The recent debate about the “minor adjustments” to the senior-high school history curriculum outline seems to have rejuvenated the debate over history as an interpretation based on political ideology instead of an interpretation based on facts.
Just what has been changed in the curriculum outline and why has it been criticized for containing elements of “de-Taiwanization?” I asked a couple of students about the difference between “China” and “mainland China,” and they were hard-pressed to come up with an explanation.
After the Ministry of Education allowed publishers to print their own textbooks for use in schools across Taiwan, the curriculum outline was made the foundation on which textbooks are compiled. In addition, changes are made to textbooks as the political situation changes and history is the prime example of this phenomenon.
The changes dealing with the period when Taiwan was under Japanese rule until the arrival of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) troops from China have sparked the most controversy. For this topic, about 40 percent of the curriculum outline was changed. With a closer look at the changes, it is hard to tell whether they were made for ideological reasons or to bring the curriculum more in line with what actually happened. It seems each side has its own ideological interpretation, making it difficult to find a common thread.
Let us look at the change from “the period of Japanese rule” to “the period of Japanese colonial rule.” The addition of “colonial” has resulted in endless conflict. Those supporting the idea that Taiwan was ruled by Japan firmly oppose the use of the word “colonial” and the use of the term “retrocession” (Taiwan’s return to China), while those who believe that Taiwan was ruled by the Japanese, a foreign people, believe the word “colonial” should be used to reflect this part of history.
When we view the ideological battle between the pro-unification and the pro-independence factions in terms of what this means for education, it is clear that each side believes it is correct.
After Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) became president, the issue of Taiwan’s undetermined status became intertwined with Taiwan’s history. For almost two centuries, Taiwan has been under the rule of the different political systems of the Dutch; Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功), also known as Koxinga; China’s Qing Dynasty; Japan and the Republic of China (ROC). The result is that the Taiwanese have never had a clear sense of belonging.
In addition, immigrants during different periods have identified in different ways with the various political systems in place at the time due to different ideological outlooks and this has resulted in long periods of absurd internal conflict which have wasted too much energy that could have otherwise been used to forge domestic cohesion.
Luckily, for quite a while, the ROC government and Taiwan have been two sides of the same coin. This is something the public views as the normal state of affairs, and there is no longer any real interest in the issues of independence and unification. It is only the politicians who still like to leverage these issues for manipulative purposes.
How should we go about interpreting Taiwan’s modern history? The minor adjustments to the high-school curriculum outline should be viewed as the start of a dialogue instead of the end of it. Hopefully the nation will be able to focus on historical interpretation and train our children that they have a right to be critical of historical events.
Taiwan must not end up in a situation where our children must choose between independence and unification.
Lu Chien-chi is director of the philosophy department at Huafan University.
Translated by Drew Cameron
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