Written by Ketty Chen.

“Stop Colonial Assimilation Education! Give us back our curriculum!” on an early morning late last week, members of aboriginal rights groups and organizations gathered outside of Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) and chanted slogan in protest.

Geography professor Tibusungu Vayayana (汪明輝) of the National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU), said angrily that education for aborigines has long been stolen from them and replaced by Han-centered education. As a result, aboriginal youths had never been able to learn about their history, culture and language, and the government should put an end to the century-old culture genocide. Vayayana is the director of the NTNU’s Indigenous Research, a member of Alishan’s (阿里山) Tsou Tribe (鄒族) and was once a high school teacher. Vayayana was joined by members of the Indigenous Youth Front (原住民族青年陣線), Taiwan Indigenous People Society (台灣原社), Association of Taiwan Indigenous People Development (台灣原住民學院促進會), Indigenous People Action Coalition of Taiwan (台灣原住民部落行動聯盟), and the Association for Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples’ Policy (台灣原住民族政策協會), among others.

The protest from the aboriginal community was only one of the series of protests prompted by the Ministry of Education’s so-called “minor-adjustment (微調)” of the high school textbooks in four subjects: Chinese language, civic education, geography and history.

Since mid-January, university professors, high school teachers, historians, students and social organizations took to the streets and congregated at the Ministry of Education to voice their concerns and discontent. Opponents of the revisions lambasted the Ministry of Education of “de-Taiwanizing (去臺化)”, “sinicization” and for “brainwashing” the students by manipulating history in order to spread the “Greater China Awareness(大中國意識)”. The adversaries also slammed the Ministry for disrespecting procedural transparency when approving the adjustments and condemned the administration for appointing assessment task force members based on their pro-unification ideology rather than the individual’s professional backgrounds and qualification.

“Violent and Convoluted Changes (粗暴亂調)” vs. “Bringing Order to Chaos (撥亂反正)

On January 27, two days prior to the Lunar New Year holiday, the Ministry of Education rushed through a review meeting and approved the “minor adjustments” for high school textbooks.  The Ministry of Education officially announced the adjustments in late evening of February 10.  The changes to the textbooks will be implemented this Fall for the new class of high school freshmen.

The late night announcement of the textbook adjustments was interpreted by the opposition as yet another “sneak attack” by the administration to force the adjustments and to avoid public scrutiny.  During a press conference at the National Taiwan University’s Alumni Guest House, university professors, high school teachers, students and civic organization members said the changes are nothing but “violent and convoluted”, and the Ministry of Education behaved like a bully by rushing through the public hearing and approving the changes immediately.  According to the representative from the Civic Teachers Action Alliance (公民教師行動聯盟), some teachers were notified only three days prior to the public hearing and learned of the adjustments, unlike what the Ministry has claimed that the notification was released months ago. National Taiwan University history professor Chou Wang-yao (周婉窈), who attended the protest outside of the MOE on January 27, also indicated that changing almost forty percent of the wording of Taiwan’s history, when only single digit percent of the Chinese history should not be depicted as “minor adjustments”. The opposition also questioned the legitimacy of the changes and the lack of procedural transparency.

Among the most controversial changes were, reference to China was changed to “mainland China (中國大陸)” instead of simply China.  According to the opposition, referring to China as “mainland China (中國大陸)” implies Taiwan and China are of the same entity, and Taiwan is an island to the mainland. In addition, the Age of Exploration (大航海時代 ) is now changed to “The Han arrived Taiwan, Age of Exploration (漢人來台大航海時代)”, which according to history experts do not make much sense. Moreover, “Japanese Governance Period (日本統治時期)” is now changed to “The Japanese Colonial Governance Era (日本殖民統治時期)”. The “Qing Dynasty (清朝)” is now the “Qing Court (清廷)”, and the Cheng Family Dynasty (鄭氏統治時期) has been changed to “Ming [dynasty’s] Cheng Governance Period (明鄭統治時期)”.  Furthermore, the Dutch and Spanish governing period (荷西治台) is revised to the Dutch and Spanish invasion period (荷西入台).

