Education must focus on history of Taiwan

By Lee Min-yung 李敏勇  / 

Fri, Oct 06, 2017 - Page 8

Taiwan’s modern and contemporary history dates from more than a century ago. During the early period between 1895 and 1945, it was subject to Japanization. The middle period from 1945 to 1995 was one of sinicization, and the late period, since 1995, has seen an unfinished process of Taiwanization.

Starting from the nation’s Aborigines, Taiwan has passed through various stages, including Dutch colonization, followed by the Kingdom of Tungning founded by Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功), better known as Koxinga, and then by the Qing Dynasty. In the process, it has formed a cultural profile that is different from China’s and manifests itself in daily life.

Taiwan is separated from China by a stretch of sea. It is closer to the East Asian nations of Japan and North and South Korea, and more distant from the countries of Southeast Asia. That is because the former fall within the cultural sphere of Chinese characters, while the latter moved away from China’s cultural orbit when they came under European colonial rule.

Taiwan has shifted the emphasis of its relations in the region from a northbound orientation to a southbound one, hoping to expand its trade, business and cultural relations with Southeast Asian countries so as to reduce the risk that results from excessive reliance on China.

Taiwan is a special place — a political, economic and cultural entity that is a nation and yet is not one. After World War II, Taiwan, unlike other former colonies in Asia, did not choose to become independent. Instead, it became entangled in the all-out war between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Consequently, Ilha Formosa, which could have grown into a small, but beautiful country, cannot stand tall on the world stage, even though it does in fact exist.

Confused ideas about the “motherland” led some Taiwanese before and after World War II to look to China and identify with it. Some joined the KMT camp, while others joined that of the CCP. Some leaned to the left, others to the right and some sat on the fence. Some Taiwanese spent time in China during and soon after the time of Japanese rule, and came to follow and depend on the party-state system of the KMT or the CCP.

When China passed from the KMT party-state to the CCP party-state, what were rich and powerful people with Chinese connections to do? Members of the Taiwan-based Lien (連) family, for example, shuttle to and fro between the two sides and regard China as their ancestral homeland.

Taiwanese have gone through Japanization and Sinicization, and are now at Taiwanization, but it has not progressed to the point where everyone can identify with Taiwan as a nation in itself.

When efforts are made to revise and improve the parts of the national education syllabus related to the nation’s history and languages, they often face resistance from the ideology of the KMT’s party-state, which, frighteningly, is connected with the ideology of the CCP’s party-state. The concept of China has become a heavy ball and chain that binds Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China.

Taiwan’s special historical makeup, on Taiwan itself and on the outlying islands, has written a rainbow cultural chorus whose vowels are Aboriginal culture and the ancient Chinese culture that came to Taiwan during the Tang Dynasty, while its consonants are Japanese and European cultures, as well as a new kind of Chinese culture and American culture that arrived after World War II.

Reforms to educational content concerning the languages, history and geography of the nation should be developed on such a basis, rather than stubbornly locking Taiwanese up in a “Chinese” prison cell.

Lee Min-yung is a poet.

Translated by Julian Clegg