Youth Migration in a Taiwanese TV Drama: Agency and Resistance

Youth Migration in a Taiwanese TV Drama: Agency and Resistance

Children generally have little input, and few choices, when their families decide to migrate. They often relocate with their parents when the latter migrate for economic or other reasons, nationally or internationally. In Taiwan, a country of twenty-three million people, hundreds of thousands have moved to the People’s Republic of China (‘the mainland’) or the United States; there are currently over five hundred thousand Taiwanese Americans (Kleczka). Though youth migration, a disruptive event for the young people involved, is rarely discussed in news media, it has been explored as a social issue in art. This paper will examine one representation of youth migration, in the Taiwanese television drama The Teen Age, and characters’ resistance to it. We will use the paradigm of resistance, particularly as conceived by James C. Scott, to explore the practical and symbolic meaning of characters’ actions; through agency, we will attempt to outline the sociocultural factors mediating the characters’ capacity for action, and explore their attempts at self-determination in a situation of limited power. The youth which concern us, high school students in their senior year, are in an unfortunate position—full of the same passions and sufferings of the human experience as adults, and yet considered children in the eyes of the law, their parents, and society. As this paper will attempt to show, when these characters face the inevitability of material changes in their lives, acts of symbolic (ideological) resistance become even more significant. Before the analysis, I will define the key terms and give some brief background.

1.1 Keyword: Agency
Scholars define ‘agency’ in many different ways, and a new definition lies outside the ambit of this paper. We will use Laura H. Ahearn’s conception of agency as our working definition: “Agency refers to the socioculturally mediated capacity to act” (qtd in Parker 3, Ortner 134). According William H. Sewell, Jr., “a capacity for agency … is inherent in all humans” but “agency exercised by different persons … differs enormously in both kind and extent” (qtd in Ortner 136). The young characters in The Teen Age have very limited agency, and thus we will be interested in “the historical and cultural conditions that facilitate the discursive production of agency” (Dissanayake ix). Ahearn’s definition ignores one important aspect of agency, intentionality—the conscious plans and unconscious desires which, mediated by relative social power and cultural discourses, inform an agent (social actor)’s choices. “Human agents may also provide contradictory accounts of their own behaviour”, or consciously misrepresent it to others (Scott 46); furthermore, the social consequences of actions (whether intended to reproduce or challenge social order) often have consequences unintended or completely counter to the agent’s original motivation (Ortner 134-6). Those caveats aside, intentionality is still relevant, especially in distinguishing the routine and automatic from ‘significant action’, which is of interest in our investigation. Lastly, “agency is about power, about acting within relations of social inequality, asymmetry, and force” (139). In the case of our characters dealing with the inevitability of migration in The Teen Age, we focus on the limited agency they do have in an asymmetric relationship with their parents, social values and discourses, and school. Let us lay the framework for examining the material and symbolic forms of individual and group ‘oppositional agency’: resistance.

1.2 Keyword: Resistance
For this paper, we will be adapting James C. Scott’s conception of resistance from his study of the Malaysian peasantry, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Scott’s explains ‘everyday’ forms of resistance such as false deference and reluctant compliance (which “stop[s] short of overt defiance”), characterised as possessing an ideological subtext for the actors involved, but not directly challenging the symbolic order; the opposite case, direct defiance, is “an open breach of the symbolic order” (25-6). Scott lists ‘weapons of the weak,’ which can be individual, like foot dragging, evasion, feigned ignorance, dissimulation , and flight (302-3), or collective, such as a conspiracy of silence (300). He makes a distinction between a “symbolic climate” that “defin[es] the standards of what is true, beautiful, moral, fair, and legitimate” and “repression (in fact, memory, or potential) … in restraining acts of resistance” (38-39); this fits Ahearn’s model of “socioculturally mediated” agency. Danny Yee’s summary of Scott notes that “inevitability is not seen as implying legitimacy” (Yee); especially when the less powerful cannot change their situation, symbolic resistance becomes important. Symbolic resistance “…is as important for what it rejects as for what it asserts” (Scott 236), and “above all… rejects the categories” and dominant discourse that those with power intend to impose on their social inferiors. “[S]ymbols and symbolic action”—far from being merely abstract—“are viable only when they relate to real issues and popular experience of them” (Kessler Islam and Politics 244, qtd in Scott 236). In the analysis, we will see one character
explain her symbolic act of defiance as an explicit rejection of the dominant discourse.

2. Background
The television drama as a genre is seldom written about in the literature (especially in comparison to stage drama). This section will provide brief introductions to the TV drama and iterations in Taiwan, the series The Teen Age, and the high school experience in Taiwan.

2.1The Television Drama
Like stage drama, popular music, and Hollywood films, the TV drama is realized through the combined creative work of a large team. Drama writing is a tension between expressing creative vision within the limits of the genre, and the influences of producers, advertisers, ratings, and production for a mass audience. Dramas focus on characters, and their relationships; most compelling dramas explore contemporary social issues. The most common format for a TV drama in the United States is the hour drama, written as a four-act play with scenes divided by tense cliff-hangers to hold audiences over the commercial breaks (Douglas 7-24).

TV dramas in Taiwan can be loosely divided into several formats: Taiwanese-language taiju (台劇); the teen idol dramas, ouxiangju (偶像劇); and a subset of historical costume dramas (古裝劇). This paper is only concerned with the ouxiangju or idol drama format. In the ouxiangju, plots focus mainly on romantic relationships between characters (police and hospital dramas, common in the US, are rare), and the main characters are all actors who can pretend to be under thirty. The ouxiangju is often a vehicle for young celebrities who are also musicians, reality TV contestants, or who otherwise regularly appear on variety shows (綜藝節目).

2.2 The Teen Age
The Teen Age (18禁不禁 ) originally aired in 2007 on CTV and GTV, and ran for twenty 90-minute episodes. The cast consists of actors from variety shows and bands. The plot revolves around two groups of high school seniors (高三, Grade 12), four boys and four girls, who all begin dating (see the Appendix for a relationship diagram). The Teen Age is part coming-of-age story, part relationship drama, part comedy, part satire of cultural products and social phenomena, and part social commentary.

