Changes to Taiwan's History Textbooks Spark Storm of Student-Led Protest


2015.08.03
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china-taiwantextbooks-aug32015.jpeg Taiwan citizens protest changes favoring China in history textbooks, Aug. 2, 2015.
RFA

Taiwan government officials on Monday rejected student objections to controversial changes to the island's textbooks following days of protests and a suspected suicide, amid accusations that the ruling Kuomintang nationalist party is cozying up to Beijing.

Talks between student protesters and education officials broke down after the island's education minister Wu Se-hwa refused to retract the controversial changes, which critics say are "China-centric" and deny the island its own perspective.

The meeting came after student protesters stormed the ministry compound in the early hours of Friday morning after student protester Lin Kuan-hua committed suicide, and some continued to occupy the area outside the ministry on Monday.

Lin was among a group of 30 students arrested last month for breaking into the ministry in anger at the changes to the curriculum.

Students slammed Wu's perceived intransigence over the textbook changes, which critics say were made behind closed doors and with no public consultation, while the government has said teachers may opt to use older editions in class.

"We came here today with the intention to compromise, because we are tired," activist Chen Chien-hsun told reporters after the talks broke down. "But the needle didn't move at all."

Wu claimed the changes are widely supported by at least 50 percent of Taiwan residents.

"When they saw the changes, they thought they were right, so I think we need to face that fact courageously here today," he said.

"Some people support them, while others oppose them. Perhaps we should find a resolution between them," he said.

Governed separately

Taiwan has been governed separately from mainland China throughout the Japanese occupation (1895-1945), and since the KMT nationalist regime fled to the island after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland in 1949.

Many of the democratic island's 23 million residents identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and there is broad political support for de facto self-rule, if not formal independence.

Beijing, which sees the island as a renegade province awaiting reunification, has threatened to use military force, should Taiwan seek independent statehood, however.

The newly edited texts refer to Taiwan being "recovered by China" at the end of half a century of Japanese rule in 1945, while the old edition said the island was "given to China," a narrative which sits more comfortably with Taiwanese pro-independence thinking.

The recently edited textbooks have also been changed to refer to the Japanese as "occupying" rather than "governing" Taiwan.

"It's not just the fact that they have done this behind closed doors; what's harder to accept is their historical deconstruction project," Ping told RFA in a recent interview.

"Little by little, they are seeking to wash away the vivid impressions of the past."

Reduced to 'a monotone'

Ping accused the government of reducing the imaginations and creativity of students to a monotone, erasing complex differences between Taiwan and mainland China in the service of "a lofty ideal of greater China."

"We didn't fight such a long war, so many battles, just to have all of our houses painted the same color, blue," he said in a reference to the KMT's political colors.

Fung Lan-hsuan, executive director of the Humanistic Education Foundation, said that many students, writers, and citizens have signed a declaration opposing the move, saying it harks back to the era of one-party rule by the KMT, which ended in 2000.

"They want to bring back the martial law mentality all over again," Fung said.

"If we allow this sneaky political interference in education by those in power in the name of fine-tuning, then what won't they dare to do further down the line?"

Students remained outside the ministry in tents on Monday in a protest that comes just over a year after KMT President Ma Ying-jeou's proposed trade deal with Beijing sparked the student-led "Sunflower Movement" that occupied the island's parliament.

Nearly 1,000 gathered to commemorate Lin on Sunday, singing a popular power ballad by Hong Kong rockers Beyond, which contains a line about "never giving up a love of freedom," and which became an anthem of the Occupy Central movement for universal suffrage in the former British colony.

Many in Taiwan fear growing Chinese influence over the island's political life under Ma's administration, which ends with next year's presidential elections.

Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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