The finals of the recent National Mandarin Language Composition Competition on Nov. 26 saw the first champion of Aboriginal origin in nearly three decades.
Chien Ai (簡愛), a sixth-grade student at the Li Ming Elementary School in Pingtung County and a member of the Paiwan tribe, has loved reading for as long as she can remember.
“I read newpapers’ literature sections and recite Chinese aphorisms,” Chien said, adding that she has kept a diary since fourth grade.
Her exposure to literature and her writing enabled Chien to do well in school composition competitions, and earned her a place in the national final.
The topic for the final was “Let’s Race!” and Chien wrote about racing against obstacles and weakness.
Listing famous people from ancient to modern times, including Tang Dynasty empress Wu Tsetien (武則天), boxer Muhammad Ali and Taiwanese-American NBA star Jeremy Lin (林書豪), Chien stressed how each had managed to break the fetters imposed on them by gender or race.
Chien’s mother, Wang Hsiao-feng (王孝鳳), recalled an incident she said demonstrated the habitual prejudice Aboriginal people face, even if it may not be malicious or intentional.
“When we arrived for the competition in Changhua, workers instinctively thought that we had come to participate in the Aboriginal Language Recitation competition and asked why we were not wearing traditional clothing,” Wang said.
At first Wang said she was simply puzzled by why they thought it was necessary to wear traditional clothing to a composition contest, but afterward she started thinking about why they had not considered that an Aboriginal would participate in a writing contest.
According to Li Ming Elementary School dean Chen Wen-chun (陳文俊), over the past 30 years only two or three students from Pingtung County have won the writing championship, adding that Chien was the first Aborigine to do so.
She had been practicing hard this past year under the tutelage of Wu Chun-ying (吳春瑩), the head of the school’s department of general affairs, Chen said, adding that despite ups and downs, she had emulated the people she wrote about in her composition.
“Her victory has shattered the stereotypical view that Aborigines have a weaker grasp of Mandarin,” Chen said.