During the authoritarian rule of former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and, to a lesser extent, under his son and successor Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), history textbooks were full of political rhetoric and fabrication.
During the tenures of former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), schools started to teach more about Taiwanese history, with more politically neutral language and, although it was not completely satisfactory, students were at least encouraged to note that progress was being made.
However, since taking office in 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has pandered more to Beijing and allowed the “Greater China” ideology to color how he has governed the country. To this end, he has set his administration to revising history textbooks.
These changes, which affect a full third or more of the school curriculum, are being described as “minor tweaks.” That is like saying Emperor Wudi (漢武帝) of the Han Dynasty ordering the historian Sima Qian (司馬遷) to be castrated and cast into prison was a “minor tweak” — after all, both involve an emasculation of sorts, the removal of vital parts.
Even worse, despite all the academics with backgrounds in history in this country, Ma decided to choose a professor with no such training to oversee these “minor tweaks,” a Chinese who receives the full backing of the authorities in Beijing and who stands firmly in their corner when it comes to interpreting history.
Further, Ma insists that these “tweaks” are designed to address historical inaccuracies and “bring order to the confusion.”
Who exactly is it that is introducing historical inaccuracies, or contributing to the confusion?
Let us take a look at one example: How the task force responsible for these revisions wants to change references to the Ming Dynasty loyalist Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功) — also known as Koxinga — and his successors from the Cheng Family Dynasty to the “Ming House of Cheng.”
The reason the Ma administration wants this change to be made is because it suggests that when Cheng Cheng-kung established control over part of Taiwan, he did so as a representative of the Chinese Ming Dynasty, taking this territory for the embattled Ming court.
Such a change is more in keeping with Ma’s “Greater China” ideology.
When Cheng Cheng-kung came to Taiwan, he established a new kingdom in the southwest of the island, calling it Dongdu (Eastern Capital). He was succeeded by his son Cheng Ching (鄭經), who changed the name to the Kingdom of Dongning and who was, in turn, succeeded by his.
So is it historically more accurate to say that this kingdom was ruled by the Cheng Family Dynasty or by the Ming House of Cheng?
Of course, Cheng Cheng-kung was associated with the Ming dynasty when he first started fighting for the return of the Ming emperor to the throne. However, later developments changed this radically.
When he was based in Fujian Province, he made known on several occasions his intent to negotiate with the Manchus who had established themselves in the north of the country, deposing the Ming and establishing their own Qing Dynasty.
These negotiations were neither sanctioned nor approved by the Yongli (永曆) Emperor, the last claimant to the Ming throne, who was resisting the Qing from southwest China as head of the newly named Southern Ming.
At one point, the Yongli Emperor even asked Cheng Cheng-kung to mount an attack on Qing forces during Cheng’s negotiations with them. Cheng declined, abandoning the last Ming emperor to his fate.