At the beginning of this month, members of the public concerned about the monopolization of the media in Taiwan took to the streets of Taipei. More recently, people in Hong Kong staged street demonstrations and school strikes over the government’s planned introduction of “national education” patriotism courses. These protests occurred in two different geographical locations, over what on the surface appear to be different issues. However, what unites them are the concerns of the respective populations that the two events were the result of the handiwork of political forces operating in the background, with the intention of “brainwashing” or manipulating citizens.
In the past, within non-democratic societies, both the media and education system have been employed by the authorities as effective political tools to consolidate power and to suppress any form of democratic thought that people might have. They were also used as the means through which to “enlighten” their supporters and receptive citizens. The media, perceived as a source of information, was under the control of the authorities and was used by the powers-that-be to inform the public of what was deemed necessary or desirable for them to know.
School education, and in particular compulsory education, was used to inculcate ideas into people from an early age, in order to create an obedient citizenry that would constitute the next generation, sowing the seeds for consolidated rule in the long term.
Education provided in Japanese schools in Taiwan during World War II, by the government in Nazi Germany and by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) during the Martial Law era in Taiwan, are classic examples of national education founded upon the specific political objective of manipulating the populace to further the political needs of the authorities.
After Taiwan became democratic, national education was all but divested of such negative connotations, for a time at least, but politics continues to taint what is taught in our schools, even as far up as higher education.
This is, at least in part, the reason for the ongoing dispute over the high school curriculum in Taiwan. We should bear this in mind when we empathize with the protests in Hong Kong against the introduction of patriotism classes, just as we should remind the protesters there to be mindful of the prodigious capacity of the media to brainwash them, too.
The Taipei Society supports the people in Hong Kong who are demanding a fully democratic system and who are concerned over attempts by the authorities to politicize the education taught to their children. We also call on the Taiwanese to be more aware of the same thing happening in our own education system, and what is taught within it, particularly with the proposed changes to the national curriculum and the content of the textbooks used, and of the manipulation by political forces that lie behind these changes. Of course, we also call on the Taiwanese to continue monitoring the problem in this country of the monopolization of the media by media moguls. We must remain vigilant at all times to these evils.
Chou Chih-hung is president of the Taipei Society.
Translated by Paul Cooper