Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Taiwan Textbook Changes

Reuters reports that new high school textbooks further weaken the idea that Taiwan belongs to China:

'There were some phrases that have been found objectionable and we wanted to make them more neutral,' said Lan Shun-teh, director-general of the National Institute of Compilation and Translation, which publishes texts for the government.

Other changes included substituting 'China' for 'my country', 'this country' or 'the mainland'.

Taiwan citizens and political groups remain divided on the island's identity, with some considering it a nation and others pushing for its reunification with China once it embraces democracy.

Xu Shiquan, vice president of the National Society of Taiwan Studies in Beijing, described the latest revisions as 'part of Taiwan's move to erase China, to separate sovereignty'.

'But to do that is not useful,' he said. 'History isn't something you can change.'

A spokesman for Taiwan's People First Party, a minor party known for its close China ties, called for the education minister to resign because of the textbook changes.

This is part of a continuing wave of pro-Taiwan educational changes that began back in the 1990s with the introduction of Taiwan-focused junior high history texts. In 1997 the Ministry of Education published the Getting to Know Taiwan textbook series, which set the stage for further evolution.

These changes are long overdue. The Taipei Times editorialized two years ago:

A long-standing problem with Taiwan's textbooks is their departure from the truth. Examples include portraying Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) as a type of saint when he is generally perceived as an authoritarian dictator and warlord by world historians, and the inclusion of Mongolia as part of the Republic of China's (ROC) territory when the rest of the world has long recognized it as an independent country. Countless other examples exist that highlight the severity of the problem.

Even more troublesome is that the history of Taiwan is typically addressed by a few short paragraphs in these textbooks, while almost all of so-called "national history" is dedicated to chapters of Chinese history. These range from childhood stories about people such as Chiang and Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) that are no more real than fairy tales, to the magnificence of the Great Wall. Leaving aside whether there is any point at all in being familiar with some of these events -- whether as national history or as foreign or Chinese history -- such textbooks clearly do not help people identify with the land and society in which they live.

The new textbooks will also include information on the debate over the sovereignty of Taiwan, according to previous plans.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Chen, Ma, the Taiwan Identity, and 2008

Last week Feiren observed that Chen Shui-bian was once called a moderate and a pragmatist and now is often dismissed as a radical...

One interpretation of course is that Su is simply throwing symbolic red meat to deep green supporters and that he will morph into a pragmatist if he becomes president. Very similar things were once said about Chen Shui-bian, who was once believed to represent a moderate brand of DPP reformism. I suspect Su will turn out to be much the same.

In fact, Chen was aided early in his career by reformist elements in the KMT. The idea that Chen is a 'radical' is strictly nonsense -- his use of the independence appeal is pragmatic, since appeals to identity are now the key to getting out the vote in a nation where two center-right nationalist parties compete for the vote. It is 'radical' only in the context of the 1000 Chinese missiles now pointed at Taiwan, and only in a context where talking about independence is radical but pointing missiles is statesmenlike.

Two contrasting articles presented different sides to this issue today. First, the Taiwan News described Chen's interview on CNN:

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said in an interview on CNN aired yesterday that only candidates who insist on Taiwan identity have a chance of winning the 2008 presidential election because by that time, a majority of the people will identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than as Chinese.

In an interview on CNN's "Talk Asia," Chen argued that more than 60 percent of Taiwan's people will identify themselves as "Taiwanese" by the next presidential election, meaning that only the candidate upholding Taiwan identity will be able to garner a majority of the votes.

Chen based his argument on his performance in the 2004 election, when he received 1.5 million more votes than four years earlier as more people thought of themselves as Taiwanese.

As head of state, Chen said it is his main responsibility to continue the pursuit of Taiwan-centric consciousness and noted much remained to be done in this area. He noted that in 2000, 36 percent of people branded themselves Taiwanese and the figure jumped to 60 percent at the end of last year.

"I hope by the time I finish my term of office, this number will increase to 70 percent or even 75 percent," Chen said.

I've blogged many other times on this peculiar structural feature of Taiwan's politics. No one in Taiwan wants to be part of China, so the DPP candidate has an advantage in national level elections for the Presidency. Since the KMT is the wealthier party with longstanding connections at the local level, it has the advantage in local elections. Thus the particular paradox of Taiwan where the pro-China party is highly localized and the pro-Taiwan party has a relatively weaker local presence. President Chen is flinging down the gauntlet to the KMT, which, in the person of KMT Chairman Ma, reiterated its pro-China stance yesterday:

Taiwanese independence is not an option for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday, almost a year after running an ad in a local newspaper saying that he recognized independence as an option for the people of Taiwan.

Although Ma has said that the KMT's policy has not changed -- that is, seeking to maintain the status quo -- confusion over Ma's inconsistent stance prompted some KMT grassroots members to ask questions during Ma's visit to Taichung yesterday on the party's policy toward China.

"The KMT will not advocate Taiwan's independence ? it will only bring disturbance and agitation to the country if we declare independence," Ma said in response to the questions, adding that the nation has to take into account US and Japanese concerns involving these issues.

Ma's lack of a clear discourse on cross-strait issues had given rise to confusion among some KMT members over party policy.

During an interview with Newsweek International in December 2005, Ma said that unification with China was the party's ultimate goal. The KMT then ran an advertisement last February in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister paper) which said that Ma recognized that "independence is an option for the Taiwanese people."

