The Liberty Times Editorial: Textbook tactics to re-write history

Mon, Jun 18, 2012 - Page 8

Nowhere, other than Taiwan, would another nation be able to interfere with — or be allowed to interfere with — the contents of school materials that address the debate over national identity and history. Despite that, on June 13, the debate and controversy over Taiwanese history as portrayed in Taiwan’s senior-high school history books was discussed at a news conference held by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) with the office spokesperson making the absurd demand that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration put its house in order, without taking the care as to whether or not it gave people the impression that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) are cooperating with each other.

Chinese officials clearly have already begun to treat Ma as another Chinese official. If the Taiwanese government does not protest against this rudeness and transgression, then the Taiwanese must launch an uncompromising protest against the government’s self-denigration.

Legislators claim that the Department of Secondary Education at the Ministry of Education recently held several meetings with the lesson outline examination committee, as well as publishers, concerning the compilation of history textbooks for senior-high schools. The main topic of the meetings was to decide whether certain phrases should be uniformly changed in response to “a suggestion from a member of the public.” Some of the suggestions are that every reference to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or “the mainland area” should be abbreviated as “the Chinese Communist regime,” “the Chinese mainland” or “the mainland.” Other suggestions included: avoiding the use of “Taiwan” when dealing with domestic politics and international relations in place of references to the “Republic of China.” Any references to the view that Taiwan’s position remains undetermined should also be avoided. When mentioning the diverse development of Taiwanese culture, the “central position of Chinese culture” should be stressed, and when discussing Taiwan’s immigrant society, “the fact that Chinese people and Chinese culture make up the bulk [of society]” following the massive immigration of Han Chinese should also be stressed.

Education is vital and there are many major issues in the current education system that are in need of reform and renewal. When the education ministry ignores these issues and instead uses a minority suggestion as an excuse to challenge the political sensibilities of society at large, this will create divisions. This is also the reason why the initiative has drawn strong criticism in the legislature.

Unexpectedly, the TAO has chimed in from across the Taiwan Strait saying that Taiwan’s teaching materials have had a pro-independence slant and that Taiwan from now on should return to the straight and narrow. By showing its cards, the TAO has reinforced the feeling that Ma has been intending to revise the nation’s schools’ teaching materials ever since he took office in 2008.

The ministry has explained its position by saying that teaching materials must once again begin to reflect the Constitution, but in our opinion, this argument does nothing to alleviate confrontation and conflict. Any ideological positions must be realistic and the purpose of knowledge is to seek out the truth. We would never teach our children to lie or to think that what is not theirs simply becomes theirs by claiming it. This is also the reason why teaching materials must reflect the truth.

What is the historic truth? On Oct. 25, 1971, at the 26th session of the UN assembly, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), founded on Oct. 1, 1949, was given the legal right to represent China at the UN in a landslide vote. The PRC is universally recognized as “China.” How can we continue to maintain the isolated view that it is not?

During the recent presidential campaign, Ma said that even if he were burnt to ashes he would remain Taiwanese and on the international stage he has said that he is president of Taiwan. Now, after his re-election, upon what is he basing his statements that teaching materials should avoid mentioning Taiwan?

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the view that Taiwan’s position remains undetermined, we cannot ignore the historic fact that Japan and 47 other countries signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan, also known as the San Francisco Peace Treaty, on Sept. 8, 1951. Regardless of whether one supports this view, it is a fact, just as we cannot change the fact that the regime of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) occupied Taiwan militarily after having been gifted it from Japan as the Allies’ representative in 1945. Why can we not let our children learn these facts of history?

As for the laughable claim about the “central position of Chinese culture” we only have to look at the US and Canada, two immigrant societies, to see if the teaching materials in their schools stress “the central position of English culture” and if they call themselves “English.”

The biggest impact on Taiwanese students studying abroad during the Martial Law era occurred when they went to libraries overseas and discovered information which unearthed the Chiang regime’s lies. Today, under Ma’s rule, a single suggestion from the public makes the education ministry want to turn history textbooks into incomplete materials to serve a political end, and in doing so, they are cheered on by junior Chinese officials.

This is an absurd step backwards and it makes one wonder if the government’s next step will be to rewrite history completely in an attempt to eradicate Taiwanese history and the Taiwanese identity.

We all have a duty to keep our eyes on the government and to do anything we can to prevent that from happening.

Translated by Perry Svensson