Rebellion and Conformity: Youth and the State in East and Southeast Asia – University of Copenhagen

ADI Conference 2018 > Panels > Rebellion and Conformity

10th Annual International ADI Conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative, University of Copenhagen
18-20 June 2018    


Rebellion and Conformity: Youth and the State in East and Southeast Asia

Convener: Olga Dror, Texas A&M University

The 1960s and the first half of the 1970s was arguably the apex of rebellion and conformity in many parts of the world – civil unrest sprung from the student demonstrations in Paris, the anti-war movement, hippies, and Woodstock in the United States, the Dirty War in Mexico were only some of the signifiers of rebellions in which youth played a leading role. It contrasted with the conformity on the rise in the Soviet Union that crushed the rebellious Prague Spring and in China in the years of the Cultural Revolution or Nationalist-controlled Taiwan. The rebellions and conformity were stipulated as much by the Cold War as they were by internal developments and have had a lasting impact on state-youth relations in the region.

Considering the cases of China, Taiwan, South Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand, the panel provides new interpretations of governing institutions’ expectations of youth and youth’s responses to those expectations amidst the challenges of that period. The responses of youth appear to be determined by the overarching context of the Cold War compounded by domestic cultural conditions. Panel participants will consider to what extent youth activism was developed in these five countries, whether in support of the state or to challenge the state, or whether it was absent. The panel will include discussion of new social norms propagated by states and expressions of youth through demonstrations, hippy movements, music, clothing, and the creation of youth’s own social norms. Furthermore, the panel will examine when and how the 1960s-1970s developments translated into current state-youth relations.

19 June 2018

Panel session:
Rebellion and conformity: Youth and the State in East and Southeast Asia

Room: 35.3.20


William Noseworthy, University of Wisconsin,

Songs for Life & Chants for Death: A Comparative Approach to the Youth Movements of Indonesia and Thailand, 1960-1976

Olga Dror, Texas A&M University

Gamut of South Vietnam: Co-existence of Conformity and Rebellion

Bi-Yu Chang, SOAS, University of London

How to be Good Children: The Absence of Taiwanese Youth in the Global Rebellion During the 1960s and early 70s

Konstantinos Tsimonis, King's College London

'Juniority'  and the Chinese Communist Youth League’s abortive attempt to adapt


Dr. William Noseworthy, 
Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA

Songs for Life & Chants for Death: A Comparative Approach to the Youth Movements of Indonesia and Thailand, 1960-1976
Indonesia and Thailand in the 1960s and 1970s represent two seemingly opposite youth responses to political contexts that are, in a sense, quite similar. The first glance suggests: given the context of the Cold War, youth movements in Indonesia and Thailand emerge in conversation with pro-military, authoritarian forms of governance that are staunchly anti-communist. The pre-existing politics of a relatively centrist anti-colonial movement led by Sukarno and the PNI compared to the formerly pro-Fascist Thai-juntas, claiming to be the will of the Buddhist monarchy, cannot be underestimated in their importance. The parallels that emerge in Indonesian and Thai anti-communist consciousness and strategy are notable, particularly encouraged through strong alliances with the United States military and the influence of the CIA. This paper argues that youth responses to these movements cannot be neatly chalked up to categories of complacency and rebellion. In the case of Indonesia’s fomenting of KAMI youth, one exemplary turn in the episode from 1965 to 1966 occurs when anti-riot police apologize to KAMI anti-communist rioters. It becomes clear the military government supports, if it has not manufactured, the “youth rebellion.” In Thailand, by contrast, two turns occur. First, in 1973, when the student pro-democracy movement plays an integral role in the uprising that ended a dictatorship, only to become subject to a massacre in 1976, a massacre that encouraged many to join the CPT.

Dr. Olga Dror, 
Associate Professor, Texas A&M University

Gamut of South Vietnam: Co-existence of Conformity and Rebellion
Despite the war, the invasion of North Vietnamese forces, local guerillas, and the presence of American forces, youth in South Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, enjoyed a remarkable freedom to develop their own perspective on what was happening in their country. North Vietnam was raising its youth in conformity, as extensions of the northern state to fight against the southern state and pupils were deprived of the means to challenge the government. South Vietnam, on the contrary, was supplying its youth with such means. Moreover, youth in the South, unlike their counterparts in the North, were exposed to Western influences that created further diversity.

