For many people in Taiwan, the protests by high-school students against the revisions of history textbooks by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration had an unsatisfactory ending.
In spite of the well-reasoned arguments by the students against the Sino-centric amendments themselves and the opaque process followed by the Ministry of Education to push them through, the Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa (吳思華), went ahead with the publication of the new textbooks.
However, from a broader perspective, the students won a moral victory: They put the issue of the Ma government’s weirdly twisted view of history on the radar, both in Taiwan itself and for an overseas audience.
This episode was the beginning of the end of the biased and self-serving accounts of history that have been presented by Ma and the last of his Republic of China Mohicans.
I was both sad and happy to see these protests happen: Sad that an unresponsive government had not learned from the Sunflower experience in spring last year, when it displayed an equally rigid position vis-a-vis the protests against the proposed service trade agreement with China.
As in the case of the Sunflower movement, the high-school students who took part in this year’s protest were against the “black box procedures” followed, against the anachronistic perspective based on the outdated worldview of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the whitewashing of the authoritarian White Terror period and against the Sino-centric slant in the new history textbooks.
However, I was also happy, because the high-school students came out and showed they are tremendously determined to stand up for their principles, which included adherence to a democratic political system in which decisions are made in a transparent and open manner.
Their principles also include the necessity for schools to teach an unvarnished history that presents facts, instead of false and flawed accounts that were written into history textbooks by the Ma administration.
Taiwan can be proud of its rich and multicultural history, which includes its Aboriginal communities and the period the island was ruled by Dutch, Spanish and Japanese. The young protesters were right to insist on a presentation of history that reflects these Taiwanese roots and diversity.
It was particularly gratifying, and illustrative, so see the Aug. 3 televised discussion between Wu and a representative delegation of student leaders and several supportive teachers.
The students and teachers presented eloquent and rational arguments on why the new textbooks were incorrect and should be withdrawn, while Minister Wu was left uttering feeble arguments that the textbooks had been printed already, refusing to respond to the students’ concerns.
The negotiations broke down with the students leaving the meeting in tears.
On Aug. 6 the students had to break up their sit-in protest in front of the Ministry of Education as Typhoon Soudelor was approached Taiwan. They went home and started to prepare for their studies in the new semester.
However, this generation will be back: They are the future of Taiwan and are a key element in the nation’s vibrant democracy and civil society. They can help bring about a transition toward a Taiwan that is truly free and democratic, and a full and equal member in the international community.