inequality and inequality in accessing education will be analysed with a particular focus on the rapid growth of the private education market. Further exploration of this topic will be made by assessing the feasibility of e-learning in helping to reduce the unequal distribution of educational resources. Furthermore, the panel will take a broader perspective by making a comparison between Western and Eastern education systems to find the needs for educational reforms in East Asia under changing economic, social and political contexts. This will also lead to a discussion about the potential initiatives that could be undertaken by governments and educational institutions to create an improved educational environment for the youth in East Asian countries.

1. Education System and Mental Health Issues 

– What are the fundamental causes of physical violence and other forms of school bullying in general terms? Are there any East Asian education characteristics that have made students prone to violence?

– What could be the potential solutions to school violence and who plays the most critical role in this process (the government, schools, teachers, parents or students themselves)?

– Given that school stress has been the leading cause of teenage mental health issues for most students, what should be the future orientation for the development of the education system in terms of improving the psychological wellbeing of East Asian students? 

2. Income Inequality and Education Inequality 

– How should we assess the costs and benefits of private education in the context of East Asian countries?

– It is suggested that education inequality and income inequality can be mutually reinforcing factors that perpetuate their own vicious cycle. What should be the key solution to break that cycle? What are the roles of the different agents in this process?

– The Korean government, for example, has announced a decision to abolish all elite high schools across the country by 2025 as part of efforts to fix education disparity. The education ministry in many countries has introduced student loans to promote more equal opportunities. To what extent might these methods be effective in reducing education and social inequality?

– How could the emerging new technology of remote learning or online courses help mitigate the issue of education inequality? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such learning methods in comparison with traditional learning? 

3. Comparisons between Western and Eastern Education System 

– To what extent have the history and social context in East Asia made Japan, China and South Korea adopt a relatively similar education system? What are the differences between the three countries? What are the economic or cultural roots that have caused such differences?

– There has been a growing influx of Asian students into Western universities in recent years; how do such trends reflect limitations of the Asian education system?

– In a globalised world, are there some social and economic constraints (e.g. the vast population base in China) that force us to use the “Eastern” way of schooling? Or should our education system also adapt to Western standards and norms (namely, focusing more student participation in class, fostering innate human curiosity and encouraging critical thinking)?

– Given the distinctive cultural values each state stands for, to what extent can we make meaningful comparisons between Western and Eastern education methods? 

4. Potential Reforms 

– What are the key elements in East Asian education systems that require fundamental changes and reform? How would the focus of reforms be different in Korea, China and Japan, given their systems are distinctive, in order to enable East Asian youth taking charge for their future?

PANEL 4. ECONOMY: “Youth Labour Market in East Asia”

Speakers:

Moderator:

Despite the region’s economic power in the world and young people’s eagerness for jobs and work experience, the younger generation, as a vital driving force in the national economy, has faced significant obstacles in adapting to market transitions. Hence, this panel aims to understand the challenges the young workforce is coming across, and to evaluate how the young generation should embrace this ever-changing job market. 

The panel will start by evaluating the problem of youth unemployment in East Asia, taking an interest in the nature and difference of the severity of youth unemployment in South Korea, China and Japan. It will then discuss how the high current supply of labour and limited job vacancies increase the number of irregular jobs and may lead to the exploitation of labour. Whilst Generation Z increasingly faces such hurdles, significant structural transitions in the job market are also noticeable under digitalisation, which creates jobs and business opportunities for the younger generation in East Asia. Finally, the panel will analyze how youth, as entrepreneurs, can positively contribute to the three economies.

1. Youth unemployment in East Asia: Its nature, causes and consequences 

– How do we define youth as a labour force? Is there a universal understanding of this concept?

– What are the market and institutional factors contributing to the current rise of youth unemployment in East Asia?

– The statistics from the World Bank shows an overall increasing youth unemployment rate in China and South Korea over the past decade, but a continuously falling trend for Japan. What are the reasons behind such trends?

– What are the short-run and long-run impacts of youth unemployment on the respective national economies? 

2. Irregular Jobs, a growing problem 

– An increasing number of youths are being employed as an irregular worker in East Asia. For instance, over 35% of the youth workforce in Korea are irregular workers, while over 610,000 youths in Japan aged between 15 and 24 are so-called ‘freeters’. Linking to unemployment, what are the factors that lead to irregular jobs?

– These irregular workers are often mistreated to the extent that could reasonably be described as labour exploitation. What are the reasons for youth labour exploitation in East Asia? 

– Some irregular jobs, such as social media influencers, allow for more income in comparison to some regular jobs and have better work-and-life balance. Considering this, are irregular jobs inherently worse than regular ones? 

3. Digitalisation: Rise of the internet industry and labour market transition 

– What is the impact of the development in the social media industry in the job market?

– In what ways have, and increasingly should, traditional sectors seize opportunities and adapt to changes in this era of digitalisation?

– How should young generations adapt themselves to and embrace this ever-changing job market? 

4. Youth as a driver of the economy 

– In the three East Asian economies, the number of venture capital investments for youth startups has grown significantly. Also, due to digitalisation, there are less barriers for youth to join the market as an entrepreneur. What is the impact of an increasing number of startups and young entrepreneurs on East Asian economies? Does this mean that the younger generation can contribute to or even lead the economy through innovation?

– What policies can governments implement to increase the number of young entrepreneurs and support them effectively?