Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Friday, November 12, 2004

In the Taipei Times today- more on the debate over revising high school history textbooks:

Editorial: Nation's youth need the whole story

Friday, Nov 12, 2004,Page 8

The Ministry of Education's plan to revise high school history textbooks is a pragmatic and long overdue move. While no historical account can be free of some level of subjective interpretation, there is also no denying that the version of so-called "history" that has been taught in Taiwan's textbooks for decades is so notorious for its deviation from a common-sense view of the world that it cannot be explained by subjectivity alone. Therefore, opponents who oppose the ministry's plan are simply exposing their own ideologically-driven narrow-mindedness.

A long-standing problem with Taiwan's textbooks is their departure from the truth. Examples include portraying Chiang Kai-shek (???) 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 (???) 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.

According to the ministry's plan, two separate volumes of high school textbooks will be dedicated to the histories of Taiwan and China. As for the history of the Republic of China, it will be cut into two parts, with its early years covered by the volume on Chinese history and the later years covered in the volume of Taiwan's history. This of course makes sense, because when the Qing Dynasty was overturned and the Republic of China founded in China, Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule. The ROC government did not exercise effective rule over Taiwan until after World War II.

The ministry will also include for the first time in these textbooks the debates over Taiwan's status. In the past, the country's textbooks have cited the Cairo Declaration of 1943 -- which is merely a press communique without any legal force -- as the legal basis for the claim that Taiwan's sovereignty was handed over to the ROC government. At the same time, the textbooks completely and deliberately ignore the existence of the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 and the Sino-Japan Peace Treaty, which shows the contrary. Leaving aside the issue of which view is correct, at the very least, shouldn't the existence of these treaties and the relevant debates be addressed in the textbooks?

After all, the biggest issue that continues to rip apart Taiwan's society is the nation's sovereignty. That's not even to mention the impact this issue has on cross-strait relations -- which poses a real danger to the continuation of Taiwan's way of life -- as well as the country's national identity. Shouldn't our youngsters at least have the benefit of knowing the entire story?

The fundamental problem with the nation's education is that it teaches our youngsters to unconditionally and blindly accept dogmatic views. Under those circumstances, it's no wonder that, according to a survey conducted by a well-known local tabloid newspaper, close to 60 percent of those polled believed that the pre-World War II history of the ROC should be covered as the history of Taiwan. This poll shows exactly where the problem lies.


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