The critics argue that changing the name for the Cheng Family Dynasty period to the Ming’s Cheng Governance Period suggests when Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功 )established control over Taiwan, Cheng, a Ming Dynasty loyalist, did it as a representative of the Ming Dynasty. This adjustment, the critics say, implies China’s territorial ownership of Taiwan. According to history professor, Lee Hsiao-feng (李筱峰) of the National Taiwan University of Education, this particular change is historically inaccurate. Lee points out, when Cheng Cheng-kung arrived Taiwan, he founded a new kingdom in which he named Dongdu/Eastern Capital (東都)in the southwest part of Taiwan. Cheng’s son, Cheng Ching (鄭經) than changed the name of the kingdom to Dongning (東寧).  The Kingdom of Dongning was then succeeded by Cheng Cheng-kung’s grandson. Cheng Ching once declared, said Lee, “Dongning is far out in the sea.  It is no part of the territory of China.  We have our own aristocracy.  We have our own culture and these compare favorably with those of China (東寧遠在海外,非居版圖之中,王侯之貴吾自所有,衣冠之盛不輸於中土)”. For Lee, such adjustment is made to advocate President Ma Ying-jeou’s “Greater China” ideology and an effort by the KMT government to pander to Beijing’s unification ideology.

In addition to the revision on historical terms, critics also slammed the Ministry of Education for removing the term “White Terror” from the “Civic and Society” textbook and replacing the term with “The Government’s excessive used of power to oppress the citizens (政府濫用權力對人民的迫害)”.  According to Professor Hsueh Huah-yuan (薛化元), Director of the National Chengchi University’s Taiwan History Institute, the section with discussion and critique of the development of human rights and civil society and movements after World War II were also removed from the “Civic and Society” textbook.

In response to its critics, the Minister of Education, Chiang Wei-ing (蔣偉寧), whose professional degree is civil engineering, says the adjustments were legally and lawfully proposed, discussed and passed to ensure the curriculum reflect the spirit of Constitution.  The minor adjustments of the high school textbooks, according to the Ministry of Education, are the administration’s attempt to “bring order after chaos (撥亂反正)”. Chiang further argues that there isn’t any “de-Taiwanization as the opponents claimed but “a bit more ‘de-Japanization’.”  The Ministry of Education’s Director Secretary, Wang Jough-tai (王作臺), an Atmospheric scientist, also says the previous textbooks placed too much emphasis on the arrival of the Dutch and Spanish, whereas the Han population arrived Taiwan even earlier than the Europeans.  According to Wang, the Dutch and Spanish were invaders of Taiwan, so the language of the textbook should reflect them as such. Wang also emphasizes that the previous textbooks excessively beautified Japanese colonialism and failed to emphasize the Japanese oppression of the population on Taiwan.

On the other hand, critics argue the claim the adjustment was made to adhere to the Constitution is deceitful.  The Republic of China Constitution was adopted in 1947, but members of the aborigine tribes and the Austronesian languages had been prospering on Taiwan for thousands of years.  Moreover, critics also question the extent to which the Japanese rule can be tweaked to relate to the ROC Constitution.

Unqualified taskforce and Lack of Procedural Transparency

Another reason for the tremendous backlash on the “minor adjustments” is the composition of the ten-member assessment taskforce appointed by the Ministry of Education. The ten task force members are divided into four sub-groups: Chinese language, history, geography and civic education.  Critics point to the lack of professional background and ideology biases among the task force members, questioning the extent to which none of the task force members is a historian and none possessed educational and historical professional background.