This paper will examine how and why youth in South Vietnam were allowed to develop their own perspectives on the political and military issues facing their country as well as the manifestations of this freedom in youth’s actions. The multiplicity of youth identities in South Vietnam resulted not only in support of the government, but also in rebellion against it that took many forms—from meetings and demonstrations to hippie-ization and to immersion into the underworld. While some of these rebellious patterns were outright criminal, others, while rebellious on the surface, actually ascertained the cause that South Vietnam claimed as the raison-d’être of its existence—the right not to conform.

Dr. Bi-Yu Chang, Senior Teaching Fellow and Deputy Director, Center of Taiwan Studies, SOAS, University of London

How to be Good Children: The Absence of Taiwanese Youth in the Global Rebellion During the 1960s and early 70s
During the 1960s and the early 70s, the youth in Nationalist-controlled Taiwan seemed to be unaffected by the civil unrest and rebellion that was taking place elsewhere in Asia. Political turmoil, protests, sexual revolution, and rebellious culture appeared to have passed Taiwan by. Against the widespread rebellion across the globe, Taiwan’s youth seemed to be quiet and ‘well-behaved.’

Coinciding with Taiwan’s industrialisation and economic transformation in the 1960s, there was in fact a brief period of political reform, calls for liberalisation among the elites, and also a short-lived student movement in the early 1970s. Why then didn’t the global trend spark widespread social unrest and political protests on the island?  At this juncture, Taiwan faced a unique situation – the Chinese Cultural Revolution was launched in 1966 on the one hand, while the ROC was expulsion from the UN in 1971. Against this background, this paper tentatively explores from a cultural perspective the reasons for the absence of Taiwanese youth in global rebellion.

As a starting point, this paper examines Taiwan’s ‘Social Studies textbooks’ to see how elementary education constructed a generation of ‘well-behaved’ children, shaped young people’s values and identity, and constructed a set of Nationalist-defined ‘modern’ social norms. In other words, it was partly because of the high level of conformity embedded in education that a generation of submissive citizens was fostered. In addition, the Cultural Renaissance Movement was launched in 1967 to counterattack the Cultural Revolution in China. To set itself up as the legitimate heir of Chinese culture and political orthodoxy, the movement forcefully promoted traditional values and Confucianism within and outside of the island. As a result, the western values of freedom, liberalism and democracy became ambivalent, symbolising corruption and decadence, and the global rebellion was seen as the ‘problem of modernity.’

Dr. Konstantinos Tsimonis,
Lecturer in Chinese Society; King's College London

'Juniority'  and the Chinese Communist Youth League’s abortive attempt to adapt
Speaking at the annual meeting of Communist Youth League cadres in 2003, President Hu Jintao called league organizations to “work hard to keep the party assured and the youth satisfied”. In addition to indoctrinating, mobilizing, preparing young people for party membership, and offering a career avenue for aspiring cadres, the former Chinese leader instructed the league to engage with the needs and demands of its youth constituency as a means of cultivating political support for the Communist regime. Hu’s call became an instant slogan within the league and informed the expansion of its youth work mandate over the next decade.

This paper will examine the CYL’s abortive attempt to increase its inclusiveness, participatory character and responsiveness towards young adults. It will begin by analyzing the reasons behind the two legitimacy crises that the league experienced in the 1960s and 1980s, and then turn to an assessment of Hu’s “keeping youth satisfied” efforts. The paper will argue that despite the drastic transformation of China’s socioeconomic context, a politically disempowering notion of ‘youth’ continues to inform the league’s work, compromising its ability to engage young people in a meaningful and responsive way. This notion emanates from the league’s ‘juniority’, conceptualized as a form of subordination that is distinctive to institutional dependency as it merges political control and generational authority. Juniority is expressed in the set of norms, organizational practices, and incentives that constitute 'youth’ as a ‘junior’ political subject, whose interests and duties are defined top-down through hierarchies that favor the structural position of more senior stakeholders in politics and society. This results in widespread apathy and cynicism among league members and in the demotivation of cadres who see little benefit in sustaining a commitment to youth work.