Certain historians in Taiwan have complained that the recent revisions to history high school textbooks are "political."
History, being an interpretation of the past, is much more than a set of objective facts. Good historians take as many objective facts as possible, but in the end, all historians weave an understanding of history that must ultimately be subjective. Clearly, the recent revisions are "political," but so were the intensely political textbooks that have been replaced.
The complaints have come largely from historians who believe that Taiwan is a part of China. The research of many current scholars shows quite clearly that Taiwan has never been a part of China except for 1945 to 1949 during the Chinese Civil War when the Chinese colonial regime occupied Taiwan and slaughtered many Taiwanese.
Before 1624, when the Dutch formed Taiwan's first colonial regime, fewer than 5,000 Chinese lived on Taiwan and most of these were short-term sojourners who fished in Taiwan's waters.
The Manchus took over Taiwan in 1683, but they did not claim to rule the many Aboriginal areas.
And, of course, the Manchu empire was Manchu and not Chinese. During the period of the Manchu Qing Empire, both China and Taiwan were colonies of a much wider empire that extended far beyond any territory that China had ruled.
The text of the Treaty of Shimonoseki of April 17, 1895, states that the Manchu government "cedes to Japan in perpetuity and full sovereignty ... [t]he island of Formosa ... and [t]he Pescadores [Penghu]."
Thus, the new textbooks correctly say that during the Japanese colonial period Taiwan was "Japan-governed" rather than "Japan-occupied."
The treaties following World War II never said who owned Taiwan after Japan surrendered sovereignty.
The Chinese colonial period (1945-1988) resembled the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945) in many ways. Both colonial governments treated the majority native Taiwanese as second-class citizens.
Under the Chinese colonial regime, Taiwanese never held key positions such as president, premier, or minister of foreign affairs, defense, economics, finance, education or justice.
Under the Japanese, no Taiwanese held a position above head of prefecture.
In both cases, the key positions were reserved for the Chinese who accounted for just 15 percent of the population or the Japanese who made up only 6 percent of the population.
Both colonial regimes clamped down very hard at first. Various estimates suggest the Japanese killed from 12,000 to 32,000 Taiwanese in their first few years of rule. The Chinese colonial regime killed 10,000 to 20,000 Taiwanese after the Feb. 28, 1947, uprising.
Both colonial regimes implemented a policy of high pressure after gaining control and executing dissidents.
After about 25 years, owing to both international and domestic pressures, both regimes had a period of "liberalization." During the Japanese colonial period, this followed World War I when US President Woodrow Wilson gave his speech on "self-determination," the Koreans launched their major "March First" revolt and the Japanese themselves liberalized under Taisho democracy. The Japanese then appointed civilian governors and Taiwanese began their series of political movements.
In Taiwan, the Diaoyutai movement, Taiwan's withdrawal from the UN, the political activities of The Intellectual magazine and new premier Chiang Ching-kuo's (
Under the Japanese, this liberalization ceased with World War II and the Japanese push for assimilation. Under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the Kaohsiung Incident in December 1979 led to the imprisonment of many opposition leaders.
Clearly, in this history, there is no evidence that Taiwan ever belonged to China. Thus, the new history textbooks clearly refer to China as "China" rather than to "this country," since Taiwan is not a part of China.
The Chinese colonial regime tried to make Taiwan a part of China using false history.
The old texts said that Taiwan's Aborigines came from China. Now academics across the globe believe that Taiwan was the origin of the world's far-flung Austronesian peoples.
Taiwanese students had to learn details about the history and geography of their Chinese colonial rulers. The study of Taiwan history was forbidden as the term "history" was appropriated for nations only. Thus, books about Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek (
For example, from 1952 to 1968, no books on Taiwan were published. During 1969 to1987, the number of books on Taiwan published averaged less than 12 per year.
By contrast, after Chiang Ching-kuo died and Lee Teng-hui (
Before 1624, Taiwan's Aborigines never unified and never had a state. After 1624 until 1988, Taiwan's history is a history of six colonial periods under the Dutch, the Spanish, the independent pirate regime of Cheng Cheng-kung (
Now that Taiwanese are free of foreign colonial rule, why should they use a false history to educate their children?
Bruce Jacobs is professor of Asian languages and studies and director of the Taiwan Research Unit at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
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