This paper focuses on the story arc in Episodes 14 and 15. Lead female Qiao’s mother tells her she will be leaving in a week to study in the United States. She is heartbroken to be leaving her home, friends, and boyfriend for an unfamiliar world. The friends scheme to keep her in Taiwan, but Qiao leaves on schedule despite their efforts. In the US, she complains and resists until her mother returns to Taiwan, intent on disbanding her friends’ class; her boyfriend bargains that if the class can pass a difficult exam, they can stay together. At first, Qiao obeys her mother meekly, but soon runs away from home, only to return a day later. Finally, in an emotional confrontation, she insists on sitting the test with her friends, stressing the symbolic value of acting “even if it ends in failure” (“Episode 15” Scene 15).

2.3 High School in Taiwan:
Taiwan’s public school system is a hybrid of Chinese, Japanese, and American influences and values. Each progression (from primary school to junior high, and so on) is determined by a high-stakes, comprehensive exam. School is a disciplined, paternalistic affair, usually running 7:30 am to 5:00 pm; students wear uniforms and hand in diaries monitored by the school , and non-commissioned military officers enforce regulations. To prepare for university examinations (大學聯考), about 70% of students attend cram schools (Lin) for the evenings and weekends. The excessive focus placed on test preparation led one Taiwanese rapper to comment that “Isn’t the only point of study to teach to the test?” (MC Hotdog “補補補”). The discourse that the only way to get a ‘good job’ is to study hard, and test into a ‘good school,’ has wide currency.

3. Analysis
This section is divided into two main parts. The first part will attempt to identify the social and cultural factors mediating the characters’ agency, and the limits these place on the capacity to resist. We will pay attention to factors to which the characters explicit refer, as well as factors that can be inferred by actions, but are either subconsciously active, or which he or she would not like to admit. The second part will make reference to Scott’s theory of resistance, examine symbolic and material forms of resistance, demonstrating the significance characters place on symbolic resistance—through both asserting one’s own values, and rejecting externally imposed categories.

3.1 Sociocultural Limits on Agency

3.1.1 Youth as Minors, Youth as Children
The central characters in the story, the eight friends, are all seventeen years old (“18禁不禁” Official Site). In Taiwan, the age of majority is twenty for most purposes, and eighteen for access to alcohol and pornography (hence the Chinese title of the series), so they are all considered minors and the legal dependents of their parents. Ah Jie highlights the sense of powerlessness he feels being a minor entails in a conversation with his father. Mr. Zhao remarks that “…sometimes a trend is just overpowering, and all you can do is submit ,” and he replies, “I understand. We’re all still minors. We don’t make the rules of the game” (“Episode 15” Scene 6). More importantly, the youth are considered children in the Taiwanese (Chinese) cultural context . Informally, Taiwanese males may consider military service (三角COOL “阿兵哥”) or their first sexual encounter (MC Hotdog “1030”) as a rite of passage into manhood; however, older generations generally consider marriage or producing children as the signifier of passage into full adulthood. In The Teen Age, the attitude that the youth are, in a sense, children is held by both generations.

This is particularly evident in the interactions between Qiao and her mother, Mrs Xia. Mrs Xia believes she knows what’s best for her daughter, and Qiao—for the most part—accepts that her mother disciplines her as a child (Q: Qiao, X: Mrs Xia):
Q: “It’s not like that. I’ve met many great friends in class…”
X: “Made friends… you mean dating.”
Q: “There’s nothing wrong with dating.”
X: “Wrong. You’re still in high school. You shouldn’t be dating, especially with those shady boys.”

X: “Once this is all wrapped up, you can come back to the States with me. We won’t have to deal with any of it, and you can have a normal life.”
Q: “But—”
X: “No more! No one can change my decision. Right now, you might hate me. But down the road, you will be grateful.” (“Episode 15” Scene 5)
Mrs Xia is comfortable making Qiao’s decisions for her, for her own good, without any consultation. This relationship is also what allowed Mrs Xia to make the initial decision for Qiao to migrate to America to continue her studies there, and give her a week’s notice by telephone of that decision. The attitude, on the part of parents and students, is also what allows Mrs Xia to cow protesting students into submission by threatening to show a recording of them misbehaving (holding a protest) at school to their parents.

3.1.2 The Importance of Study and the Role of the Student
As students, the main characters in The Teen Age are also subjects to a Confucian-credentialist discourse on the importance of education to success in modern Taiwanese society. As mentioned earlier, the school system in Taiwan focuses on high-stakes exams for entrance into the most desirable schools (from preschool and kindergarten, through primary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions). In a tradition that dates back to China’s imperial examinations, parents believe success in exams and higher education can guarantee wealth and success. The discursive link between success and education is best expounded by Mrs Xia, who says to Ah Jie’s father, “As you know, competition in society is scary. Without good grades, you can’t get into a good school. Without studying at a good school, you can’t find a good job” (“Episode 15” Scene 9). Many of the students, particularly Diqiu and the four girls, buy into the discourse. Even Ah Jie has plans to purse graduate school in the United States.

Society’s expectations for students are even clearer. All three adult characters active in Episode 15—the Director of the School, Mrs Xia, and Ah Jie’s father—repeat basically the same expectations to Ah Jie at some point. The Director and Mrs Xia tell him--in almost the same words--that “a student’s duty is to take care of his studies!” After Ah Jie organizes a demonstration at the school to protest the disbanding of his co-educational experimental class, his father reiterates the expectation:
Dad: “Ah Jie, you’re in senior year. Don’t cause trouble! You need to focus on your grades!”
Ah Jie: “Dad, I think this is more important than grades.”
Dad: “Uh, think about it: if you get into university, then you’ll naturally have co-ed classes, right? Right now the most important thing in your life is to study hard, and get into university. Tests, tests, tests! … Go get some rest, eh.” (Scene 7)
Mr Zhao privileges study and promotion into university as “the most important thing in [his son’s] life” . Part of the education discourse is the idea that “good or bad grades make the student a good or bad person” (Scene 17); Qiao’s mother stereotypes Ah Jie based on his poor marks—“As soon saw I saw him I knew his parents disciplined him poorly, no wonder he’s led you astray. Bad students like him can only ruin the environment of the school.

