Prob­lems in Par­adise

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of th­ese ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Dur­ing the regime of Chi­ang Kai-shek, the leader of the Repub­lic of China from 1928 to his death in 1975, na­tional his­tory in school text­books dealt with the glo­ries of China's past; Taiwan was merely a tem­po­rary refuge for Chi­ang's Chi­nese Na­tion­al­ists af­ter be­ing de­posed by Mao's Com­mu­nists and driven off the main­land. Mao, by the way, died just a year af­ter his archri­val Chi­ang.

In 1997, the Lee ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tro­duced a ‘sup­ple­men­tary' three-vol­ume text named 'Get­ting to know Taiwan' that pre­sented a re­vised view of the na­tion's his­tory, ge­og­ra­phy, and so­ci­ety. Many hailed it as a wa­ter­shed mo­ment, but Chi­ang's Kuom­intang (KMT) party viewed it as an apos­tasy partly due to the in­clu­sions of pre­vi­ously never men­tioned events such as the Fe­bru­ary 1947 mas­sacre of Tai­wanese in­tel­lec­tu­als by KMT sol­diers, the en­su­ing pe­riod of White Ter­ror, and the idea that the Ja­panese colo­nial pe­riod brought eco­nomic and so­cial ben­e­fits to Taiwan. Taiwan was por­trayed as sep­a­rate from China, a so­ci­ety of multi-eth­nic Han peo­ple and a home­land of non-Han abo­rig­i­nal tribes.

This ‘Tai­wani­sa­tion' of his­tory con­tin­ued un­der Chen Shui-bian, the first pres­i­dent from the op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party. Lee's ‘sup­ple­men­tary' lessons were in­te­grated into of­fi­cial text­books. In 2007, adding in­sult to in­jury, the his­to­ries of China and Taiwan were pub­lished in sep­a­rate vol­umes.

In 2014, un­der the KMT's Ma, who vis­ited Saint Lu­cia dur­ing the days of the An­thony ad­min­is­tra­tion, text­books were again ‘fine­tuned', a process that crit­ics saw as a Chi­na­cen­tric re­vi­sion of Taiwan's his­tory. Neg­a­tive con­tent on the KMT's early days in Taiwan was di­luted; pos­i­tive as­pects of a half cen­tury of Ja­panese colo­nial rule dis­ap­peared; Taiwan's role dur­ing early Chi­nese dy­nas­ties was high­lighted, bol­ster­ing, some be­lieve, China's claim of sovereignty over the is­land.

The Taipei Times, an English-lan­guage news­pa­per gen­er­ally sym­pa­thetic to the op­po­si­tion DPP party, was highly crit­i­cal of Ma's ‘fine-tun­ing'. Sev­eral city and county gov­ern­ments an­nounced plans to boy­cott Ma's re­vised cur­ricu­lum. Protests spread to other poli­cies, such as the lack of trans­parency of the Ma ad­min­is­tra­tion's han­dling of the Cross Strait Ser­vices Trade Agree­ment.

The min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion, Wu Se­hwa, an en­gi­neer by train­ing and a for­mer pro­fes­sor of busi­ness man­age­ment, with whom I had din­ner dur­ing his visit to Saint Lu­cia when Tom was am­bas­sador, was bom­barded by co­or­di­nated na­tion­wide protests against the re­vi­sions to text­books im­ple­mented by a se­cret panel hand­picked by Pres­i­dent Ma that, op­po­nents said, de­val­ued Taiwan's na­tional iden­tity.

Stu­dents briefly oc­cu­pied Wu's of­fice; thirty-three were ar­rested in­clud­ing three jour­nal­ists. One of the ar­rested, a spokesper­son for the North­ern Taiwan An­tiCur­ricu­lum Changes Al­liance, com­mit­ted sui­cide a week later, be­com­ing a mar­tyr for the move­ment. Stu­dents threw quilted blan­kets over the ra­zor wire that topped the riot bar­ri­cades and stormed into the min­istry court­yard. Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, a po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dent, or­dered the po­lice to stand down and no fur­ther ar­rests were made.

Ma's op­po­nents fully ex­pected his ed­u­ca­tion re­forms to have a pro-uni­fi­ca­tion slant to­ward China. The sit­u­a­tion was ag­gra­vated by Main­land China's Taiwan Af­fairs Of­fice ex­press­ing its de­light with Ma's text­book re­vi­sions and declar­ing, “If writ­ten from the per­spec­tive of Taiwan in­de­pen­dence, his­tory text­books will mis­lead our Taiwan com­pa­tri­ots.”

It is ironic that au­thor­i­ties in Main­land China found fit to crit­i­cize the Tai­wanese stu­dents' use of their demo­cratic rights. It was, af­ter all, the Main­land Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties that or­dered the mil­i­tary to mow down stu­dent pro­test­ers in Tianan­men Square in Bei­jing in 1989 killing hun­dreds, per­haps thou­sands, of civil­ians, and putting into ques­tion the le­git­i­macy of the regime of China's Com­mu­nist Party.

Ed­u­ca­tion re­form in any coun­try is not easily achieved. How, for ex­am­ple, will par­ents, stu­dents and pupils ever be able to re­lease the stran­gle­hold that the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has on ex­pen­sive text­books and other sources of in­for­ma­tion in this coun­try? Through the bal­lot box? I doubt it. De­spite sev­eral changes in govern­ment in the past forty years or so, our chil­dren still get to use books and learn­ing ma­te­ri­als dic­tated by just a few peo­ple de­ter­mined by the min­istry. You see, min­is­ters come and min­is­ters go, but the Min­istry re­mains – and therein lies the prob­lem. In this age of al­most uni­ver­sal ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion via the In­ter­net, it is ridicu­lous that the Min­istry con­tin­ues to stip­u­late which books pro­duced by which pub­lish­ers have to be bought for megabucks by par­ents strug­gling to make ends meet.

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