China Policy Institute: Analysis


Chinese identity

The Cultural functioning of Chinese architectural ‘knock-off’ practices

Written by Chris Brisbin.

Copying is nothing new in China, nor in the West. From computer games, clothes, to technology, China has been widely derided as the ‘knock-off’ nation. More recently, this reproduction culture has broadened to include the architecture of western icons of modernity. The copying of Zaha Hadid Architects’ Wangjing SOHO in Beijing by Meiquan Properties Ltd, the alleged ‘developer pirates’ responsible for the Meiquan 22nd Century Building in Chongqing, is perhaps the most contentious contemporary example of architectural copying to date. Most alarmingly, the construction of the copy was due to be completed in Chongqing before the construction of Hadid’s Wangjing original in Beijing (2014). The similarities are striking between the buildings. However, it is my contention that there is much more to this particular case, and the widespread cultural practice of copying in China, than reductive ideological questions of copyright to explain ‘knock-off’ culture. Continue reading “The Cultural functioning of Chinese architectural ‘knock-off’ practices”

China’s Imperial Past and Present

Written by Jon Chappell.

Outside observers might raise an eyebrow when told that debates among American scholars about China’s eighteenth century development could lead to them being attacked as, amongst other things, ‘neo-imperialists’. Yet a recent article by leading Qing dynasty (1644-1912) historian Li Zhiting, a member of the PRC’s National Qing Dynasty History Compilation Committee, did just this. The dispute was about the identity of China’s last dynasty, the Qing. The Ming dynasty which preceded the Qing came from the Han ethnic group, which was and remains the majority ethnic grouping in China. The Qing rulers however, originating in the modern Dongbei region, identified as Manchu. On these points Li and the American scholars in question -Pamela Crossley, Mark Elliot and James Millward- agree. Where they differ is on the question of ‘sinicization’ or becoming Chinese. Continue reading “China’s Imperial Past and Present”

China’s Language Policies

Written by Li Wei.

Since 2006, China’s State Language Commission, an administrative department under the Ministry of Education, has been compiling an annual Green Paper on the so-called ‘language life’ in China. These Green Papers are published under the title Language Situation in China, and the English translation of the key parts of the reports between 2006 and 2013 are now available as Li Yuming and Li Wei eds, 2013, 2014, 2015. The reports detail many facets of the language policies and in China and have fast become an essential reference for those interested in the socio-cultural changes in Chinese society today.

Language has been key to the unity and identity of the Chinese nation. The Chinese people hold a deep-rooted linguistic ideology that they share one unifying language that has been in existence for over 5,000 years, and that the language has specific features that are superior to other languages in the world. As a result, the state’s imposition of a national standard language, especially a standardised written script, has rarely been questioned, even though the policies regarding language and language use in China are not always clearly or coherently articulated, and there are lots of contradictory policies that affect language practices in public domains and in people’s everyday lives. For example, the predominant language policy at the national level is the promotion of Putonghua and simplified written characters. The Ministry of Education expects schools across the land to teach accordingly, and the provincial language commissions administer standard tests for individuals who wish to hold public offices.

The Ministry of Culture, on the other hand, is actively encouraging the preservation of traditional cultural heritage including folk operas and festivals, all of which can only be done in the so-called dialects or regional varieties of Chinese rather than the national standard language. In the meantime, China recognises 56 ethnic groups amongst hundreds of different groups. Efforts have been made to promote bilingualism, in Chinese and the ethnic language, and bilingual education. But tensions exist in several key areas where there are concentrations of the so-called ethnic minority groups who feel the pressure of using Chinese in order to receive quality education and to obtain better employment. In October 2010, 19 October, staff and students from teacher training colleges and ‘ethnic’ schools in the Huangnan district of Qinghai province, where there is a large population of Tibetans, staged a public protest against the Education Reform Bill by the provincial government; this bill recommended the use of the ‘national language’, i.e. Chinese, in order to raise education standards. The bill specifically stated that by 2015, the national language (Chinese) should be the dominant language and the ethnic language (Tibetan and others) the supplementary language in schools in the Qinghai province. The protests quoted China’s laws protecting the rights of the officially recognised ethnic minority communities, including their language rights. The central government in Beijing had to send officials to visit Huangnan, and made the provincial officials apologise for the ‘error’ in formulating the Education Reform Bill. The ‘equal’ statuses of Tibetan and Chinese were subsequently reaffirmed.

