Thursday’s discovery of a 227kg World War II bomb in Taipei’s Xinyi District (信義) could be a fortuitous coincidence amid an escalating debate over changes to Taiwan’s high-school history curriculum.
As reported in the media, the undetonated bomb — presumably dropped by US forces near the war’s end — inspired several young people to ask why Taiwan would have been bombed by the US, its ally.
Such questions show a dismal grasp of history, as well as ignorance of current affairs.
Also coincidentally, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) on Thursday endorsed the new curriculum guidelines at the weekly Cabinet meeting despite last-ditch appeals from officials from Greater Taichung, Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung. The Executive Yuan spokesperson quoted Jiang as saying the new guidelines would bring education in line with historical facts, broaden students’ global view and incorporate ideas enshrined in the Constitution.
However, Jiang has ignored how some of the changes ignore historical fact and reality.
Much of the criticism centers on the move to change the description of Tokyo’s rule over Taiwan from the “Japan-governed period” to “Japanese colonial period.” Outsiders might question the fuss about the use of the word “colonial,” given that many nations have experienced “colonial” eras: the US, large swathes of Latin America and Africa, several places in Asia and even, some argue, parts of the former Soviet Union and its “Warsaw Pact” allies.
However, a better translation of the Ministry of Education’s preferred term “Japanese colonial period” is “Japanese occupation period,” which echoes the years that Japan occupied large areas of China and ignores the Qing Dynasty giving Taiwan to Japan.
While many Taiwanese fought — and died — resisting Japanese authorities, Tokyo’s governance was that of a colonial power rather than an occupying power. It was more akin to British, Spanish, French, Dutch and Portuguese colonial rule than to Japan’s actions in China, the behavior of the Nationalist Army in Taiwan upon Japan’s surrender, or the Allied powers in Germany or Japan after World War II. To pretend that Taiwanese and Chinese shared the same experiences in dealing with Japan — post-1895 for Taiwan and post-1932 for China — ignores the facts. The then-Taiwan Governor-General’s Office in Taipei was heavily bombed by US forces on May 31, 1945, because Taipei was seen as part of Japan, not Chinese territory under an occupying military. Yet many Taiwanese never learn this in school. Instead, they are taught about the Nationalist Army’s efforts to battle the Japanese, aided by the US and other countries.
The debate over describing the period from 1895 to 1945 in Taiwan and whether the territory ruled by Beijing is “Mainland China” or just “China” is clouding even more contentious changes — such as the definition of “self-determination” as the right of people governed by colonial rulers, not the “right of people,” and the bid to whitewash the White Terror era by separating it from human rights issues.
Several generations of Taiwanese have already had their education blighted by the mythology imposed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) after its large-scale arrival in 1949, the imposition of martial law and the seemingly endless White Terror era, along with the farce that was the National Assembly and all the “eternal” legislators who had been elected in China in 1947 continuing to pretend they represented constituencies on the other side of the Strait. To look at textbooks and other material printed in those years is like falling into Alice’s rabbit hole and emerging in a land where everything is topsy-turvy.