Friday, July 31, 2015

Student history curriculum protester commits suicide

Taiwan was rocked yesterday with the news that a student protester, facing likely prosecution, committed suicide, allegedly after an abusive, pressuring visit from the principal of his school and zero support for his actions from his parents. In traditional style, he killed himself via carbon monoxide poisoning by burning charcoal, a favorite suicide method in Asia since it does not mar the body and is supposed to be painless (2007 post). Just the souls of those who learn of these senseless tragedies.

The dead student had intended his suicide to drive action, and sure enough, protesters reached new heights of fury, and they stormed the MOE last night. Cole writes:
The occupation—one of several direct actions in the past two years—occurs after months of snowballing protests over efforts by the government to make “minor” changes to curriculum guidelines. Critics say the process lacked transparency and that the new Sino-centric content imposed by the guidelines distorts history and whitewashes the authoritarian period in the nation’s history. The dissidents also maintain that members of the 10-person committee in charge of the “minor” adjustments, set up by then-minister of education Chiang Wei-ling in January 2014, are not suited to handle the matter. Chief among them is convener Wang Hsiao-po, a vice chairman of the Alliance for the Reunification of China.
Occupation is probably a good idea for now, but come the fall the students will have to stage walkouts and sit-ins, and teach-ins. Cole points out that this social activist movement, like preceding ones, is not being orchestrated by the DPP. The KMT accuses the DPP of being behind all these movements, a charge that is completely hilarious to anyone who has ever dealt with DPP Administration. It seems sometimes that they can barely orchestrate coffee for the staff, never mind a major social protest. Instead, the students use social media to organize themselves. The LINE messages of the dead student were posted online, in fact, showing not only that he likely meant to make a statement, but that LINE is a major medium for this kind of communication. Back to Cole...
Lin, who had dropped out of a trade school in June, told a TV talk show that school officials visited his home, pressured his parents, and warned him that if he didn’t cease and desist, his criminal record risked compromising his future job prospects. School officials pointed out that Lin had been a troubled student and that the visit to his home had nothing to do with his suicide.
UDN posted a video of a parent trying to take his kid home and being refused (Solidarity with the description). Such scenes were commonplace during the Sunflower movement. The generation of people in their 40s and 50s is timid and fearful, the true Strawberries of Taiwan.

Although the Ministry of Education has said the students are engaged in illegal activities, ironic since back in February the Taipei Court ruled against the changes...
The Taiwan Association for Human Rights challenged the changes in court. Although the Taipei High Administrative Court in February ruled against the ministry’s decision to implement the adjustments, the ministry went ahead with them.
To get the changes in, the Ministry has promised that questions about the material will not be on the exam, and also threatened textbook publishers, implicitly, with revocation of permits if the new material is not included.

The curriculum revisions also take place against other sources of student anger: the revised 12 year curriculum is widely despised by students... (Brookings)
Nine-year compulsory education was implemented in Taiwan in 1968. As society and the economy have changed, a 12-year compulsory curriculum was developed and in 2010 the Ministry of Education announced that its development was completed and ready to implement. In 2011, the “Project of the Implementation of 12-year Basic Education [十二年國民基本教育實施計畫]” was audited and set to commence in 2014 – though as noted above the new curriculum itself is not yet being taught. The new curriculum aims to lead instruction in schools, give directions to students, clarify values, and prescribe certain actions (馮朝霖 et al., 2011). A reform of national curriculum concerns must not only attempt to envision the future, but also involves a dialogue on varieties of educational values and the choices amongst them (范信賢, 2010). In other words, a common understanding among a wide range of stakeholders is necessary.
...and the terrible job market that students are graduating into. The history curriculum with its pro-China changes is an easily identified and obviously abusive "reform", but there's an underlying anger here that student activists could probably find a way to harness.

The KMT of course blamed the DPP for the student's death. *sigh* The KMT news organ reported on Presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu's determination to amend the history curriculum once she is in power:
The controversy surrounding adjustments to the high school history textbook guidelines continues to heat up. Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), Deputy Legislative Speaker and the KMT’s 2016 Presidential candidate, yesterday said on a TVBS political talkshow that if she should be elected President, she would definitely amend the textbook guidelines in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of China.