3.1.3 Social Hierarchy, Respect and Deference
A sociocultural norm observed in the same way by adults and youth in The Teen Age is an expectation of respect, if not always deference, to one’s elders and superiors. Adults on a fairly equal footing (such as Mr Zhao and Mrs Xia) treat each other with polite respect. The contrast between the mutual respect of equals and a superior-inferior relationship becomes obvious when one watches the end of the scene where Ah Jie brings Qiao back to her mother. Mr Zhao, who was a confident, but polite, father one moment, is instantly and dramatically transformed into a cringing, obsequious employee when he takes a call from his employer just moments later. The dynamic levels of respect and deference in asymmetrical relationships are also visible in Scene 2; when talking to Ah Jie, the Director is confident, almost lecturing, and isn’t afraid to push him around or restrain him. When Mrs Xia, who is head of the school Parental Advisory Council , and has connections to the school Board of Trustees and the Ministry of Education, walks in to the room, the Director's demeanour changes. The Director uses more polite and formal language, while he tolerates much ruder treatment from Mrs Xia (who uses Taiwanese to swear at him, saying something similar to “—the **** do you know?!” when she strongly disagrees, before regaining her composure and a modicum of politeness. Besides unconsciously adjusting their behaviour, some characters are consciously aware of the requirement. Haozi, in defending the girls’ failed mission to negotiate with Qiao’s mother, says, “Mrs Xia is our elder; we have to respect her” (Scene 13).

3.2 Symbolic and Material Resistance

3.2.1 Weapons of the Weak and Everyday Forms of Resistance
We have established several relevant discourses that influence the students in The Teen Age. Taken together, they sometimes leave the student with few means to change his situation, or exercise self-determination. At the beginning of Episode 14, Qiao finds herself in just such a position—her mother has just called and told her she will be moving to the US (indefinitely) to study. When her friends find out, they brainstorm as a group, attempting to develop a trick to keep her in Taiwan, with her friends. These students, even as a whole, lack the social means (and probably the legal basis) to struggle openly against Mrs Xia. Their first thought is to help Qiao fake an illness; it could help “delay her leaving, maybe until graduation” (“Episode 14”). This is an example of two of James C. Scott’s ‘weapons of the weak:’ food dragging’ and dissimilation. Someone also suggests she fake some disorder involving amnesia, so she can “forget the whole thing about going to America” (ibid); this is what Scott calls ‘feigned ignorance.’ Qiao tried to fake sick when younger, and ‘stopped’ deceiving her mother thereafter, so they decide against reusing an old trick. In Episode 15, Scene 8, we see her behave in a way consistent with reluctant compliance: Qiao is calling Ah Jie, against her mother’s wishes, although he doesn’t pick up. Mrs Xia extends her hand, and Qiao ends the call and hands her the phone. They have a brief, largely one-sided, conversation:

Qiao: “Mum, I was just calling my friend.”
X: “Go to your room.”
Q: “Mum, how come you won’t let me explain?”
X: “We’ll talk about it after you’ve spent some time reflecting on yourself. Go.”
Q: “Mum—”
X: “Go.”
Scott uses the metaphor of a stage play to explain the differences between actors engaging in everyday resistance in the public sphere (where they operate within, but may not approve of, what Ah Jie calls “the rules of the game” in Episode 15 Scene 6):
[People] with power … are not… in total control of the stage. They might write the basic script for the play but, within its confines, truculent or disaffected actors find sufficient room for maneuver [sic]… . The necessary lines may be spoken, the gesture made, but it is clear that many of the actors are just going through the motions and do not have their hearts in the performance (Scott 26)
Qiao doesn’t mention that the person she was calling was more than just a ‘friend’ (she may have been ‘off-stage’ when she called him), but this act of dissimulation, like reluctant compliance, is an ‘everyday’ form of resistance. Everyday forms of resistance “stop short of overt defiance”; they do not challenge the symbolic order, but still possess a subtext for the actor. Thus, when Qiao runs away from home (flight) and her mother goes to school looking for her, the conspiracy of silence from her classmates also fails to challenge the symbolic order—no one speaks up to criticize Mrs Xia or give her misinformation; though it’s implausible, forty students with cell phones just might not know her whereabouts. When characters do challenge the symbolic order, their actions cease to be everyday resistance, and can be classified as open defiance.

3.2.2 The Dangers of Open Defiance: “abolish the experimental class!”
“It is no small matter that the … elite continues to control the public stage” (Scott 25), but rather, a function of their social power. When someone challenges a discourse with open defiance, he is directly threatening the system’s legitimacy. Moreover, he comes face to face with someone who wields much greater power in a direct, asymmetrical conflict. Qiao attempts this in the interval between Episodes 14 and 15. Having just arrived in the United States, and feeling cut off from her friends (as her mother won’t let her use the internet), she decides to resist by refusing to study or even feed herself. These actions are not sufficient to “conform to the minimal standards of politeness and deference that [Mrs Xia is] normally in a position to require” (Scott 26) from Qiao, as a mother from a child, a superior from an inferior, and a parent from a student (Qiao abandons ‘the basic duty of a student,’ which is her most important role). Here, Qiao’s actions have completely unintended social consequences.

We can only guess at Qiao’s intentions; in Episode 14, we hear—through sobs—that she “really doesn’t want to go to America” and leave her friends, and Ah Jie, behind. Perhaps she hoped that, somehow, she could return to Taiwan. Whatever she planned when openly resisting her mother, it definitely did not involve them both flying back, in order for her mother to destroy “Experimental Class 1” , the co-educational class that brought her, Ah Jie, and all of their friends together.

As the following passage will reveal, Mrs Xia is furious that her daughter—a lifelong master of everyday resistance—has begun to resist her domineering (if well-meaning, in the case of her daughter’s welfare) attitude. She has decided that Ah Jie and the co-ed class are behind her daughter’s ‘change for the worse.’ In the Director’s office, when she first identifies Ah Jie:
(Taiwanese) “So, it was you who led my little Qiaoqiao astray.”
(Mandarin) “You know, my little Qiaoqiao, from when she was little, never dared talk back to me. But now, because of you…”
(Taiwanese) “She won’t study; she even made me come back to Taiwan!” (2)
But, even the powerful need an excuse for a vendetta. Thus, she couches her criticism of Ah Jie and the experimental class in terms of the dominant discourse of education.