The most controversial appointment was the convener of the task force. Wang Hsiao-po (王曉波), who is a Chinese language and Chinese philosophy professor at Shih Hsin University. Wang is also the Vice Chairman of the Alliance for Reunification of China (中國統一聯盟). In addition, Chinese literature professor, Hsieh Ta-ning (謝大寧) Fo Guang University, is also the Secretary General of the Chinese Integration Association (兩岸統合協會).  Pan Chao-yang of the National Taiwan Normal University’s Department of East Asian Studies, once remarked Taiwan shouldn’t form alliance with the United States or Japan against China; otherwise, Taiwan would become traitor to the Han ethnicity. Pan also advocated education reform in order to “bring order to chaos” and textbooks in Taiwan should be co-authored by academics from both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

The division of the sub-group was also the subject of great criticism. Economics professor, Chu Yun-peng (朱雲鵬) was a member of the history sub-group and was also a member of the civic education sub-group, along with National Taiwan University political science professor Bau Tzong-ho (包宗和). Four out of the ten members are Chinese language and philosophy professors with no historian specializing Taiwanese history.

The opposition also accuse the Ministry of Education of bypassing procedures, hiding the changes and failing to notify high school teachers to participate in the public hearing.  The opposition says the Ministry was only paying lip service to procedural justice.  Working group convener, Wang Yin (王垠) who is also a principal of national Yilan Senior High School, said he was unaware of the content of the changes until he read them in the newspapers. According to Fu Jan University Professor, Chen Chun-kai (陳君愷), teachers were informed about the public hearing only after the deadline for registration has passed.

On-going Battle

Even though the Ministry of Education passed the textbook revisions, the battle between the administration and those who oppose to the changes is just beginning.  William Lai (賴清德), Mayor of Greater Tainan, declared that his municipality will not adopt or implement the revised textbook guidelines.  Subsequently, five other cities and counties governed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Greater Kaohsiung, Yilan, Chiayi and Yunlin, also refuse to implement the new curriculum.  Meanwhile, university professors, teachers and students continue to hold public forums and discussion panels to promote public awareness of MOE’s textbook revisions and to encourage citizens to sign an online petition for the government to drop the changes.

The DPP also filed a complaint with the Control Yuan against the Minister of Education for administrative errors.  According to the DPP, it was the Minister’s intentional mistake that led to the passage of such changes. This past weekend, DPP legislators and the advocates opposing the “minor-adjustments” filed a lawsuit against the Minister of Education for forgery of documents. According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Huang Di-ying (黃帝穎), the 43-member panel at the meeting convened by the Ministry of Education on January 27 decided to withhold endorsement for the proposed changes, yet the Ministry concluded that the panel members agreed to the changes.

Last Friday was the first day of the legislative session after the new year, and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) was questioned by the opposition legislators over the textbook changes, when Jiang said he couldn’t understand what was wrong with the textbook revisions and procedures. The Premier then voiced his unfalteringly supports the changes.  Jiang said the previous textbook examines history through a Japanese lens, not the perspective of the ROC or Taiwan.  Jiang proclaimed that history needs to respect the facts and if “we couldn’t follow through [with the changes], it would be an insult to our ancestors and offspring”.

The Ma administration has already revised and implemented changes in high school textbooks in 2011, so there shouldn’t be an immediate or urgent need for more adjustments, especially conducted in such hurried manner. Interestingly, the revision of high school textbooks coincided with the administration’s acceleration of other agreements with China like the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement and the Trade-in-Goods Agreement.  A recent poll conducted by the Taiwan Indicators Survey Research (TISR), after Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Minister, Wang Yu-chi(王郁琦) met with Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in China last week, 82% of those between the age of 20-29 reject eventual unification with China. Additionally, the population who identified themselves as Taiwanese continue to increase in Taiwan. The cultural, social and political climate of Taiwan and China could not be more different. Under current circumstances, “brainwashing” of Taiwanese to become more Chinese would more likely be unsuccessful.

As the textbook adjustment battle continues, the DPP and KMT legislators came to a consensus last Friday to have the Ministry of Education invite history and civic education teachers, academics and members of the local government for a national conference to further discuss the adjustments. The DPP vowed to keep requesting the Minister of Education to report to the Legislative Yuan to answer questions regarding the adjustments before implementation. The issue of textbook adjustments will be an important issue to watch for the current legislative session in Taiwan as well as the progress of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement.

Ketty Chen is a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Her personal blog is here and she tweets @HelloKetty1998. Photo credit: J Michael Cole.