My daughter has fallen in love with a series of biographies of the world's great people. She started with Hans Christian Anderson's story. While reading aloud the names listed on the book's back cover -- Walt Disney, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte and Florence Nightingale -- she suddenly asked, "Why aren't there any Taiwanese great people? Who are the great people in Taiwan?"
I have asked many adults the same question, but no one was able to immediately give a name that we all feel proud of. This shows the seriousness of people's ignorance of Taiwanese history.
The root cause of this ignorance is that, over the past decades, children were not taught Taiwanese history but only studied China's history. Only Sun Yat-sen (
Only in a completely sick political environment would a 9m-long Chinese robe be forcibly put on a 1.5m-tall Taiwanese man.
Although the situation has seen some changes, many people still have that outdated mindset. Historians have been divided recently over draft guidelines for high-school history textbooks. Undoubtedly, this is another small battle between pro-unification and pro-independence advocates.
According to the draft, high-school students will have two-year prescribed history courses. They would have to study Taiwanese history in the first semester of their first year and Chinese history (till the Ming dynasty) in the second semester. Modern world history would be the topic through their second year.
Looking at this arrangement from a unification-independence perspective, neither side should have any problems with a curriculum that addresses both Taiwan-ese "self-awareness" and China's part in Taiwanese history. Yet, some history professors have criticized this proposal for being based on a strong sense of Taiwan independence ideology. They said placing the Republic of China's history in the section of world history is a result of ideological thinking.
I believe they have such anxiety because they still treat history classes as political-education courses, endow history education with a political mission and entertain the same fears the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) used to have when it ruled Taiwan. They worry that if Taiwanese people do not study lots of Chinese history, they will forget their "mother-land"; that if they were exposed to more Taiwanese history, they would become pro-independence advocates.
Let's think about it: when Japan ruled Taiwan and tried to brainwash the people with its imperial emperor-centered thinking, most Taiwanese people viewed themselves as Chinese. Consider the illiteracy at that time and the number of people who studied history, and yet their identity leaned toward the "motherland."
By the same token, after China's history has been taught for decades, has there been a huge increase in the number of Taiwanese who identify themselves as Chinese?
To build up identity cannot be solely achieved by deliberately instilling a certain view of history.
Some professors worry that identity confusion "will kill students." I am afraid that their worries go too far. Identity confusion is the reflection of people's minds under the influence of historical residue. Taiwanese students should better their understanding of this.
Some academics hope that under these circumstances, historical facts should be given in lectures for students to discuss and reflect on, rather than hurrying to settle the dispute on a single authority.
Opposing scholars have shown their pro-unification historical viewpoint when they criticized the draft and said, "[Students should] know that the history and fate of Taiwan and China are inseparable. So there is no need to waste energy in accomplishing a `mission impossible'...." I guess the "mission impossible" refers to Taiwan independence and its like.
These academics even warned: The fall of a nation comes after the destruction of its history. They equate not teaching the ROC's history with eliminating the ROC.
This argument falls short of experience: Once war is waged, the country will be dead. There is no need whatsoever to wipe out its history first. Just look at Chinese history -- the Qing dynasty altered the historical records of the Ming dynasty after exterminating it, just as previous dynasties had done to their predecessors.
According to the draft guidelines, the inception of the ROC would not be deleted from the textbooks but placed in the context of the modern world's great changes, thereby helping students develop a broader concept of history.
Some academics argued that these are odd textbooks because the country's founding is only discussed along with world history in the last of the textbooks. But the ROC, which has existed in Taiwan for more than 50 years, is only a giant empty shell given the mass territory the title alludes to.
We grow up in Taiwan, Peng-hu, Kinmen or Matsu and live here every single day. If we force our youth to study the ROC history dated between 50 and 100 years ago, which did not occur in Taiwan but is still required to be recorded in the same quantity as is Taiwanese history in the nation's textbooks, then I'd say this is a weird country and they are weird textbooks.
Chen Ro-jinn is a freelance writer.
Translated by Jackie Lin
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