Tue, Feb 06, 2007 - Page 8 News List

`Father of the nation' is an alien construct

By Su Jui-chiang 蘇瑞鏘

Recent media articles claiming that this year's new high-school history textbooks will no longer refer to Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) with the title "father of the nation" has sparked attacks from pan-blue camp politicians.

Debate on this issue needs to be considered within the context of "hero construction." As sociologist Erving Goffman once said, in some respects, we are all man-made and revered national leaders are of course just the same. In his book The Fabrication of Luis XIV, the British historian Peter Burke demonstrated how French king Louis XIV's public image was constructed, propagated and accepted.

Sun is very similar to Louis in this respect. At the time of the Republic of China's (ROC) founding in 1912, Sun wasn't immediately named "father of the nation." It wasn't until his death in 1925 that military commander Fan Zhongxiu (樊鍾秀) began referring to Sun as such.

In 1940, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government approved a resolution to call him "father of the nation" and issued a decree that the rest of China would use the same title of respect. It took almost 30 years after the founding of the republic and more than a decade of KMT rule for the government to officially name Sun "father of the nation."

Sun wouldn't officially be named the father of Taiwan until after the KMT took control of the island in 1945.

Chronologically speaking, Taiwan's annexation by Japan occurred in 1895, thus preceding the founding of the ROC. Geographically speaking, the ROC wasn't established in Taiwan and in terms of its people, most Taiwanese today or their elders never took part in the founding and building of the ROC.

Sun's position as "father of the nation" in Taiwan is therefore clearly a product of the KMT regime. In light of the controversy over the legal grounds on which the ROC took control of Taiwan -- the Cairo Declaration versus the Treaty of San Francisco -- calling Sun the "father of the nation" in Taiwanese textbooks could in fact become an even bigger controversy.

Ceasing to refer to Sun as "father of the nation" in textbooks will give him a more fitting place, allow us to move into the future and create space for more diverse discussion between teachers and students. Pan-blue camp legislators need not worry too much over whether teachers will decide to teach that Sun was "father of the nation" or not.

Su Jui-chiang is a history teacher at Changhua Senior High School.

Translated by Marc Langer

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