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Taiwan's epic legacy undercut by history textbook censors

Publication Date : 31-01-2014

 

Censorship of history textbooks has existed everywhere. Even in the United States, where the First Amendment was added to the Constitution to protect freedom of speech, school textbooks were censored as late as in 1983. Any mention of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was deleted from a textbook in Texas simply because its school board and community members viewed the Roosevelt administration as socialistic and disagreed with his economic decisions.

Closer to home, Frank Hsieh who ran unsuccessfully against Ma Ying-jeou in the 2008 presidential election, proposed a resolution at a Democratic Progressive Party's Central Standing Committee meeting to have a recent change by the history textbook review committee of the Ministry of Education nullified. The passage in the textbook offensive to Hsieh reads: “After the government (of the Republic of China) was removed to Taiwan, the sovereignty of our country is still extended over the whole of China.” He wants to have it rewritten as “After the Kuomintang removed the government to Taiwan, the government still claims that the sovereignty extends to the whole of China, and there have since been disputes among political parties, while most of the people (of Taiwan) disagree (with that claim).”

The textbook review committee has made a few other changes opposition party politicians want to rewrite. Legislator Cheng Li-chun objected to the phrase “the rule by the House of Cheng (Koxinga)” and wanted it changed to “the fall of the House of Cheng” -- the reason being accentuation of Taiwan under Chinese rule for 20 years in the 17th century. She opposed the “retrocession of Taiwan” and “the removal of the government to Taiwan (in 1949),” because she believes those words are denigrating the dignity of Taiwan identity. Moreover, she insists that the substitution of “China” with “the Chinese Mainland” in the textbooks is a switch of the Taiwanese view of history to that of Greater China's and the replacement of the Qing Dynasty with the Qing Court is simply emphasising Taiwan's subordinate relationship as a local government to the imperial court in Beijing.

Although censorship per se is outlawed in the constitution, history textbooks for primary and secondary schools are censored in every country, because they are the most important tools of historical popularisation that has a wide reach and a potentially big impact on the younger generation. Censors see them as vital channels for disseminating either approved and official or dissident and unorthodox views of history.

Authors of history textbooks experience a unique paradox: on the one hand, they are relatively free to express opinions as they seldom ever depend on their authorship as a source of income; on the other hand, by no means do they dare the professional historian's academic freedom, as they must work under pressure from political and educational authorities. As a result, those authorities during the Democratic Progressive Party's rule succeeded in changing the previous view of history by censorship and has tried to reassert its pro-Taiwan independence view of history after the change of government in 2008. If the opposition party claws back to power in 2016, it can and will reinstall its wonted view of history.

In that sense, textbook writers haven't done justice to Taiwan's war of independence of 1895, nor have their censors tried to make it up. They treated it as the “Battles of Yi-Wei”, the year Yi-Wei corresponding to 1895. In that year, Taiwan was ceded to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, and declared independence as Asia's first republic before the Japanese occupation army landed to take it over. Though the Republic of Taiwan wasn't recognised by any country of the world and existed for only 12 days before its president quit and was forced to flee to China, no less than 150,000 men fought the war, which they knew they could never win, in order just to keep their newly founded country free. History should record this epic story of the people of Taiwan.

 

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