‘Incidents’ such as this have prompted the Chinese government to take language policy more seriously. The policy imperatives for the Chinese government regarding the country’s languages include the following:

  • Building a harmonious society – China’s language policy or policies need to take into consideration the implications for ethnic relations within the Chinese borders while securing the central role of Chinese. They also need to consider the centre-periphery relations, allowing sufficient space for regional development which includes the use of regional varieties of Chinese or dialects, but securing Putonghua at the top of the linguistic hierarchy.
  • New geopolitics and China as a rising world power – Promoting Chinese as an international language and balancing it with raising the standard of foreign language education in China to meet the needs of modernisation and globalisation have come to the top of the policy agenda. And there is an increased awareness that language should be used as a important instrument in building relations between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, between China and Southeast Asian countries where there are large ethnic Chinese populations, and between China and the Chinese diaspora worldwide.

In terms of policy initiatives, the Chinese government has invested heavily in the Confucius Institute (CI) and Confucius Classrooms (CC) through the Office of Chinese Language Council International, also known as Hanban. Hanban declares its ambition to establish 1,000 CIs and CCs by 2020, with at least 100 million learners of Chinese worldwide. As a result, the HSK (a standardised Chinese language test offered to foreign learners) and the annual Chinese Bridge contests are attracting a significant number of foreign students. The Chinese government has also lent its backing to projects such as the Global Chinese Dictionary, and the Cross-Strait Dictionary of Commonly Used Words. It is interesting to note that the former Chairman of China’s National Committee of the Political Consultative Conference and a member of the politburo, Li Ruihuan, and the late former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, acted as consultants for the Global Chinese Dictionary, and the Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou attended the launch ceremony of the Cross-Strait Dictionary, giving an indication of the unprecedented shared interest in and support for these projects. Although the notion of Greater China is rarely mentioned in official Party discourse, it is clearly in the minds of the policy makers who see the shared cultural heritage, including language, as a key asset in building and maintaining China’s pivotal role in East and Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, some Chinese scholars have expressed concerns over the ‘contamination’ of the Chinese language by foreign languages and ‘net language’. When the 6th edition of the authoritative Modern Chinese Dictionary was published in 2012, there was a public outcry over the inclusion of the so-called ‘alphabetic words’, words that contain abbreviations of English phrases such as MP4, GDP, and FTA. Some threatened to sue the compilers of the dictionary and the publisher for violating the law that gives the Chinese language special protection. Yet, the media seem to be happily embracing such terms and the new net language, created by the millions of Chinese netizens, and proudly report that words such as dama, tuhao, taikonaut, have been included in English dictionaries outside China. They see it as a sign of China’s increased influence on the world.

There are many challenges to China’s language policy and language planning. The government wants to strike a balance between building a modern, outward looking nation and maintaining its distinctive cultural heritage and characteristics, and language is a major resource in nation building. The media has realised that language is a commodity that can be exploited for profit and popular attention. In a new book by one of the leading language policy makers, Yi Yuming argues that a clear and coherent language policy is essential in China’s role as a world leader on the global political, economic and cultural stage, and individuals are becoming increasingly aware of the significance of the issue of language rights.

Li Wei is Chair of Applied Linguistics, UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics, UNC Institute of Education, University College London. Image Credit: CC by Marco Klapper/Flickr.

Chinese food culture: Influences from within and without

By Ken Hom.

In Food in Chinese Culture (Yale, 1978), Michael Freeman writes that any cuisine worthy of the name comes not from a single tradition, instead it “amalgamates, selects, and organizes the best of several traditions.” While sampling foods in restaurants and homes throughout China, I have been impressed by how many commonalities there are between “Chinese” foods and the cuisines of other parts of the world. On the one hand, there are foods, dishes, and recipes that I believed were imported into China long ago but which are, in fact, of Chinese origin, such as rice. On the other hand, there are “traditional” Chinese dishes that, it turns out, were adopted into the canon from foreign sources. Tomatoes, for example, are to be found everywhere in China, indeed I saw them in all regions I visited. My assumption was that they have always been a part of Chinese cuisine; yet tomatoes are a recent introduction (by Chinese standards), arriving from the Americas barely one hundred years ago. The same is true of such standards as corn (maize), squash and chili peppers, all of which entered China comparatively recently.

