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Taiwan’s history: student edition

Survey results show students’ cultural background strongly impacts their view of the nation’s history

By Gerrit van der Wees  /  Contributing Reporter

An 1670 illustration of Taiwanese Aborigines by Olfert Dapper.

photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

Against the background of renewed interest in Taiwan’s history, I surveyed 1054 high school and college students in Tainan from January to March this year and asked them their views on the periods of Dutch rule (1624-1662) and Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功, also known as Koxinga) family rule (1662-1683). In order to have a measure of comparison, the students were also asked to give their opinion on the Qing Dynasty rule (1683-1895) and Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945).


Overall, the percentage of those who didn’t know enough about a particular period of history to say whether it had or had not been good for Taiwan varied around 25 percent for the Dutch, Koxinga and Qing Dynasty periods, and dropped to 15.5 percent for the Japanese period.

These numbers (25 percent “don’t know”) still indicate a significant lack of knowledge about the earlier periods. This is probably due to the still minimal amount of time spent on these periods in the current history curriculum. Several students complained about the lack of sufficient time spent on history as compared to Chinese history and classical Chinese texts which have little relevance to present-day Taiwan.


One of the key characteristics of the survey is the relatively high percentage of students who consider themselves Aboriginal (177 out of 1054, or 16.8 percent). This enables us to compare the views of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

For the period of Dutch rule (1624-1662) both the Aboriginal respondents and those who identified themselves as “Ethnic Taiwanese” consider it to have been good for Taiwan, 54.2 percent and 56.4 percent respectively.

For the “Others” category — (those who identified themselves as Hakka, Mainlander and others) — it drops to slightly below 50 percent, but this is probably due to the fact that this group included a number of foreign students who had had no exposure to Taiwan’s history, and responded “I don’t know.” For all three groups, the respondents who had a negative perception of the Dutch period hovered around 22 percent.

For the period of Koxinga family rule (1662-1683) we see a very different picture. Among Aboriginal respondents, his rule is disliked by 43.4 percent while 32.6 percent agreed that his rule was good for Taiwan. Twenty-four percent say they don’t know. However, 67.6 percent of Ethnic Taiwanese had a positive view of him, with 9.6 percent disagreeing. Among the Others category, the positions are somewhere in between: a slight majority (53.0 percent) is positive while 12.5 percent is negative, with a relatively high percentage (34.5 percent) saying they don’t know.

The period of Qing Dynasty rule is worst off. Aboriginal respondents are overwhelmingly (58.5 percent) critical, with 18.8 percent having a positive image of the period. For Ethnic Taiwanese respondents the picture is slightly better, with 42.9 percent positive and 33.9 percent negative. For the Others category of respondents, the pictures is quite similar: 38.3 percent positive and 27.3 percent negative.

The period of Japanese rule (1895-1945) is generally considered most positive by all three groups of respondents, but again the Aboriginal students are most critical with 44.6 percent positive and 39.0 percent negative. The Ethnic Taiwanese group is overwhelmingly positive, with 70.5 percent agreeing it was good for Taiwan, and only 16.8 percent disagreeing. The Others category again come down somewhere in between, with 54.9 percent agreeing it was good for Taiwan, and 23.9 percent disagreeing.

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