Sun, Nov 07, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Give more backing to the Taiwan studies field

By Franklin Lee 李豐明

The Seventh asia Pacific Conference on Korea Studies was held at Chinese Culture University last month. When delivering a speech on the opening day of the international event, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said, "We will also hold an international conference on `Taiwan Studies' (台灣學)," calling on the public to work together toward this goal.

More than 20 years ago, I also attended a conference on Taiwan Studies when I was abroad. But it was a meeting of fewer than 50 people, with a focus on Taiwan's role in international politics at that time. The meaning of the term Taiwan Studies proposed by Chen is more like that of Korea Studies, which includes a nation's history, language, literature, art, culture, education, technology, economy and politics.

In other words, Taiwan Studies is about Taiwan's overall development, and its unique contributions to the world over the past few decades, and even centuries. In particular, it is about a series of touching stories of how Taiwan has integrated the continental and marine cultures in Asia, how it absorbed the essence of the East and West, and how it finally created the cultural, political, and economic patterns of the "Oriental Switzerland."

Chen's call for an international conference on Taiwan Studies was not made on impulse. In fact, not every country is qualified to hold such a conference in light of certain requirements.

First, international image: Taiwanese across the world have built an image of intelligence, friendliness and peace. Second, global contributions: Taiwan's economic miracle in the 1970s and the development of its high-tech industry have pushed its computers and other products onto the international stage.

Third, national competitiveness: Taiwan has always been highly competitive internationally. This year, according to the annual Global Competitiveness Report 2004-2005 published by the World Economic Forum, Taiwan ranked No. 4 in the world and No. 1 in Asia in competitiveness.

Fourth, cultural qualities: Taiwan is actually a cultural melting pot that surpasses time and space -- with a mixture of Aborigine Malay culture, Chinese, Dutch, Spanish and Western European cultures, and the 50-year Japanese colonialism and another 50 years of Chinese cultural influence.

Fifth, public support: even if all these conditions are met, it will be very difficult to hold a conference without public support. Therefore, we may need a warming-up period, during which we can establish a preparation office for such a conference, define its scope and content and provide information to educate the public.

I can't help but think of the sorrow of being a Taiwanese. Why do the Taiwanese people study other countries in universities when they do not even understand the history, geography and literature of their own country? The Ministry of Education has launched the course "Knowing Taiwan" in junior high schools. In addition to the poorly-compiled textbooks, the participation of teachers and schools in the subject is usually low. There is still a long way to go before we are capable of holding an international conference on Taiwan Studies.

I believe that we need to include more general education courses that are similar to "Knowing Taiwan" in our universities. Such courses should focus on people's lives, such as Taiwanese literature, languages, slang and songs that are easier to study. Plus, the combination of the subject "Digital Taiwan" and the nation's geographical and meteorological information is also an important field.

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