The Ministry of Education confirmed on Wednesday that Taiwan could recognize Chinese diplomas obtained after 1997 as early as next June, provided that bills related to the proposal are approved by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-controlled legislature (meaning that they likely will be).
The ministry, we are told, plans to start by recognizing diplomas from 41 top universities — those that Beijing has poured more money into since 1985. This includes Peking University, Tsinghua University, Tianjin University and Fudan University. Public universities would only be able to recruit Chinese graduate students, while private universities could recruit undergraduates.
Anyone who has read the paper “National Humiliation, History Education, and the Politics of Historical Memory: Patriotic Education Campaign in China” by Zheng Wang of Seton Hall University, published in International Studies Quarterly last year, would know that extra funding by Beijing most likely means more brainwashing in school curriculums. If Jian Junbo (簡軍波), one of Fudan University’s top students, is any indication, products of that system never waver from the party line, not even after long exposure abroad — even at Western universities (the 33-year-old Jian, whose op-ed titled “Taiwan’s ‘opportunist’ president alters tack,” published in the Asia Times online on Aug. 11, highlighted a complete lack of understanding of Taiwan’s democratic system and threatened war if work on unification was stalled, is a visiting scholar at Aalborg University in Denmark).
This is why, to give two examples, so many Chinese students abroad supported Beijing’s crackdown in Tibet prior to the Olympics last year, and why Chinese students in Australia led attacks on the Melbourne International Film Festival’s Web site in August over a documentary on Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer.
The more Jians that enter the school system in Taiwan, the more difficult it will be for Taiwanese students and professors to advance their own historical discourse. The mix of chauvinism and strong nationalism that characterized the Chinese academics who spoke at forums in Taipei this month — where they dictated and threatened, while exhibiting a total disinterest in learning from others — would likely be present in those students, who from very early on have been fed propaganda and little else.
Another worry is that an influx of Chinese students embracing their own ideology could result in strong demand for teachers from China, which could engender a process whereby Taiwanese teachers are elbowed out — especially those who espouse a pro-independence line. It wouldn’t be surprising if, in future, the ministry were to announce that it may allow Chinese professors to teach in Taiwan.
As Zheng and others have argued, schools play an important role in the formation of national identity. If the Chinese discourse is allowed to grow roots in Taiwanese schools — through students, curriculums and perhaps professors — then Taiwanese identity will slowly be diluted, and future generations of Taiwanese will have little access to the material that, in their formative years, informs them about, and shapes, who they are.
Of course, all of this would be different — and less worrying — if Chinese who came to Taiwan were keen on learning different opinions and bringing those ideas back to China, in which case exchanges would be positive. But this isn’t the case, and the fault lies with the tremendous efforts at educational socialization that Beijing has made, starting in 1991, with its Patriotic Education Campaign.
Taiwan is under attack on many fronts. By opening up universities to Chinese students, a new beachhead could soon be stormed.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
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