Many Taiwanese who grew up during the anti-communist era still remember French author Alphonse Daudet’s short story The Last Lesson.
The story is about a schoolteacher in Alsace, France. The French ceded the region to Prussia in 1871, following its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. On the day before the transfer of power, the teacher sadly announced to the students that it was to be their last lesson taught in French and that the lesson would be taught in the language of the new ruler, German, the next day.
Taiwanese might also remember that anti-communist-era teaching materials were entirely based on a “Greater China” ideology and the political stance that “gentlemen [Taiwan] and thieves [China] cannot coexist.”
There were also many articles that praised Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) — such as the story about how the older Chiang was inspired by some fish swimming against the current while making their way up a river.
Students’ essays, regardless of what the topic was, often added the following sentence to the conclusion: “Defeat the vicious communists and save our compatriots on the mainland.”
The stance of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has gradually changed from being anti-communist and promoting the unification of China using the Three Principles of the People to withdrawing military forces from the outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu and holding a meeting between Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) and Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍).
In addition, Taiwan underwent its democratization during this period. While most of these outdated teaching materials have been abolished, the “Greater China” outlook is still there for all to see.
The point of going through the above historical developments is to show that education has always been the domain of political struggle. It is about more than pure education because the domain itself is highly political in nature.
Benedict Anderson, who studied nationalism, once said that after the European dynasties transformed into modern countries one after another, one of the priorities for each country was to integrate people with different languages, histories and cultures into one group, such as the French or German people. This was a significant responsibility and it fell on each country’s civic education system.
This is instructive as to why the KMT government’s first political-cultural project after it occupied Taiwan was to promote Mandarin and a “Greater China” education across the nation to turn Taiwanese into Chinese and force them to accept the Chiang family’s rule, which carried the “divine mission” of “liberating our mainland compatriots.”
In other words, the so-called “minor adjustments” of the high-school curriculum guidelines actually involve an out-and-out removal, as pro-localization and awareness is replaced by a “Greater China” ideology.
Many Hong Kongers have launched large-scale street demonstrations to protest against the Hong Kong government’s attempt to brainwash students by introducing its National Education program, forcing the government to step back.
Perhaps political struggle is also the best way to correct the suggested adjustments of Taiwan’s curriculum guidelines.
Chi Chun-chieh is a professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University.