3.2.3 Resisting the Inevitable: the Significance of the Symbolic
Mrs Xia’s unexpected response to her daughter’s disobedience puts the friends and their beloved co-educational class puts them in the same dire straits as Qiao; as she characterises the situation, the class is just as powerless as she is, and their chances of success are negligible: “…We all know it’s like the 300 from Sparta – it’s a battle we’re doomed to lose” (“Episode 15” Scene 17).

Yee (1994) writes: Scott theorizes “inevitability is not seen as implying legitimacy.” Thus, when the characters face a material change in circumstances which they cannot effectively resist, there is extra motivation for them to take symbolic action to resist the categories imposed on them by their superiors, or a discourse which is used to justify what they consider an illegitimate, if inevitable outcome. Characters can also attempt “to preserve and promote a particular worldview, a style of normative discourse” and this “constitutes a form of resistance that is much more than purely symbolic” (Scott 234. Still, “the symbolic resistance of the [powerless] is as important for what it rejects as for what it asserts” (236). It is a contention of this paper that the less material power characters have, the more significance they will assign to significant actions, and the more likely they will be to carry out acts of symbolic resistance.

One way characters can act symbolically in these circumstances is to reject the values system of the dominant discourse and attempt to preserve or promote their own; this is method through which both Qiao and her classmates choose to resist the inevitable.

In 3.1.2 The Importance of Study and the Role of the Student, I discussed how the friends are subject to a multifarious discourse which gives study, university entrance, and grades primacy over all other values. This discourse also imposes external categories on the students; as the parents and school Director all said, “The duty of a student is to take care of his studies”. Besides imposing duties on its subjects, the discourse also imposes a results-focused, myopic value system, in which a student’s value as a person correlated directly with his or her marks (Mrs Xia buys into this belief system, thus she had every reason to be angry when her daughter’s grades started sliding).

There are two important scenes where characters choose to reject an aspect of the study-student discourse with symbolic resistance. Since Qiao is involved at both, we will look at them in chronological order.

Scene 15 of Episode 15 finds Qiao and her mother standing in their Taipei apartment. Qiao apologizes for running away, and then asks her mother to protect the experimental class. Mrs Xia insists that the test will determine their fate.
X: “Whether they keep the class or not will depend on their marks.”
Q: “Mum, that’s too tough. Not everyone can live up to your standards.”
X: “Maybe my standards are high, but there are benefits for the students, their parents, and the school. Think about it: When a parent sends her kid to school, of course she hopes it’s a good school.”
Q: “But—”
X: “No buts.”
At this point, Qiao realizes she is helpless to save the class she and her friends love. When her mother tells her to go to bed, she remains standing, responding with an outright defiance that challenges the social order, rather than everyday resistance.
Q: “Then I’m going to sit the test.”
Mrs Xia pauses, puzzled. We, however, know Qiao is engaging in symbolic resistance.
Q: (determined) “I want to write the test with T01.”
X: “What meaning is there in that? You’re still going back to America to study.”
Q: “I’m a member of the class. I should have to write this test too.”
X: “That won’t accomplish anything. No matter how well you do, you can’t change the results!”
This is true. It is precisely because Qiao cannot change the results that she feels she must compete. In fact, her choice symbolically rejects her mother’s value system. She offers her own principles, even if they are not very sophisticated:
Q: “Mum, not everything needs to be judged by its results. There are things you should do just because you think you should, even if they end in failure.”
X: “Whatever, do it, then! My position isn’t going to change. As long as one person doesn’t meet the standard, T01 will be immediately abolished.”
Scott characterizes this kind of ideological resistance and struggle to define values in an interesting way. On the one hand, he claims symbolic resistance is very significant, also claims that that “[t]he kind of conflict with which we are dealing here is singularly undramatic … it is a contest over the definition of justice, a struggle to control the concepts and symbols by which current experience is evaluated” (27).
In Scene 17, Ah Jie, Qiao, and the remainder of the eight friends meet up for drinks and a discussion of the upcoming test. Everyone is tired from studying and the stress of trying to collectively meet an unreasonable task. They discuss the test, and eventually their discussion moves to critiquing the study-student discourse.
Ah Bi: “I just don’t get it. Why are grades the standard to judge everything?”
Haozi: “Yeah, getting into a public university doesn’t mean you’ll be happy.”
Diqiu: “At the root, it’s a problem with the education system. It makes you believe that good or bad grades make the student a good or bad person.”

Diqiu’s criticism rejects the external value system of grades, and the categories others in authority like to impose. While it was Ah Jie who realized that youth don’t “make the rules of the game,” Xiao Xin has a novel idea for resistance: “Hey—why do we have to play by the rules of their game? We need to break the rules to protect the class.” A montage ensues, depicting the deus ex machina happy ending that could result if the entire class rejected rules stacked against them. The group discusses it, and then decides not to cheat. Instead, they will promote their own morality, even if the system is unfair. Ah Jie decides, “We absolutely cannot cheat. Even if we passed, it would destroy the values of our class. We can fail the test, but we can’t fail morality.” As the group leaves, Qiao and Ah Jie remind them that they shouldn’t worry about success and failure, but rather work hard. They believe that a general improvement in grades is enough to demonstrate the value of their class.

It is interesting that, in the face of inevitable failure, the group rejects the one means, mass cheating, that could guarantee them success. Their choice of symbolic, primarily ideological resistance fits our model, but the resolution of the scene feels as if the writers are promoting their own didactic agenda—especially considering most of the boys took considerable risks to try to peek at girls changing earlier in the series.

4.1 Problems in TV Drama: Legitimizing the Inevitable?
Although Scott’s model of resistance proved quite useful in analysing most of the behaviours of Qiao and the other youth involved in the ‘Qiao moves to America / Abolish the Experimental Class’ story arc, I found the very last scenes of Episode 15 problematic. Sometime between Qiao’s decision to join her classmates in writing the test that would decide their fate, and two nights before the test, Qiao’s character undergoes some significant changes. While at the end of Episode 14, she is tearfully parting with her friends and boyfriend Ah Jie, by penultimate scene in Episode 15 (immediately after the group meeting), Qiao has had a change of heart:
X: “Oh yeah, the test is in two days. How are you guys shaping up?”
Q: “Everybody’s working really hard. … Mum, please, don’t close down our class, ok? I promise, I’ll be a good girl, and go back to the US with you to study.”
X: “I won’t accept terms from you.”
Q: “Mum, I’m not offering conditions. I’ve thought it over. Studying overseas is what I want. Though I don’t want to let go of my classmates, I trust that our friendship can pass the test (of distance). It’s just like before, when I was all by myself here in Taiwan, and Mum was in the US. Though we were apart, the bond between mother and daughter doesn’t change with distance.”