Hung stressed that when the DPP came to power in 2000, the Chen Shui-bian administration had altered, to a great degree, the history textbook guidelines based on a Taiwan-independence movement perspective, and what the Education Ministry was currently doing was to re-adjust the existing history textbook guidelines to conform to the ROC Constitution.

Hung went on to remind the opposition parties that they should not incite young people to violate the law by breaking into government buildings just because the opposition had obtained political gains from last year’s student movement, during which student protesters broke into the Legislative Yuan compound to occupy the legislative chamber for nearly a month in a show of opposition to the cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement.
One of the little successes of the protesters is to compel Hung to constantly re-affirm her far-right Chineseness in public. This will be important in creating her image among local voters.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Mike Fagan said...

The textbook issue highlights the larger necessity, which is that we must have an end to politically controlled, compulsory education.

les said...

Important to note that the students themselves are not demanding a return to the books in use during the Chen Shui-bian administration. They are simply trying to prevent the new Sino-centric versions being brought in. The current books are the result of revisions during Ma's first term. If DPP were behind the protests, wouldn't they be pushing to have the greener versions back?

Anonymous said...

Supplemental Link to the news item about the minister of eduction (Wu Se-hua; 吳思華) visiting the home of the suicide student Dai Lin and, right afterwards, holding a news conference in front of Lin's home:

1) The news item is in Chinese (Liberty Times)
2) The news item was published at 15:14 (3:14pm) 2015-07-30; Wu held the conference earlier than 3pm. Lin was found dead in the morning on the same day.
3) Wu played a recording to the journalists with Lin's mother stating [not in this news item; but see the second news item, link below] that Lin's death had nothing to do with the curriculum issue, and that she hoped nothing of similar nature happens again.
4) The picture in the news item shows Wu and Lin Shu-Kuei (unrelated to Dai Lin), the principal of the vocational school Dai Lin attended, that two days earlier went to Lin's home to pressure Dai Lin and, particularly, his parents who, after a 15 minute talk with the principal, changed their months-long supporting position to opposing Lin's action and, right there and then, yelled at Lin: "Who do you think you are for going to the protest" [likely, out of fear for their son.]

The Taiwan society, especially the politicians (including DPP and Taipei Times) and the news media, is playing down Dai Lin's death because no one wants to appear to be taking advantage of his death. But, truth should be told, for Dai Lin's sake.

Link to the second news item (in Chinese, Liberty Times), in which his parents are being claimed to deny having receiving any intimidation attempt:

Anonymous said...

>>The textbook issue highlights the larger necessity, which is that we must have an end to politically controlled, compulsory education.

Yes, that's exactly the point of Dai Lin (the student who committed suicide). See the link below to a picture (of Liberty Times) of him holding a placard stating "Eduction is not a political tool" ("教育 不是政治工具"):

Mike Fagan said...

Well yes, but I'm talking about putting an end to the compulsory aspect of education altogether; school attendance should be a voluntary decision made by the parents and students. If the kids are to be educated at home, then there should likewise be no compulsion (i.e. political control) as to the curriculum they are asked to follow, or the exams they may subsequently take.

Granted: reading, writing and arithmetic are basic skills that should be taught because almost everybody will find them useful, but beyond that education is about developing one's interests through learning - and the relevant fact is that the range of subjects which children might take to is far broader and far more interesting than the bog-standard K-12 curriculum. This fact is perhaps even more salient for teenagers at senior high school and young adults entering university.

Modern history in particular, as it is typically taught in schools, is ludicrously narrow consisting almost entirely of the rise and fall of States and the actions of politicians. One of my favourite send-ups of this is to ask Taiwanese (either adults or kids, it doesn't matter) the question: how did Taiwanese people help to save the African elephant? The explanation turns on the fact that the 19th century camphor trade was necessary for the commercial development of celluloid which in turn proved to be a more cost-effective material for the manufacture of a whole range of goods previously made from ivory. The Taiwanese who were employed in skinning the camphor trees were thus unwittingly helping to put the Belgian ivory traders out of business.

