History textbook sparks hullabaloo

‘ADULTERATED’ HISTORY::The textbook, published by a pro-unification advocate, says independence movements risk plunging the country into ‘a deranged state’

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Wed, May 07, 2014 - Page 1

A history textbook to be used in senior-high schools next semester has sparked controversy among teachers and the public, who say its content constitutes “brainwashing,” as it is written with a “China-oriented perspective of history.”

Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) responded that each textbook’s “expression” should be respected.

The history textbook, published by Shi Ji Cultural Co (史記文化), says that movements advocating independence “are a negation of the Republic of China and its Constitution” that would plunge society into a “deranged state about national identity” and that they are thereby “bad for Taiwan’s development.”

The controversial content was first brought to light by a netizen who uploaded photographs taken from the textbook on Monday night and said that a high-school history teacher said that “the school’s top administrative level” had received the textbook sample from “the university end” and told history teachers to start using the textbook starting next semester.

The netizen, who is also a schoolteacher, further revealed on PTT — the nation’s largest online bulletin board — that the person who gave the textbook to school officials “is an evaluation committee member responsible for assessing the school’s performance.”

In the legislature in Taipei yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said during a question-and-answer session that the textbook is written from a “extremely pro-China, Japan-hating, anti-independence, DPP-vilifying and KMT-eulogizing” perspective.

Kuan showed slides of photographs taken from the textbook, which say that problems with Taiwan’s ethnic relations “partially originate from Taiwan’s frequent elections, in which certain political parties constantly incite disharmony among different ethnic groups that were just beginning to meld, causing polarization and breeding antagonism between the groups.”

Kuan also said that in the chapter on cross-strait relations, the textbook praises the government’s policy of a “diplomatic truce” with China, saying that it has greatly improved cross-strait relations, as now the two sides no longer compete for diplomatic allies.

Kuan said that not only does that overlook the fact that China is still trying to impede Taiwan’s activities in the international community by, for example, requiring it to be described as part of China in the WHO, but “the textbook also ends the chapter with statements intimidating readers by branding the idea of a state-to-state relationship as inciting war.”

She added that the publisher reportedly plans to call on teachers to support using the textbook and “if a certain share is reached, it would offer China tour junkets.”

Chiang said before the question-and-answer session yesterday that the textbook “has been evaluated and approved through an appropriate procedure” and that he would respect the textbook’s content if it has been approved.

Chiang said he hopes that teachers “help students develop critical thinking while teaching” and that he would leave it to teachers’ and students’ judgement when they encounter “certain types of speech.”

Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) responded to Kuan’s questions by saying that the Executive Yuan respects schools’ autonomy and does not interfere with their choice of textbooks, which Kuan described as shirking political responsibility.

According to a report in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) in July last year, when the controversy over history textbooks had already arisen, Shi-Ji and two other publishers — Bei-Yi Cultural Co and Ke-Yi Cultural Co — were owned by pro-unification Chinese Integration Association chief executive officer Cheng Chih-shen (鄭旗生). Association chairman Chang Ya-chung (張亞中) served as a consultant to the companies.

Yesterday, the DPP said the controversial textbook was biased and not written in accordance with democratic principles.

While Chiang said it would be up to the schools to choose which textbook to use, DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) told a news conference that the ministry’s response was like “permitting adulterated food to remain on the shelves in the name of consumer choice.”

The DPP demanded that the ministry first rescind its approval of the textbooks — Volume 1 and 2 of the high-school history textbook published by Shi Ji — and second ask the publishers to rewrite the content.

The party added that the ministry should also investigate the review process.

“If the education ministry refuses to do so, DPP legislators will launch counteractions in the legislature,” Lin said.

Lin said that Taiwan’s sovereignty is a matter of consensus among the public and that the textbooks should not praise the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) yet smear the opposition.

“These textbooks were written under the guidelines established in 2011. We cannot help but worry about what textbooks written under the curriculum guidelines adjusted this year will be like. The potential for ‘brainwashing’ will be a serious concern,” he said.

Additional reporting by Chris Wang