In this context, Qiao appears to have matured dramatically. She ascribes it to the co-ed class: “I learned a lot in T01. I learned how to be honest about my own feelings and opinions.” Standing up to her mother in a mature way a few days earlier seems to have been a turning point in her development. Whether ‘being honest about her feelings’ means that Qiao was repressing her desires to study abroad, or that she recently grew apart from Ah Jie, or she is confident enough in her new abilities (and new relationship with her mother) that she is no longer afraid of pursuing her American dream, is unclear. By the final scene, a farewell party in the hills thrown by Mrs Xia, no-one cries, and she and Ah Jie have both decided that they will be better off as friends, and would have eventually gone their separate ways anyway.

One thing is for certain—the writers of these episodes were under very peculiar constraints. Albee Huang (黃瀞怡), who played Qiao, the female lead of the series (and chief driver of TV ratings), was also involved in another television show that aired in the same time slot. Due to a contractual conflict, eventually, she was unable to continue filming of The Teen Age, and had to be written out by the end of Episode 15. While writing out minor characters when their actors cannot continue work is common practice in the TV drama industry, it The Teen Age’s case, writing out Qiao caused the series to lose direction. Since Huang’s character leaving the series was really inevitable, the final scenes feel slightly forced: Qiao develops too fast, with inadequate exposition, and the characters wrap up their relationships in a way convenient for the writers, but not true to the characters as the audience came to know them.

4.2 Conclusion
This paper examined one representation of youth migration in the Taiwanese idol drama, The Teen Age. Through the keyword agency, we examined three sociocultural discourses that mediated characters’ capacity to act. Through James C. Scott’s conception of resistance (and its variants, everyday, and the symbolic) we examined how the characters interacted with power and discourses in society. Because our young characters had limited agency, they had to deal with family migration and other inevitable, material disruptions to their lives. As predicted by Scott’s model, most of them decided to resist their situation ideologically (symbolically). We also saw the writers use the TV drama format to critique the discourse of study and students in Taiwan. Qiao, the protagonist at the centre of the migration story arc, chose to pursue symbolic resistance to create meaning in her life.

Appendix I – Relations of the 8 main characters
Adapted from GTV’s official site for 18禁不禁 .

Ah-Jie 趙智傑
‘the unlucky guy’ Diqiu 地球
‘the top student’ Ah-Bi 阿比
‘the sporty guy’ Xiao-Xin 小新
‘the pervert’

Qiao 夏念喬
‘rich, classy girl’ Youjia 又佳
‘the gossip’ Haozi 浩子
‘the tomboy’ Peipei 蓓蓓
‘the romantic’

Appendix II – Scene by Scene Summaries and Transcripts of Episode 15
All translations in Appendix II are by the author.
It’s possible to watch episode 15, and the rest of the series, online through Youku.com. Slow to load outside the PRC.

Episode 15, Scene Two
(Ah-Jie awakes from a dream of being reunited with Qiao, and finds himself embracing the Director.)

Director: “Zhao Zhijie! Are you not aware that a student's duty is that he should take care of his studies? And you just go off dating!"

Ah Jie apologizes, and the Director accepts.

D: “The Parents Advisory Council (PAC – 家長會) president, came here ‘on a punitive expedition’, don’t you know?!
I, the director, have taught all this time—”
Z: “—Director! Sir, isn’t the PAC president…”
D: “Yes! It’s the mother of Xia Nianqiao (Qiao), from your class.”

Mrs. Xia enters, the director bows.

X: “Excuse me, who is ‘Zhao Zhijie’ … oh, you’re Zhao Zhijie!
I’m Xia Nianqiao’s mum.”

Ah Jie respectfully greets her. She responds.

X: (Taiwanese) “So, it was you who led my little Qiaoqiao astray.”
(Mandarin) “You know, my little Qiaoqiao, from when she was little, never dared talk back to me. But now, because of you…”
(Taiwanese) “She won’t study; she even made me come back to Taiwan!”

D: “Mrs Xia, let me tell you, youth always have a ‘rebellious stage.’

X: (Taiwanese) “—the **** do you know?!”
(Mandarin, conciliatory) “Director, uh, that is to say, the students are only misbehaving because you hold this view. There is absolutely no need for a co-educational class, eh?
As a parent,”
(Taiwanese) “and the head of the PAC, I suggest that you cancel T01 (the co-ed class).”

The Director and Ah Jie are flustered. The Director stops Ah Jie from advancing on Xia.

D: (talking as inferior to superior) “Mrs Xia, allow me to report, in reality the co-ed class is, are you aware, not without its merits. For example the, uh… basketball game! There was a basketball game a while ago, right, and [the students] were champions only through of male-female cooperation.”

X: (Mandarin) “Right, right, right. I didn’t bring my daughter here to play basketball. I believe that many parents probably agree with my objection [to the co-educational class].
Director, aren’t you aware of the purpose of a school?” (wry face)

Mrs. Xia opens her cell phone and begins punching in a number.

X: “I think the board of trustees can give me a reasonable explanation…
Or, should I ask the Minister of Education to come remind you of the duty and mission of a teacher?”

Dir: (stuttering) “No, no, n-n-no need, we still have room to deliberate on the question of the co-ed class.”
(Taiwanese) “Further study [is needed]!”

X: (Taiwanese) “Right, further study.”
(Mandarin) “Indeed. The board of trustees and the PAC can surely give me a reasonable explanation [for all this]. Abolish T01 ASAP.”

She walks off, laughing.

Ah Jie runs out. Z: “Mrs. Xia, is Qiao back?”
Mrs. Xia ignores him and continues walking.

D: (Places hands on Ah Jie’s shoulders) “You heard her. Go back and tell your classmates to prepare themselves…”
Director lets out a sob, and walks off, sadly.

Scene 4: Students react to the news. Some are dismissive.

