Elitism in Taiwan

Esther is a confused human being
10 min readMay 31, 2024


Oftentimes, when I interacted with those Taiwanese “elites,” they still annoyed me so much.

I remembered all the past conversations on “Wow, you got into an XYZ company. Please take me to the moon with you!” And I wonder what’s the point. Tbh, I find it incredibly hard to work with those who consider themselves “elite” because they are so egocentric. Everything needs to be about them. If you disagree with their ideas, they think you are disagreeing with their elite identity. Most of the time, I get nothing done with them.

If you really want to compare social status, almost everyone around me has worked in Google, Meta, and Amazon, and doing even better now, but I seldom meet people who think they are elite. How can these people even be so arrogant?

Even till today, lots of Taiwanese reached out to me, there is a pretty high ratio that the experience are shitty. I find them unpassionate in the topic they are talking about while eager to place me inside their network.

But enough of my complaint. If I meet 1 elite out of 100 people, then it’s that person’s problem. But out of random sampling, if I meet 80% of people who think they are elite, there is no point in me being angry at them anymore. Because it’s obvious that the phenomenon isn’t individual, but collective. And here are my thoughts on societal elitism in Taiwan.

Taiwanese Elitism is intertwined with insecurity

Many people perceive the elite as always successful and, consequently, arrogant. However, my experience with the Taiwanese elite has led me to a different understanding.

Elitism, I’ve realized, often stems not from confidence but from deep-seated insecurity driven by intense competition. After all, if you are genuinely confident in your greatness, why the constant need to assert and showcase it?

This competition, some argue, is a fundamental aspect of human nature. But does this hold true everywhere? For instance, in our school, Minerva, where we are famous for our supportive community, toxic competition is rare. Although you might still encounter kids who say, “X starts a company. Why I haven’t!” “You are doing so well, I feel so behind!” such expressions more often highlight their own insecurities rather than a genuine competitive drive.

However, when elitism ingrains itself as a culture, these insecurities become collective. In Taiwan, I observed two main aspects of this phenomenon. First, elitism is a status perpetually under threat from constant competition, asking individuals to continually assert their position. Second, it is locally bounded: individuals may feel accomplished in Taiwan yet believe they fall short on an international scale.

Where does that collective insecurity come from?

Believing in your own capabilities within Taiwan is straightforward, but envisioning yourself competing internationally sounds impossible. This was my mindset until I studied abroad in the Netherlands. The inferiority complex I experienced, I’ve come to realize, is deeply influenced by our education system’s design. This includes the scarcity of resources in individual schools, the low confidence among educators, and a toxic peer culture.

Our education system: Simplifying Success to a Single Metric

I argue that the biggest problem of this culture is the grading system in Taiwan education. Why? Because giving people a grade is a very simple and single metric for success. This single-dimensional metric simplifies success into a numeric value, leading to inevitable comparisons among students.

On the surface, it ensures fairness, but as it completely ignores individuality, then we ignore our own individuality, too. Even though after university, this measurement disappears, as everyone is so used to seeking that 1 and only successful metric, society creates that for us, like that 1 spot in McKinsey every year. This perpetuates a cycle where society continuously seeks to define success through narrow lenses. Elites are those who succeed in that single metric.

Imagine, instead, a society where success is defined by both academic performance and community involvement. In this world, children are recognized every three months not only for their academic achievements but also for their contributions to the community. Picture a school assembly where students are celebrated on stage. A teacher might announce, “Sarah has the highest grades this term. But let’s not forget Ken, who has made outstanding contributions to our community. Everyone, please clap for Ken and strive to follow his hardworking example next term!”

In Taiwan, the top school isn’t just NTU; it’s also NCU — National Community University (my fictional creation for this story). Parents boast to their neighbors not just about their children’s academic prowess but about their enrollment in NCU. These students are celebrated on the “community cram school” boards for learning the importance of creating a positive impact in their communities. NCU students are sought after as friends and partners because of their dedication to community service. Instead of seeing headlines like “How to Ace Your Exams,” news and magazines feature stories like “Look! She Grew a Green Garden for Her Entire Neighborhood!”

What will our society look like?

This is just an imagination, but it’s a simple example that proposes that broadening evaluation criteria can cultivate a more inclusive environment that appreciates diverse talents and contributions. When we move beyond the single metric of grades and include others, it reduces direct competition by complicating the metrics of comparison. This diversity in evaluation criteria encourages a wider range of skills and interests, fostering curiosity and passion. 1

Even if you insist that fairness matters so much that we can only have 1 metric, the current metric, grade, is still quite meaningless. It’s very odd to assume that academic success ties strongly with professional success while the curriculum itself has little tie to the skills in the workspace in the 21st century. We need to open the door to a more holistic and meaningful assessment of an individual’s achievements.

University: Competition for scarce resources

Education resources are poorly allocated in universities. Without exams after the university, society constructs new benchmarks for success. For example, in my experience, some consulting classes or clubs are right on the metrics for business school. Yet, there are so many students, but so little spots, what can you do about it?

Hence the narrative becomes — You compete, dirtily or not, you need to. The successful ones get into the elite circle, while the rest of the students feel left out and anxious.

