Sat, Nov 27, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Debate over Chinese literature turns ugly

TOME RAIDING The Ministry of Education's plans to reform textbooks has again drawn ire, this time over plans to use fewer classical Chinese texts in the nation's high schools

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

In a replay of the debate over changes to history textbooks, the Ministry of Education's (MOE) proposed revisions to high-school Chinese literature textbooks spurred criticism from the opposition parties and piqued academics yesterday, fueling a culture war prior to the impending legislative elections.

The ministry's plan to put more contemporary Chinese literature in textbooks was flayed by the opposition party as an official attempt to "de-Sinicize" the high school curriculum.

Since 2002, the ministry has planned to shrink the amount of classical Chinese literature by about 10 percent, and make the requisite "Basic Chinese Culture Teachings" optional. While education officials said the reduction was meant to provide students with material more in tune with contemporary society, some politicians argued that it was just another attempt at ideological transformation orchestrated by the government.

"In the mind of the Democratic Progressive Party, classical Chinese literature should be thrown away," People First Party Legislator Chin Huei-chu (秦慧珠) said in a press conference yesterday.

Chin also referred to President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) pledge yesterday that the nation will apply to join the UN under the name of Taiwan next year.

"According to Chen, he wants to change our national title in two years," Chin said. "In this context, we are strongly concerned that the proposed textbook revisions are a part of a `Taiwanization of literature' [文學台獨化]."


Some academics also fear that political concerns may override literary professionalism, while some in Taiwan are eagerly trying to carve out a national identity.

"The real worry is whether our president has the power to lacerate history, geography and literature," said Chien Ming-yun (簡明勇), a professor of Chinese literature at National Normal University. Chien said he wondered whether education officials are simply tools to implement "the will from the top" during the course of textbook revision.

According to some high school Chinese teachers, the public hearings the MOE held to elicit opinions on textbook change are merely occasions for "policy announcement," and not forums for open debate about issues.


"Since officials never invite teachers who disagree with them, of course they can assert that there were no objections in public hearings," said Tan Jia-hua (譚家化), a retired Chinese literature teacher from Chung Shan Girls' Senior High School.

The textbook change dispute has rocked what are usually sedate academic circles. High school Chinese literature teachers argue that aesthetic and ethical principles should steer the direction of textbook revisions, not political affiliations.

"As a person who will have to carry out the MOE's reform policy, I want to ask a simple question. Why should we cut down on graceful classical Chinese texts, when our students' ability to appreciate literary beauty is backsliding?" asked Hsieh Chen-chong (謝鎮仲), a Chinese literature teacher at Wanfang High School.

For scholars, the real dread is that abolishing "Chinese Culture Basic Teachings" (中國文化基本教材) could speed the demise of the 2,000-year-old tradition of Confucianism.

"The Analects (論語) and Mencius (孟子) contain words of wisdom sparking through ages," said Ho Chi-peng (何寄澎), the Director of Graduate School of Taiwanese Literature of National Taiwan University, "In a limited time span, we should encourage students to appreciate classics."

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