In October, a Taiwan negotiator to China warned that Taiwanese lacked what he called aggressiveness and an enterprising spirit. He warned against "being a sheep" -- following others -- in the face of fast-growing China.
The rarely heard criticism by a public official points to growing concern in Taiwan that young people are more likely to prefer a safe job to starting their own business. This way of thinking is different from that of their parents and modern mainland Chinese.
This preference for safe jobs threatens new business startups on the island. Officials say such businesses are important for Taiwan's future as an exporter of goods from plastics to electronic products. Officials want Taiwanese to keep inventing and investing so they can remain competitive against other areas.
Yang Lian–fu is a publisher of books on Taiwanese history. He says parents in Taiwan guide their adult children to look for safe jobs and schools, and provide little motivation.
He says young Taiwanese people care most about the quality of life. He adds that this preference relates to history, and that modern parents want their children to lead a safe life after college.
Yang Lian-fu calls Taiwan's education system peaceful. He says there is no pressure for students who study hard.
But young people in mainland China are pushed harder to compete. The reason: their parents and schools. Tony Phoo is an economist in Taipei. He says Taiwan now risks being surpassed by China. China is already a less costly manufacturing base and a larger consumer market.
"Mainland Chinese are catching up very fast. They are also getting increasingly competitive not just in terms of technology but also in terms of talent. Chinese have acquired a certain advantage by attracting offshore talent to the mainland China and in time they was acquiring Taiwanese technology through overseas acquisitions."
World Bank reports show that Chinese high-technology exports have risen from five percent to 26 percent of exports since the 1990s. In Taiwan, the number of people taking the civil service test for first-time government jobs nearly doubled between 2002 and 2012. About half a percent of those who took the first exam last year were offered employment.
Younger Taiwanese and their parents consider government jobs among the island's most secure.
Fear of risk has also appeared in Taiwan's prized high-tech industry. Jay Yang is deputy director with the Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute in Taipei. He says younger people fear the costs of starting a business.
He says younger Taiwanese are not bad at inventing things. But he says there are fewer young people interested in launching businesses because of the risks they must take. He says most people work for large information technology companies.
Jay Yang calls this a cultural problem and says people are conservative. He notes that starting a company could take years. He says one does not know in the beginning how long it will take to earn a profit.
His group found that Taiwanese high-tech inventors were more interested in starting businesses around 2000 -- when Internet use was growing. It says there was a pullback as industry competition intensified.
I'm Marsha James.