Ah Jie responds, encouraging people to preserve the class and fight for their principles.
Ah Jie: “That’s wrong. The purpose of T01 isn’t just so that we can make friends.”
Peipei: “If not, then what’s it for?”

Ah Jie: “Ever since I joined T01, I feel that I’ve become more mature, and stronger than before. There were things I didn’t understand before, that I now do. My mistaken views [on the opposite sex] have corrected themselves. So, I feel that ‘Co-ed class’ system of ours is significant, and should continue being promoted.”

Diqiu: “Ah Jie, when did you start giving speeches like such an educator? Maybe you’re reading too much into it.”

Haozi: “Don’t interrupt. Let him finish.

Ah Jie: “In short, since establishing T01 was the right thing to do, I think we should hold firm. If we’re to be forced to disband, I’ll fight it, even if I’m the only one.

Scene 5: Evening, at the Xia family’s Taipei apartment

Mrs. Xia knocks on the door: “Qiao, dinner time. (No response) Qiao, dinner time!
Since you don’t want to stay here, why don’t you just go back to America?”
Mrs. Xia sits down at the table. Enter Qiao, looking glum. She sits and begins to eat.

X: “I saw Zhao Zhijie. Seems he’s a bad student. As soon as I saw him I knew his parents disciplined him poorly, no wonder he’s led you astray. Bad students like him can only ruin the environment of the school.”
Qiao: “He’s not like that. Ah Jie is not bad in the least.”
X: “I won’t allow you to spend time with a bad student like him.”
Q: “Mum, is it ok not to abolish T01 (the class)?”
X: “Of course not. The facts prove that establishing T01 have not helped anyone’s grades one bit.”
Q: “It’s not like that. I’ve met many great friends in class…”
X: “Made friends… you mean dating.”
Q: “There’s nothing wrong with dating.”
X: “Wrong. You’re still in high school. You shouldn’t be dating, especially with those shady boys.”
Q: “Ah Jie is a kind-hearted and gentle boy. Mum, don’t speak of him in this way.”
X: “Look at you. If it weren’t for you dating, would you still talk back to me? Anyway, I will definitely abolish the class.”
Q: “What are Ah Jie and the guys going to do then?
X: “That’s none of your business! I forbid you to contact any of them, and especially forbid that you see Zhao Zhijie, or mention him.”
Q: “Why? Do I not have the least bit of freedom?”
X: “Once this is all wrapped up, you can come back to the States with me. We won’t have to deal with any of it, and you can have a normal life.”
Q: “But—”
X: “No more! No one can change my decision. Right now, you might hate me. But down the road, you will be grateful.”
Scene 6: Students hold a protest, Democratic Progressive Party style, outside the Director’s office.

Mrs. Xia appears with cameramen.

Xia: “Ignoring discipline. Holding a protest at the school. Disrespecting their teachers. Director, was this the purpose of establishing T01?”

She threatens to show a recording of the students to their parents. Ah Jie takes responsibility. When she claims he has admitted wrongdoing, he replies that he feels he has done no wrong, and that he “merely didn’t want to get the others in trouble. It doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. If it’s wrong that a person wants to express his opinion, then you should punish me.”

Scene 7: Ah Jie’s apartment. He is cleaning up protest paraphernalia while his father talks on the phone. Mr. Zhao is promising the Director to talk to Ah Jie.

Dad: “Ah Jie, you’re in senior year. Don’t cause trouble! You need to focus on your grades!”
Ah Jie: “Dad, I think this is more important than grades.”
Dad: “Uh, think about it: if you get into university, then you’ll naturally have co-ed classes, right? Right now the most important thing in your life is to study hard, and get into university. Tests, tests, tests! … Go get some rest, eh.”
Ah Jie: “Dad, I don’t get it. If [our class] is a good thing, why can’t I fight for it? I know homework is important, but aren’t right and wrong important too?”
Dad “Ah Jie, there are lots of things in life that aren’t as simple as you’d think. Sometimes a trend is just overpowering, and all you can do is submit. Sometimes, you just have to let bygones be bygones. But that’s not important.”
Ah Jie: “I get it.”
Dad: “You know what I mean? Wow! You’ve really grown; you really understand. Y … do you really know what I mean?”
Ah Jie: “I understand. We’re all still minors. We don’t make the rules of the game.”
(Compare to Scott 26)
“What we want isn’t important. What’s important is what the people who make the rules of the game think.”
Ah Jie exits.

(Ah Jie’s thoughts: ‘I don’t want to embarrass my dad, ‘cause … he doesn’t make the rules of the game either.’)

Scene 8: the Xia apartment. Qiao is calling Ah Jie, impatient that he won’t pick up.

Enter Mrs. Xia. She clears her throat and extends her arm. Qiao wordlessly hangs up the phone and hands it to her.
X: “I am greatly saddened and disappointed by your behaviour. When did my best-beloved daughter start disobeying me?”
Qiao: “Mum, I was just calling my friend.”
X: “Go to your room.”
Q: “Mum, how come you won’t let me explain?”
X: “We’ll talk about it after you’ve spent some time reflecting on yourself. Go.”
Q: “Mum—”
X: “Go.”
Downcast, Qiao wordlessly complies. The phone rings. It’s Ah Jie. Mrs Xia tells him not to call any more.

Scene 9: In the office at school. Mrs. Xia is lecturing Ah Jie’s father while the Director stands to the side, watching. She won’t let Mr. Zhao get a word in edgewise. She asks a rhetorical question:
“Ok, I ask you: what was your son’s GPA (in percent) last semester?”
Dad: “GPA was … seventy …”
As he is thinking, the director gestures down, hinting. “Sev… Sixty something.”
X: “Strictly speaking it was 61.57%”
D: “That’s not bad; there’s lots of room for improvement, eh, Director?”

Mrs. Xia goes on to criticize the class for poor grades.

X: “But, as you know, competition in society is scary. Without good grades, you can’t get into a good school. Without studying at a good school, you can’t find a good job.” She then blames her daughter’s worsening schoolwork on the class.

Just then, Ah Jie walks in. He admits his marks are bad, but defends the class.
Ah Jie: “Dad, I know my marks aren’t great. But this doesn’t devalue the co-ed class.”
Mrs Xia interrupts: “A student’s duty is to take care of his studies”
(in Taiwanese) “You haven’t done that at all!”

