Monday, July 23, 2007

Rectifying the Textbooks

Annie Huang of the AP reports on the changes in the school textbooks here. The Ministry of Education is reforming the textbooks to eliminate the problem of Chinese colonialism that continues to define so much of historical and social education here.

The announcement is the latest in a series of moves by the island in the past few months to assert its sovereignty as President Chen Shui-bian's final term in office winds down. China claims Taiwan as its own and has repeatedly threatened to attack should the island formalize its de facto independence. Beijing opposes anything that appears to give Taiwan the trappings of sovereignty.

Pan Wen-chung, an Education Ministry official, said authorities are considering dropping about 5,000 "inappropriate" references in Taiwanese textbooks to help "clear up confusion" about the island's identity.

Pan did not elaborate on the proposed changes. However, local media said the revisions would include changing "national opera" to "Chinese opera," "the Ming Dynasty" to "China's Ming Dynasty," and "this nation's historical figures" to "China's historical figures."

The textbook changes are in line with the current thinking of Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which favors Taiwanese independence and opposes identification with China, from which the island split amid civil war in 1949.

The pro-DPP Liberty Times newspaper praised the textbook initiative, saying it fit with Taiwan's effective status as an independent state.

"China is my country? And Taiwan is located off my country's southeastern coast?" it asks mockingly. "All those descriptions are obviously contrary to the facts, belittling ourselves and confusing the national identity. Yet they have long been everywhere in our textbooks."

Hilariously, the KMT argues that the DPP is engaging in "thought control." As if the current textbooks aren't engagements in "thought control."

The DPP is "seeking to impose thought control ... and distort the base of our national and cultural development," said Nationalist presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou.

Of course, no reference to name rectification -- perfectly normal in post-colonial environments -- is complete with the standard noise that it "angers China."

The move could also provoke a harsh reaction in China, which has long been sensitive to its neighbors making changes to their history textbooks. Massive protests erupted two years ago after Japan approved a new textbook that critics say whitewashes the country's wartime atrocities.

How many times have we seen the phrase "could provoke a harsh reaction from China?" A million. How many harsh reactions have we seen? That would be.....zero.

Finally, the writer gets around to explaining what the problem is:

Taiwan's school textbooks have traditionally given heavy weight to China's 5,000 years of history and works of ancient Chinese poets and philosophers, leaving little space for Taiwan's own history. The current textbooks date back to the early 1950s, after Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist forces fled the Chinese Communists' takeover of the mainland.

Oh yeah. The textbooks are totally unsuitable for a modern democratic society based in Taiwan. ESWN has a list of some of the changes culled from the local papers:

中法戰爭 Sino-Franco war -> the war between the Qing dynasty and France
日本佔據台灣 Japan occupied Taiwan -> 日本管治台灣 Japan administered Taiwan
Calendar references during Japanese rule used to be in terms of Qing Dynasty or Republic of China calendar, but they will now have to changed to either Showa (Japan) or western calendar (for example, the 20th year of the Republic of China must now be either the 5th year of Showa (Japan) or 1932).
中外遊客 tourists from inside and outside China -> 國內外遊客 tourists from inside and outside the country
國畫 national painting -> 中國山水畫 Chinese landscape painting
京劇 Beijing opera -> 中國京劇 Chinese Beijing opera
國字 national writing character -> 中國文字 Chinese writing characters
國曆 national calendar -> 陽曆 solar calendar
歷史上 in history -> 中國歷史上 in Chinese history
古人 ancient people -> 中國古人 Chinese ancient people
古代 ancient times -> 中國古代 Chinese ancient times

Those like Ma Ying-jeou who were not born in Taiwan will be hereafter referred to as 新住民 "new residents" or 中國各省隨中華民國政府遷台人士 "those people from various Chinese provinces who moved to Taiwan along with the Republic of China government."

國父孫中山先生 nation's founder Mr. Sun Yat-sen -> 孫中山先生 Mr. Sun Yat-sen
台灣地區 Taiwan area-> 台灣 Taiwan
海峽兩岸 the sides of the strait -> 兩國 the two countries
我國 our country -> 中國 China; if for example the reference is to Chinese history, culture or language (e.g. 王羲之是我國著名的書法家 Wang Xizhi is a famous calligrapher of our country -> 王羲之是中國著名的書法家 Wang Xizhi is a famous calligrapher of China)
中國 China -> 我國 our country; if, for example, the reference is to Taiwan history, culture or language
鄭成功從荷蘭人手中收復台灣,所以後人尊其為民族英雄 Kuxinga recovered Taiwan from the Dutch and therefore people honored him as a national hero afterwards -> 收復recovered and 民族英雄 national hero are controversial value judgments.

Most of the changes are reasonable and in line with changes made in places like India after the Raj, or Kenya after colonialism, or in Eastern Europe after the Russians left. Such change is normal in all other places after authoritarian and colonial regimes vanish into history and a people establishes themselves in their own land. Only here, where the former colonial party remains and seek to annex the island to the place they came from, is this viewed as strange.

The recent moves may also be viewed as another kind of statement, in addition to: "Taiwan is a nation." They also announce that the DPP is increasingly confident it will retain the Presidency in '08. An article by Max Hirsch of the Taipei Times noted last week that although the KMT remains many times richer than the DPP, the DPP has raked in more cash in the last two years. Maybe it is an anomaly, or maybe the smart money knows something....



1 comment:

Wulingren said...

There was an excellent exhibit at the Democracy Memorial Hall on the last 50 years of textbooks in Taiwan, from the Japanese administrative period up to the present. My only complaint was that there was no description or translations/summaries of passages in English or in any other language other than Chinese. To me, that was a missed opportunity, one that allowed a tour guide to lead his American group through without any explanation: "Nothing to see here."
Generation Why on Radio Taiwan International describes the exhibit well. Just click on the blue icon to the right of Monday under listen. It comes right after the intro music. Hope the link works.