Due to the policy that ensures fairness and accessibility, Taiwanese universities are so cheap. But the resources become so scarce for each that I can hardly call it “an education” but spending your four years down the palm trees. This low-quality education fosters a sense of unfulfillment and existential crises among students, who miss the clear direction previously provided by high school grading (Our existential crisis 😉).

The intense competition for quality educational resources amplifies these insecurities, creating a harmful zero-sum game. Those who fail to secure resources experience increased anxiety, exacerbating feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty about their futures. Even for those who do manage to get these resources, there’s the persistent fear that they might not be so lucky next time.

This uncertainty drives a need for maintaining an elitist status as a protective measure, ensuring their place in the hierarchy. This cycle reinforces a toxic educational and societal environment where “elitism” becomes an in-group to protect their resources and status through maintaining a certain reputation. 2

Educators: Negative motivation transmits insecurities

Our educators also contribute to the problem. They often carry their own insecurities and a sense of elitism, which they pass on to us. Additionally, our culture tends to emphasize negative motivation, further complicating the problem.

For example, NTU professors often told us, “Don’t make mistakes, because your boss will not tolerate them!” or…

But how can a human, realistically, not make mistakes? And why do our professors think we portray us to be so incapable before we even step into the real world? If we haven’t yet met the real world, and people who do say we cannot survive already, how can we even believe that we can?

Contrast this with my experience in the Netherlands, where teachers refer to us not merely as students, but as “future researchers.” Professors at Minerva similarly uplift us, saying that we are special. They tell us that we will not only excel in our workplace, but we are the change-makers in the world. We are challenged to think “big question” (e.g., how to solve world hunger?) in school, encouraging us to think broadly and ambitiously.

Setting aside the actual quality of the educational content, the trust and belief conveyed through encouraging communication and a thoughtfully selected curriculum make a significant difference in building personal confidence and future vision. One environment tells me I might not even survive a job; the other assures me I can change the world.

Now, I have started carrying that sense of confidence to make a meaningful impact on society. How many educators in Taiwan truly have that same confidence in themselves?

Peers: Elitism as a self-protection mechanism

When I was in job search anxiety in my freshman year, seniors told me, “If you are a Minervan, you are more than fine. Look at all those seniors. If you have problems, let me help you prepare interviews.” After I got to Meta, I gave back, helping most juniors interviewing for Meta, too.

Yet, in NTU, I constantly heard stories of blackmailing and gossiping about each other as high-quality resources are so rare. Millions of toxic gossip on work and relationships.

Once, someone told me, “Someone says something bad about you. Do you want to know?” Why on earth will a person in this community give back?

This culture taught us to not trust and not help each other. Instead, we need to brand ourselves as an “elite” so we will not be looked down on. Being considered an elite doesn’t guarantee happiness; it merely serves as a shield against being perceived as a loser — a concept deeply rooted in the single metric of success. This external pressure, combined with fierce competition for scarce resources, perpetuates a message: you aren’t good enough, you are incapable. Those who really want to excel but cannot really believe in themselves become elite. An elite that needs to defend themselves for their deep-seated insecurities.

I find this a real tragedy in our education system.

And I said, fxxk this, because…

What if the collective insecurity is false?

I think this collective insecurity is entirely misplaced.

My older doctor cousin once told me, “Why do you think you can go to America? Why do you think you can compete with kids in Harvard?” I might not possess the traditional “smartness” attributed to a doctor, but her comments ended up being quite wrong.

Walking around the international community, I learned that, sure, we might not be as hard-working as Chinese kids, but we are still hardworking, creative, and friendly. We are chill and playful. We easily win friends and we come up with creative solutions. Do you think problem-solving only requires skills and hard work, or do you think network and creative solutions matter too? Is success genuinely dependent on a single metric?

Rethink my anger toward elitism

Initially, I felt so much anger and annoyance towards the elite. (This post was initially a complaining post haha) Why can’t they be nice and collaborative? But I’ve come to understand that they are merely products of systemic problems. If life is already so hard, it’s actually quite sad that they need to handle the individual and insecurity complex.

However, most elites will probably remain the same as molded by an educational system that cements their status early on. Minerva has significantly transformed many “elite kids” from Taiwan, but this transformation takes four years, a fun and talented international community, and a committed educational framework. If we can’t offer these to Taiwanese kids, what hope do we have?

I wish to see a society in which our local Taiwanese kids have genuine confidence to thrive internationally, with the kindness to help out their own community.

What really is education?

I talked to our Minerva founder if it is possible to have a really good technological solution to disrupt higher ed. He said no, explaining “because education is about changing the mind of a person.”

And I realized when we think of education, we always think of knowledge and skills only. But in my entire Taiwan education journey, I’m still, being educated about ego, competition, and insecurity — elements that shape the elitism and nearly shaped me.

True education should teach us the ability and skills to thrive internationally, the kindness to support each other, the inclusivity to appreciate different talents, and the passion to pursue our curiosity. That change in individuals is the real education I want to see.

1 Taiwan vs Norway education: It’s very funny to see how different societies view “comparison” as a concept. My friend went to a classroom in Norway and said, “The kid who won will get the sticker!” And the teacher got so nervous and said, “No no! Everyone will have a sticker. The winning one can pick first, but EVERYONE will have a sticker!”

2 I hypothesize that business school kids got the worst because their curriculum is terrible and impractical, and they haven’t had job security since the beginning.

I feel like I’m writing my second-year political change assignment haha