But of course, there is little to no commercial history taught in schools and therefore most Taiwanese are amazed by this story. All they learned about at school was the great statue-men of History, like Liu Mingchuan and so on. The names of the great entrepreneurs of the time are all long since forgotten.

Anonymous said...

It seems that, while mourning her son's demise, Dai Lin's mother, Hiddy Chen, had a change of heart and is now back to supporting her son's position.

Today, KMT Chair Eric Chu called for "politicians to have their hands off [the curriculum protest]". At the same time, Dai Lin's mother posted a brief note at her Facebook account to rebut [KMT's claim] that political party [DPP] was supposed to be behind the high school students' action.

News Link:

Anonymous said...

Separately, Dai Lin's mother posted another longer note at her Facebook account, asking forgiveness from her deceased son.

News Link:

In a veiled wording, she implied both that she and her husband had been pressured and that she and her peers (parents of her generation) had been brain-washed by the eduction
they received from KMT when growing up. The following is my unauthorized translation:

Hiddy Chen's, Dai Lin's mother's, Facebook note on Aug 01, 2015:

I am not a good writer and am not able to fully present what a child Dai has been. I am giving it a try here.

Since his younger age, Dai had been very close to me. The one who accepted him the best was [his] Mama.

Dai is special. In grade six, he ranked No. 1 in his class. But, by grade eight, he started questioning the meaning of learning. He often said to me that a particular subject is meaningless and is tossed away once the exam is done, that there is no point of spending time on certain subject, that some of the subjects will never be useful in one's life and that it is a waste of time to study such subjects just for the purpose of passing exams.

What a child God had put in my hand! I wasn't able to help him, nor to force him [to do something that he didn't want.] He was someone who always followed his own will to thrive, to pursue; determined to accomplish his mission to the highest goal he envisioned. It's not possible to apply the traditional parenting method to persuade or teach him, but we have a very traditional family; that resulted in a lot of conflicts [with family members.]

He was never able to obey and follow our wish for him to just behave himself as told and to just stick to school works for a good school mark; in exactly the manner of our desire, it means, as Kuai* (乖) as possible. School lectures were boring to him, he didn't force himself [to bear with the boredom] and simply looked elsewhere for things to read and learn for himself.

[*Kuai (乖) = in a manner wished and desired by parents and authority. The term
is best left untranslated. When a child is Kuai, his/her wishes and nature are
unimportant and suppressed to satisfy the adults.]

I believe that it frustrated him and gave him a lot of internal conflicts for not being able to satisfy our traditional demands. He always felt guilty and constantly uneasy for not curbing himself enough to satisfy our wishes. He used to say that he was intelligent and his IQ was 142. But we, the parents, always misunderstood him and mistook him for applying his intelligence to the wrong place.

Only now have I learned to understand that he did apply [his intelligence] to the right place, to seek his own way, to allow himself to shine. He insisted on doing the right thing to allow the issue to be taken seriously. This time [on the curriculum issue], [his] Papa and I have learned to see that so many good friends of his are willing to continue his efforts to reach his goal. It has been beyond our imagination, beyond everyone's imagination. I am overwhelmed by surprises that he has ignited and tuned up the public discourse.

He was not a child who can be swayed by any political party [Translator's Note: implying
that KMT's accusation of DPP manipulating him is false.] He was absolutely not naive, he was true to his own will and he had followers.

Dai, please forgive Mama! I misunderstood you. I allowed it to happen that so much pressure was put on you, that a treasure [like you] be treated like a fool. Only now do I understand your persistence and activist energy for your chosen ideal.

Sick [was not you, but] is this society, [sick] are the adults, [sick] are those like me, the [KMT-] brain-washed parents. You are the Little Prince with pure, idealistic thoughts. You've accomplished your mission [now]. [And, now] let the public discourse boil and let us, the [KMT-] brain-washed adults, reflect and find our own soul from fresh.

---End of translation---