After 60 years of Chinese colonial education and brainwashing conducted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Taiwanese under the age of 40 or 50 know basically nothing about what I refer to as Taiwan Studies — the study of Taiwan’s history, literature, languages and culture.
I once gave a talk to 165 elementary-school teachers, during which I asked how many of them had read Lee Chiao’s (李喬) Wintry Night trilogy (寒夜三部曲), which has been adapted for TV and aired on Taiwan Public Television Service. Four of them raised their hands.
Then I asked about novelist Cheng Ching-wen (鄭清文), the only Taiwanese to have won an international book prize over the past 60 years, winning the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, one year before internationally renowned Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Three of them raised their hands. And when I asked about one of Taiwan’s great early novelists, Lu Ho- jo (呂赫若), only one person raised his hand.
There are too many similar examples of presidents and teachers from Taiwan’s universities, high schools and elementary schools lacking local knowledge about Taiwan, and I believe that apart from the 228 Massacre, this is one of Taiwan’s greatest tragedies.
The Taiwanese history book currently used in junior and senior high schools does include discussion of the 228 Massacre. However, of the younger generations who have read this history book and its depiction of the 228 Massacre, I am sure very few know the heroic history of Ong Thiam-teng (王添燈), who was burnt to death after being doused with gasoline.
Most of them are probably also unaware that Lin Mosei (林茂生), former dean of arts at National Taiwan University (NTU) and once the highest-educated Taiwanese person, told education reformer John Dewey of Columbia University when Dewey tried to keep Ong at Columbia to teach that he still had a flock awaiting his leadership in his homeland.
After the massacre, a Japanese professor and colleague of Lin’s at NTU gave Lin the common-sense advice to cut and run. Lin responded by saying that he had done nothing wrong and asking why he should escape. He then went missing and, until this day, the details of his death are unknown. In the end, Lin was sacrificed in his own homeland.
History must be read like a novel in which one becomes enthralled in the story through its details. This is also the only way a sense of mission can be gained from history, which can then be gradually turned into action. Taiwan’s overall educational system, teachers, students and parents all lack passion for local Taiwanese knowledge. It is hard to find a developed country anywhere in which people have such a fuzzy image of their forefathers as in Taiwan.
What is even more alarming is how the political and administrative leaders of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have neglected the importance and urgency of imparting local knowledge to Taiwanese.
When Ma was elected in 2008, he immediately took illegal action to interfere with history and Chinese language lessons in senior high schools. His government is well aware of the huge influence the humanities can have on the mind and so they took forceful action.
The pan-blue and the pan-green camps differ greatly in the way they view the importance of education. While the KMT understands it, the DPP doesn’t.
If one day Taiwan is lost because politics go the same way as education has gone, that would be a lesson gained from history.
Cheng Cheng-iok is the president of the Southern Taiwan Society.
Translated by Drew Cameron
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