Farther back in time, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), Near Eastern foods such as spinach, lettuce, almonds, sugar beets, and figs were adopted. However, the balance sheet of these borrowings is more than matched by China’s contributions to others’ cuisines. Food across Asia, for example, bears a strong Chinese influence, including the cuisines of Japan, Korea, and Viet Nam, Malaysia and Thailand.

All of this is to be expected. Chinese traders and emigres arrived with their customary foods and cooking techniques. Those who later returned to China brought with them new foods and recipes; foreign traders entering China did the same. Thus, over the centuries there has been a weaving back and forth, sometimes very slowly, sometimes quite rapidly, of the fabric of Chinese cuisine. The theme is clearly Chinese, the essentials having already been established by the end of the Song Dynasty (1279 A.D.), but there are always variations on the theme. Indeed, much of the history of China and its neighbours is reflected in the migrations of people within and without the country, and in the amalgamations that make up their various cuisines.

China is bounded on all sides by barriers of ocean, desert, and mountains. Where natural barriers were inadequate, the “Great Wall,” extending over 3000 miles from the Bohai Sea to the Gobi Desert, was erected and effectively blocked invasions and alien influences. And thus China was, by official decree, sealed off from the outside world from the “barbarians” and “foreign devils” whom, it was presumed had anything to offer the Imperial civilization. Or so it might seem.

In actuality, China has been open (if usually on her own terms) to the outside world for two thousand years. Her culture–and parts of her cuisine–have been influenced by “foreigners” since the beginning of recorded history. Nor has this been a one-way street. Like some distant, mysterious, pulsating star, China through the centuries has sent out her own influences–not only to Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, but, comparatively recently, to the West as well.

For, through the centuries, the oceans were as much gateway as barrier; the deserts and mountains were threaded with caravan trails, especially the appropriately-dubbed Silk Route; and even the Great Wall had openings through which commerce flowed. For example, during the Tang Dynasty, (618-907), traders from many areas and nations–Japan, Korea, Arabia, India, and Persia–thronged the ports of China, delivering their goods and trading for the many rich products of Asia.

Later, between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, the merchant and naval fleets of China far exceeded in number and commercial importance those of any other Asian or European fleets. By the thirteenth century, Chinese merchants had established regular commercial links with India, their vessels being the largest on the seas even though the trade involved a long and hazardous voyage. Until the nineteenth century, Chinese junks were the backbone of Asian sea-borne commerce: only the advent of steam and Western imperialism forced the decline of Chinese merchant shipping. Today, however, once again, China ranks among the top ten fleets of the world in tonnage.

For millennia, heavy commercial, religious, and, unfortunately, military traffic has passed to and from China. Even before China’s first consolidation under centralized rule in the third century, A.D., the Han Dynasty had opened the fabled Silk Route. Running from Lanzhou (Gansu Province) to Yumen (near the western terminus of the Great Wall) and then across desert plateaus and mountains to Samarkand, this route and some parallel and subsidiary pathways provided China’s main contact with Central Asia and beyond until the thirteenth century. Even traffic with India flowed along the Silk Route, by way of Afghanistan.

The original function of the route was military: to guard China’s expanding western border and to maintain contact with potential allies against mountain nomads of the northwestern frontier. But then Buddhism and, rather quickly, commerce began to flow along the protected route. It was thus that Chinese silks and other products eventually reached Roman cities and other remote places as far away as Siberia. Until the nineteenth century, most of China’s commercial contact with other societies was by way of this great route.

As for the north, even the Great Wall could not seal off China completely. Commercial traffic to and from Korea and Manchuria was allowed to pass through it. The nomad tribes the Wall was designed to keep out traded their only real commodity, horses, for Chinese products at the markets set up on the “wrong” side of the Wall. Military forces penetrated the Wall as well. In 1271, for example, the Mongols under Kublai Khan swept into China and established a dynasty that lasted until 1368. This was a unique interlude, for Mongol chauvinism did not allow assimilation into Chinese culture. They retained instead most of their own customs, including their culinary practices. When the Chinese successfully rebelled against Mongol rule, the Mongols retired to their central Asian steppes, leaving behind not much more than the culinary imprint of their passion for yogurt, game, goat, mutton, and the mare’s milk derivative, koumiss. In fact, while it is probably true that the Mongols did not by themselves introduce mare’s milk, butterfat (from mare’s or cow’s milk), and mutton to China, scholars generally define these three foods as differentiating the Mongol from the Chinese cuisine. From Beijing to Kunming, I experienced this non-Chinese influence in many places. In Kunming, for example, restaurants serving mutton and goat cheese — pan-fried in a wok — reminded me of how it could have been served in the time of Kublai Khan.

