Those who govern need a discourse to support their policies and these discourses often come from academia. Academics cooperate with those in power to formulate the values, ideologies and bodies of knowledge that governments need. A government then dresses these ideas in the image of academic objectivity to cheat an unassuming public. Recently, the Taiwanese government has been doing much more of this in order to increase its social control and achieve its political goals.
The first pillar of support is a China-oriented view of history. In recent years, the Ministry of Education has made opaque changes to the national high-school curriculum to force Taiwanese to interpret history from a China-oriented point of view. However, such a view of history differs from what actually happened. After all, Chinese history is just one part of Taiwanese history.
Because the changes have been so arbitrary and far-fetched, the ministry did not dare to make them public and instead deceived people by saying that they were just “minor adjustments.” This deceit has drawn strong protests from high-school civics teachers and other academics.
When Wang Hsiao-po (王曉波), a philosophy professor who also served as the convener of the ministry’s curriculum adjustment task force, said that the estimated 20,000 people killed in the 228 Massacre constituted “a minor case” when compared with the numbers of people killed in China by dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), Taiwanese finally woke up and started to protest the history curriculum issue much more strongly. Despite this, the ministry is still acting arrogantly and refuses to rescind the changes.
The second supporting pillar is a way of thinking that values economics above everything else, including politics. For a long time, those in charge have been creating the myth that economics and politics are completely separate entities. As soon as there is a problem with the economy, this myth allows them to easily blame difficulties on politics.
For example, Charles Kao (高希均), the founder of the Chinese-language magazines Global Views Monthly and CommonWealth Magazine recently deliberately misused some of the ideas of the father of modern economics, Adam Smith.
In shocking remarks, Kao said that political infighting has caused Taiwan’s economic sluggishness and that the past two decades of Taiwan’s democratic history are a striking record of democracy being reduced to “populism,” continued internal friction and endless disputes over Taiwan’s independence.
These remarks represent a blatant attempt to undermine the nation’s power to move into the future while also attempting to push the nation back into its authoritarian era by forcing Taiwanese to think of themselves as economic creatures without political souls who cannot have individual free will or ideas about human rights.
For example, land seizures still happen in an unreasonable manner. Is the public really just meant to obediently take this and be controlled by the government?
The China-oriented historical view and the mode of thinking that excludes politics to focus on economics are subjective, closely linked to power, and have specific goals. The government creates and spreads these myths to control thought and rob us of our rights while it does whatever it wants.
This is why Taiwan has been unable to move forward for so long. Faced with these challenges, Taiwanese must take action and get rid of these two ill-founded myths.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor in the department of land economics at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Drew Cameron