Ah Jie makes a bargain with Mrs. Xia to improve the entire class’ grades.

Scene 10: The friends meet. They tell Ah Jie he’s fallen for Mrs Xia’s trick. Ah Jie maintains that they can all succeed if they work hard. They promise to try.

Xiao Xin proposes that they use persuasion to change Mrs Xia’s mind. The girls go off to talk to her, while the boys study.

Scene 11: the Xia apartment. The girls enter, to talk to Mrs. Xia. They find that Qiao is missing.

Cut to the boys walking. They are discussing how much better their parents are in comparison to Mrs Xia. Ah Jie insists they not badmouth Mrs Xia, as she is just worried for her daughter’s sake. Just then, they meet Qiao.

Q: “Ah Jie, I don’t want to go to America to study; I want to graduate with you guys. But I really don’t know what I should do.”
Ah Jie says he will accompany her home to talk it over. The boys remind him that as soon as she is back with her mother, he will probably never see her again.

Diqiu: “Guys, Qiao can’t go AWOL forever. If we keep it up, eventually she’ll get found out.”
Ah Bi: “Well, what can we do then?”

Qiao prepares to leave. Ah Jie thinks “in that moment, I saw helplessness in Qiao’s eyes. NO matter what, even if I die, I have to protect Qiao.” They return to his house, where Qiao sleeps on the couch, while Ah Jie lays out a sleeping bag on the floor. Qiao warns that her mother will abolish their class if they fail her test. Ah Jie tells her not to worry.

Z: “Everyone promised to try our best. In the end, who knows what will happen.”
Qiao: “This is all my fault. If I hadn’t insisted on coming back, my mum wouldn’t have done this.”
Ah Jie reassures her that her mother cares for her, and says he wishes he had such a mother (his is dead). He says he believes that she may be swayed by their efforts.

They sleep.

Scene 13: Ah Jie has a nightmare that Mrs Xia has brought the police to arrest him. He wakes to find it is morning. His father calls to wake him, and then goes to work. Ah Jie tells Qiao to stay at home and not answer the door while he goes to school. On the way, he realises he shouldn’t abandon her and runs back. He says they should spend the day hanging out, then go back home and apologize to Mrs Xia.

Cut to the classroom: among the six friends, the girls are interrogating the boys as to Qiao’s whereabouts. They won’t tell. The boys criticize the girls for failing to make progress with Mrs. Xia. Haozi defends the girls:
“That’s not the same. Mrs Xia is our elder; we have to respect her.”

Mrs Xia and the Director enter. They ask the class for Qiao’s whereabouts. No one responds. Mrs Xia is not impressed. When she finds out the other empty seat is Ah Jie’s, she leaves abruptly. The boys try to warn Ah Jie, but he won’t answer his phone.

Cut to the park. Ah Jie and Qiao spend the day together, conversing. Qiao calls running away from home an ‘impulse’.

In front of Ah Jie’s house—the friends see Mrs Xia and Mr Zhao enter. Ah Jie and Qiao appear. A happy reunion ensues. Qiao says she didn’t respond to emails because her mother wouldn’t let her use the internet.

Scene 14: Ah Jie’s house. Ah Jie, Qiao, and their parents are there. Mr Zhao dismisses them running of as a ‘small’ matter. Mrs Xia is not impressed.
X: “Mr Zhao. Everyone has their own upbringing. What’s ‘small’ to you is a big deal to me.”
Qiao: “Mum, this has nothing to do with Ah Jie. I ran off to meet with him. In fact, we knew you guys were here before we came. We could have not come up, but Ah Jie told me not to lie to you.”
X: “What, should I be thanking him? Where did you sleep last night?”
AJ: “Mrs Xia, she slept in my room.”
The parents gasp.
AJ: “I slept on the floor. So nothing happened between us.”
X: “What were you thinking? A girl runs off to hang out with some boy. You know how bad that sounds?!
(Taiwanese) “You really disappointed me.”
Mr Zhao reassures her that there’s no problem; they’re all friends and no-one will hear of it, and tries to laugh it off.
X: (Mandarin) “Mr Zhao, I don’t want this to happen again. Please keep a good hold on your son.”
He tries to interrupt, but is cut off.
X: “If you cared for your son more, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. Though the school is responsible, so are you! Next time, I will use legal channels. Let’s go!”
As she walks off with Qiao, Mr Zhao interrupts:
“Wait! Mrs Xia, I care about my son a lot. In fact, I am very proud of him. I thank you for your sage advice. However, I also hope you’ll think on something: Why is your daughter unhappy? Why did she run away from home? As parents, don’t we have some responsibility as well?”
X (rude): “Don’t trouble yourself. There will not be a next time. Let’s go!”
Zhao (formally): “Godspeed.”

Ah Jie attempts to apologize, but his father will not accept. Ah Jie’s thoughts narrate: “That was the first time I saw my dad stand up for me. At that moment, I thought my dad was so cool.” But his father’s phone rings, and he is reduced from confident to cringing talking to his boss. “I am thankful for my dad’s support, but I know, it was more significant spiritually than materially. At any rate, the world of adults is much more complicated than ours. There are some things you can’t handle just because you say so.”

Scene 15: the Xia apartment. Mrs Xia and Qiao are standing.

Q: “Mum, I’m sorry. It’s my fault for being too wilful and making you worry.”
X: “Silly girl, as long as you’re fine… this last couple years me and your dad have been so busy with the business I haven’t spent quality time with you; that’s our fault. Once we’re back in the US, I’ll have lots of time to be with you. Ok, it’s late, go sleep.”
As she walks away, Qiao interrupts:
“Mum, I beg you not to abolish the class. Everybody’s got such a good relationship; there’s nothing wrong with T01.”
X: “Did you only apologize so you could exchange terms?”
Q: “I did not”
X: “Good then. Whether they keep the class or not will depend on their marks.”
Q: “Mum, that’s too tough. Not everyone can live up to your standards.”
X: “Maybe my standards are high, but there are benefits for the students, their parents, and the school. Think about it: When a parent sends her kid to school, of course she hopes it’s a good school.”
Q: “But—”
X: “No buts. Mum’s a reasonable person. If you want to date, I don’t oppose it, but because you’re still young… go to bed.”
“You’re not going to sleep? Mum’s going to be angry.”
Q: “Then I’m going to sit the test.”
Mrs Xia pauses.
Q: (determined) “I want to write the test with T01.”
X: “What meaning is there in that? You’re still going back to America to study.”
Q: “I’m a member of the class. I should have to write this test too.”
X: “That won’t accomplish anything. No matter how well you do, you can’t change the results!”
Q: “Mum, not everything needs to be judged by its results. There are things you should do just because you think you should, even if they end in failure.”
X: “Whatever, do it, then! My position isn’t going to change. As long as one person doesn’t meet the standard, T01 will be immediately abolished.”
Q: “But—”
Exit Mrs Xia.