China, always open to outside influences, has, in turn, influenced those cultures from whom she borrowed, and the impact of Chinese culture on the cuisines of her neighbors is clear and substantial. This was largely the result of “overseas Chinese,” those entrepreneurs whose reputations as shrewd and efficient businessmen were already well established hundreds of years ago.

Although Japan, Korea, and Thailand have unique systems and ideas about food, the Chinese influence in undeniable. Possibly the most important gift of the Chinese traveler was rice. The basic food of the East, perhaps its most valuable and useful plant, rice was first cultivated in China some 3000 years before it spread elsewhere. It was from Chinese technique and fare that the Koreans learned to apply such spices as garlic and chili pepper to strong meat dishes, usually pork and beef. In Northern China, I saw many food stalls in markets offering distinctively Korean style foods — serving their unique pickled vegetables heavily flavored with garlic and chili peppers. It is believed that the cultivation of soybeans, a staple food in most of Asia, began in China. Chinese influences also deeply affected the development of Philippine cuisine. It has been said that Chinese cuisine left an indelible mark on Philippine cooking and that Chinese gastronomy was the midwife of Philippine haute cuisine. In fact, no family meal of importance is ever complete without dishes of Chinese heritage.

Likewise, in terms of cooking and eating implements, both spoons and chopsticks, universal in Asia, are of Chinese origin. Similarly, the wok, that marvelously adaptable cooking implement found in many Asian kitchens, is of Chinese origin. Even in India, the great authority Madhur Jaffrey has written, “the ancient Chinese may have come here [Kerala, India] for black pepper but, in fair exchange, they left behind their woks, cleavers, plates, pickling jars and design for roofs and river-craft.” In many ways, then, the influence of the great “Middle Kingdom” radiated out into the world.

One point always to remember: the Chinese are neither nationalistic nor xenophobic when it comes to food or techniques. While the basic Chinese diet grew out of those animal and vegetable foods that are indigenous and plentiful in China itself, over the course of millennia to the present day the scholar Andersen has written: “foreign foods, spices, herbs, techniques, and culinary concepts have been used to expand and enhance that diet.”

During the Han Dynasty (205 B.C. to 220 A.D), Chinese cooks adopted foreign methods and reworked native wheat flours to make the first noodles and wheaten cakes: “It was the ingenuity of the Han Chinese in experimenting with the most common eating materials, coupled with a willingness to learn from other cultures, that eventually led to the opening of an entirely new chapter in Chinese culinary history.” (Ying-shih Yu)

The Tang Dynasty (618-907) –the Golden Age of China– was one in which a taste for the exotic could be indulged. Thus, “the golden peaches of Samarkand” and many other foods entered China — grapes, spinach, lettuce, figs, kohlrabi, sugar beets, leeks, and shallots. There are references to pine nuts, almonds, and pistachios as well, and it is no accident that the first known cookbook and the first nutrition textbook appeared then. And, although it was known long before the Tang, it was during that dynasty that tea attained the popularity it has never lost. The growing influence of Buddhism and its emphasis on vegetarianism led to innovative uses of wheat products; in the form of dumplings and fried dough strips, of which I still saw everywhere in China — from street food stalls to restaurants to homes. The Tang period was less an age of innovation than one of consolidation and integration of new foods into the culinary tradition, but by the close of the Dynasty, Chinese cuisine was prepared to take its definitive shape.

It was during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) that “Chinese cuisine” crystallized into its distinctive, enduring form. Over those three hundred years, China — her cooks, food writers, nutritionists, elite consumers, merchants, and food vendors — brought together the ingredients necessary for the creation of any cuisine. That is, they deliberately created a style of cooking and eating, applying a well-defined set of attitudes about food and its place in society to an abundant and varied supply of ingredients, relying on venerable techniques but always remaining open to new foods and methods. This is when the Seven Necessities were set forth: firewood; rice; oil; salt; soybean sauce; vinegar; and tea. After this extraordinary effort, China, by the end of the Song Dynasty, had established a cuisine of great sophistication, with high standards which were nevertheless permissive, allowing for maintenance of tradition and for experimentation and innovation, only demanding that new dishes are appealing to eye and to the palate. And even after this “foundation” period, new foods and techniques were pervasive, for how can people’s tastes be legislated?