That rhetoric caused widespread criticism from within the party at the time, including former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), who complained that Ma had not consulted him before making the statement.

The fact is that the DPP now has a bevy of politicians who are national figures, including Frank Hsieh, Premier Su, Vice President Lu, and several others. The KMT has no similar stable of widely popular candidates, save for Party Chairman Ma, who has taken quite a few hits lately. Ma has now declared that he is not going to move toward the middle on the most crucial question of all, independence, and thus, that the KMT will probably not defeat the DPP candidate in '08. That is why the current strategy of the KMT is to eviscerate the Presidency by removing as many of its powers as it can, and centralizing authority in the legislature, which the KMT will quite likely continue to control. This strategy implicitly concedes that KMT is not the frontrunner in the coming Presidential election.

Daily Links...Jan 28...er....29th, 2007.

I am overseas at the moment. Hopefully I can explain why later this week -- it is quite an interesting tale of Taiwan....

  • At Taiwan Matters! madddog discusses the abusive behavior of Chinese, whose intolerance for Taiwan's freedom and independence is mind-boggling. This time the victim was Minister of Education Tu, making a speech in London. Tu gave'em hell; good for him (Taipei Times report). Blogger Fili also mused on this event, and remarked on similarities with the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

  • Doubting to Shuo wonders: does being able to write Chinese really matter?

  • David on Formosa describes recent work to expand the Taipei MRT. Meanwhile in Taichung we're still asking: "what's an MRT?"

  • Prince Roy steps into the simplified vs. traditional debate.

  • Patrick is now Mr. Foreigner.

  • Hanjie reports a vandalism incident to the police. Note the reciept, issued because for so many years the police "ate" cases rather than acting on them.

  • SPECIAL: Taipei Times has article on local blogs and websites by features writer Ron Brownlow.

    Saturday, January 27, 2007

    Taiwan blogger Portnoy with new English Blog

    Want a glimpse of the enormous Taiwanese blogosphere? Taiwan blogger Portnoy, a local grad student, has an English language blog, Portnoy in Between, that provides translations and commentary on events you may not have heard of, with the appropriate links. A sample:

    At the same time, oikos is worrying about the importance of those unreported news (zh), such as Taiwan’s aborigine students’ preferential service, dioxin found in mutton in Taipei county without knowing the source…..he asks:”These issues are also concerned by many people, and are closely related to people’s life, but why they can never be seen in the news?”

    And finally, Tenz points out (zh)how TV news exaggerated the number of people rallying on Avenue Ketagalan with two snapshot from one TV news channel in 7 seconds.

    Why didn't you send me a link, Portnoy!?

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    Taipei and Keelung Pics

    Went up to Taipei and Keelung this week Walked all over. Brought back some pics. Enjoy.

    Taipei is quiet in the early morning.

    The Lotus Building. One of my favorite buildings in the city. Although you can't tell from the pic, those pillars are covered with tile. Built in the heyday of Urinthian architecture.

    Policemen control traffic on a busy morning.

    When I get my Nikon D80, I'm going to do a coffee table book about Taipei's alleys.

    Pedal to the metal.

    Wen Chang Furniture Street.

    Marketing dried persimmons

    Tuning the piano at the Howard Plaza Hotel

    Getting a ticket

    Artland Book Shop, on Ren Ai Rd next to the high-walled white building where the plainclothesmen standing out front will tell you that the Vice President doesn't reside.

    The Palace, one of the island's swankest addresses.

    What were they protesting?

    Apparently, the NCC.

    A wall.....

    ...where landscape scenes and sayings alternate.

    Taking scooters that parked in the handicapped scooter spot.

    Fat birds.

    This part of Taipei, the older section south of the train station, has numerous streets devoted to single retailing industries. Here you will find both the camera area and the section that sells suits.

    Camera street, across from the main post office.

    The old north gate.

    When I came to Taipei, this was a decrepit area full of old buildings...

    I photo'd them....

    ..and they got me.

    I can never get over the sheer volume of traffic in Taipei.

    The glizty shopping area southwest of the train station.

    You know a place is rich when it has a whole store devoted solely to candied apples.

    What was he shooting?

    I had started in the Hsinyi district and walked across town to the train station, then as dusk approached I walked back across Taipei to meet Prince Roy and Poagao.

    Best Love Hotel: you should always strive to be the best at whatever you are...

    Shops along Chunghsiao E. Rd.

    Rush hour traffic...

    A popular Taipei eatery.

    Alas, Taste of Harbin was closed, so we ate at the Thai-Myanmar place down the road from Capones.

    Then we walked over to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial. The memorial is currently hosting an exhibition of religious art.

    From there I went out to the port of Keelung.

    Here's a shot up the road to the tunnels leading to the highway out of Keelung.

    Ships in port

    Keelung's one night market is always hoppin'....

    ...but this nightlife area didn't seem to be.

    Entering the night market.

    Delicious food from the subcontinent. Warning: some adjustment to local taste buds.

    It's a good thing waiting cars don't block the lane, eh?

    Night in the music pub.

    Two fixtures of every bar in the world: the frazzled, omnicompetent bartender, and the guy passed out at the bar.

    Have a good weekend!