Scene 16. Campus. The friends accost the Director, but he pleads powerlessness to help. They brainstorm ideas to cancel the test, but come up blank.
Qiao arrives, and says she will join them in writing the test. They protest that she alone isn’t enough to guarantee success. Qiao says that they should stop worrying about results, and claims that any progress will prove the worth of their class’ existence. Ah Jie chimes in, saying they should work hard to prepare, instead of worrying about success or failure. The group agrees to lead the class in an all-out preparatory effort.

Cut to various scenes in a montage of increasing class discipline, group morning calisthenics, and the friends carrying out daily life while reading textbooks, interrupted by a scene of Qiao studying happily at hope, with her mother watching on silently. The stress starts to build on some of the weaker students. Ah Jie has a mental monologue: “Perhaps the pressure of asking people whose marks are normally pretty average to live up to national university entrance standards is too much to bear. Maybe I was too naïve to think we could all get into public universities together; the chances are so small, and I’ve made everyone so tired. If our class is really disbanded, then it’s only right that I take most of the responsibility”

Scene 17. Ah Jie and Qiao are walking, carrying drinks for everyone. Ah Jie worries that he’s tired everyone out, and finds all their friends napping on a bench. The two encourage the rest not to worry too much about their marks.
Ah Bi: “I just don’t get it. How come grades are the standard to judge everything?”
Haozi chimes in: “Yeah, getting into a public university doesn’t mean you’ll be happy.”
Diqiu: “At the root, it’s a problem with the education system. It makes you believe that good or bad grades make the student a good or bad person.”
Youjia: “Does that mean that once we’re out in the working world, we’ll use salary as the value to measure everybody by? No way!”
Peipei suggests everyone stop complaining and go to study, as the test is in two days.

Then Xiao Xin jumps in “Hey—why do we have to play by the rules of their game? We need to break the rules to protect the class.”
Cut to a comic hypothetical montage where the students pass by cheating, and all their problems are resolved.
At the end, Ah Jie interrupts in protest: “I oppose cheating.”
XX: “You think I want to? Everyone wants to do the exam on the up and up. But considering our progress right now, can we pull it off? It’s impossible.”
The group discusses it further, and decides not to.
Ah Jie finishes by saying “We absolutely cannot cheat. Even if we passed, it would destroy the value of our class. We can fail the test, but we can’t fail morality.”
They all agree and go home. Qiao’s thoughts narrate the close of the scene: “…We all know it’s like the 300 from Sparta – it’s a battle we’re doomed to lose.”

Scene 18: Qiao and Mrs Xia having dinner at their apartment.
X: “Oh yeah, the test is in two days. How are you guys shaping up?”
Q: “Everybody’s working really hard. … Mum, please, don’t close down our class, ok? I promise, I’ll be a good girl, and go back to the States with you to study.”
X: “I won’t accept terms from you.”
Q: “Mum, I’m not offering conditions. I’ve thought it over. Studying overseas is what I want. Though I don’t want to let go of my classmates, I trust that our friendship can pass the test (of distance). It’s just like before, when I was all by myself here in Taiwan, and Mum was in the US. Though we were apart, the bond between mother and daughter doesn’t change with distance.”
Mrs Xia smiles.
Q: “Mum, do you remember the time when I was little, and I lied and faked sick? Then you took me to do a full physical.”
X: “I remember. That was the first time you faked sick, wasn’t it? Mum was worried half to death. After that you never stayed home sick.
Q: “Actually, there have been many times I’ve felt quite ill. Not just feverish, but breaking out in cold sweats, and hardly able walk straight.”
X: “So why didn’t you tell me?”
Q: “I didn’t want you to think I was faking it, lying to you again. So, even though I was sick, I just sucked it up and went to class, because I didn’t want to see you look at me mistrustfully, like I had lied to you again.”
X: “So you’re still mad at me?”
Q: “I was, but not now. Mum, I learned a lot in T01. I learned how to be honest about my own feelings and opinions. I really, really like the class; just like I like you. Mum, I’m done. I’m going to study.”

Scene 19 – the classroom. Students are engaged in last-minute studying. Ah Jie stares at Qiao’s empty desk.

The Director walks in, and declares he has two announcements to make. First, he declares the test is cancelled, on account of a PAC decision. Students rejoice. Secondly, he announces that their experimental class has been ‘cancelled’—the school has switched to a co-educational model for all classes. In the midst of the celebration, Ah Jie looks sadly at Qiao’s empty seat. His friends take notice, and they speculate that Qiao may have cut a deal with her mother, sacrificing her own interests for the class. The Director reveals that Mrs Xia suggested promoting co-educational classes, and she has invited them to an event.

Scene 20: a resort-like area in the hills surrounding Taipei (possibly Xia family property)
The friends have a ‘bon voyage’ party for Qiao, while Ah Jie films.
Ah Jie is philosophical – he says to Qiao that even if she wasn’t going abroad, there probably would have been a day when they went their separate ways. Qiao is confident that they will still ‘be friends’, and that, at any rate, their romantic relationship is over.

Ah Jie goes to speak to Mrs Xia. He begins by making a formal apology, asking her forgiveness for previous rudeness. She refuses his apology and thanks him instead: “I’ve discovered that our Qiao has become a little wiser, and more mature. It wasn’t book learning, and she didn’t learn it from me, but from meeting you and your friends. I’m happy she met you.

In the final ‘moral message’ frames, Qiao writes that parting is not the end, friendship will endure, and that she will return.
Works Cited
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http://www.gtv.com.tw/Program/S051420070505P/index.htm