While the Mongol influence was felt during this time, the next significant stage of integration of “foreign” foods came during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when the earliest influences from the West came from Southern Europe. New World food, especially peanuts, sweet potatoes, and corn (maize), were introduced as the Portuguese and the Spanish explorers made their way to India, China, and the Philippines in the early sixteenth century. Chinese traders probably carried in Mexican sweet potatoes purchased from the Spaniards in Manila; the peanut is first mentioned in Chinese sources in 1538; corn (maize) is noted in 1555. The white potato arrived in the eighteenth century, possibly in the baggage of French missionaries. While peanuts and corn (maize) very quickly became staples in the diet of Chinese living in the coastal areas, potatoes and sweet potatoes had a hesitant start. Used first only as “famine foods,” only later did they become acceptable and sustaining secondary foods. By the end of the Ming period, even the Yao people, who live in the remote mountain fastness of southern China, were relying heavily on potatoes and sweet potatoes.

China’s population, stable at about one hundred fifty million for centuries, almost quadrupled in the period from about 1700 to 1850. Corn (maize), peanuts, sweet potatoes, and Irish potatoes were by then basic crops, providing the necessary calories and other food elements to impel and sustain an astonishing population increase.   These “new” foods were consumed almost entirely by the poorer classes, that is, the great majority of people, and we can speculate that the amalgamation of Western foods was instrumental in this increase in population. Indeed, until recently, there has been in China the greatest disparity between the diet of the rich and the poor than in any other country in the world. The masses experienced a sustaining but limited diet; the elite, great in numbers but a small minority of the population, enjoyed gourmet fare comprising an astonishing variety of foods, and it was this class that maintained what we define as Chinese cuisine. That cuisine was based on a vast array of native animal and vegetable ingredients.

By the first century B.C. — two thousand years ago! — Chinese agriculture and animal husbandry were already the most efficient in the world, and already more productive than medieval European farms were to be more than a millennium later. Agricultural manuals from the period list the “Nine Staples” in addition to the “Seven Necessities” that were the basis of the Chinese diet: wheat, barley, millet, glutinous millet, spiked millet, soybeans, rice, hemp, and small beans. Hemp provided seeds for food and oil. Millet was the preferred grain for both eating and brewing, only gradually giving way in the popular taste to wheat and rice. What, and, more recently, sorghum and corn (maize) were northern grains, with rice predominant in the south and central parts of China, and this regional variation exists today.

These staples provided the Chinese people with their essential calories, carbohydrates, and protein. By themselves they would have constituted a sustained but rather insipid diet. However, even two thousand years ago, the Chinese refused to submit passively to nature when something could be altered: “Human resolution can overcome Heaven’s destiny,” as the ancient saying goes. To these staples they added mustard greens, leeks, scallions (spring onions), watercress, and other light and tasty vegetables and sauces. Other standard items were lychees, cinnamon, bamboo shoots, magnolia buds, true oranges, grapes, chestnuts, sugarcane, honey, fagara (Sichuan pepper), and a variety of flowers and buds.

By the end of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.), pickled and salted foods were commonplace, the art of fermenting soybeans had been perfected, and wheaten noodles had been introduced. Domesticated and game animal and fish were also available and in demand, at least in the diet of the upper classes: horses, sheep, deer, ducks, geese, carp, and other fish and game. These joined the company of the venerable chicken and pig. Domesticated dogs, as both food and pets, long precede all other animals. The wok was in universal use: stir-frying and its accompanying food preparation techniques (slicing and cutting, evenly and thinly) was a standard cooking method.

The evolution of the cuisine within China has grown more gentle and gradual. The “definitive shaping of the food system,” as one scholar puts it, was accomplished almost one thousand years ago: “The elite and the middle-class developed the greatest cuisine the world has ever known; even the poor benefited from it.”

It is this cuisine, this taste of China, with its home-grown as well as its exotic influences, that I experienced in my visits to my ancestral homeland.

Ken Hom OBE is an American-born Chinese chef, author and television-show presenter for the BBC. In 2009 he was appointed honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire for “services to culinary arts”.  Image Credit: CC by miss_yasmina/Flickr

Party-State Reemerges Through Education in Taiwan

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. 

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