Update to 玉山 vs. 喜馬拉雅山 in high school history curriculum change

After the issue about whether “our nation’s” (Taiwan’s) highest peak was 玉山 or 喜馬拉雅山 in the high school history curriculum, the National Academy for Education Research (part of the Ministry of Education) distributed a press release, clarifying the roles 玉山 and 喜馬拉雅山 have in the curriculum. In the junior high school sociology curriculum, 玉山 is mentioned as Taiwan’s highest peak, while 喜馬拉雅山 is mentioned as the world’s highest peak. In the high school geography curriculum, 玉山 is mentioned as East Asia’s highest peak. (Although it is true that the word 臺灣 Taiwan is used, not 我國 our nation.) The press release also said that the claim made by a high school teacher that the high school curriculum changes included making Taiwan’s highest peak 喜馬拉雅山, not 玉山, was unsubstantiated. In the same news article, activists against the curriculum changes wonders why the MoE was quick to respond to the 玉山 vs. 喜馬拉雅山 issue, when the MoE did not respond to 20 out of 31 questions posed to them during the seminar held at 臺中一中 on June 9th.

Taiwanese students and activists protest against high school history curriculum changes

The ongoing fight against high school history curriculum changes began last year. The changes basically changes the narrative on Taiwanese history – diminishing or using biased opinion as truth about 戒嚴時期 (Martial Law era) and 白色恐怖 (White Terror). Early on, the primary activists were educators, academics, and civic groups. However, starting last month, high-school groups started showing up online, declaring their school, and that they were students against the black-box curriculum change. More recently, civic groups have said that if the changes are going to be implemented and not revoked, they will take to the streets in July.

I was really glad when I saw that students were standing up for themselves. Too many times in Taiwan, students are told to just study and not care about social or political issues. But as we’ve seen from social movements in the past, this is a generation of high school students so much more aware of the history of Taiwan, and of the social issues that are still being fought. This is a new generation of students, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, who have seen a fully democratic Taiwan, and know our current open society as a given. I’m glad they are not taking it for granted!

I would like to think that these students are influenced by parents who themselves are more open to discussing our past and the truth in history, away from required reading in school. A rough estimate would be that the parents were born in the 1960s and 1970s, and experienced part of the Martial Law era, but also experienced loosened restrictions as high school and college students.

The fact that these high schools students are standing up for their rights is even more of an argument that the voting age needs to be lowered to 18. These students have educated themselves on how it will influence their education. They are fighting against the brainwashing that prior generations were subjected to as part of the national education curriculum. Perhaps this is the reason some politicians are against lowering the voting age – they are afraid of the opinions of these students.

On a more personal note, the latest news that the curriculum change included making Taiwan’s highest peak 喜馬拉雅山 (The Himalayas), not 玉山 (Jade Mountain) brought out a really adverse reaction. When I was in elementary school, I had to learn a song called 中華民國頌 (Ode to the Republic of China). It was basically in line with the history curriculum at the time: all about China. It described grasslands, the Yellow River, the Yangtze River, and, yes, the The Himalayas. I don’t remember how often I heard or sang the song, but it’s so embedded in my memory that now when I see the words 喜馬拉雅山, I remember the melody and rhythm of the song. Talk about brainwashing!

That was what life was like then. I memorized the geography of China, the history of China, and the biased view of a glorious ROC. It wasn’t until later that I learned about the atrocities of the ROC government, the fear during White Terror, and the suppression of rights during Martial Law. None of this was in my textbooks. Adults, most likely from their own experience of living through all of it, never mentioned history or politics. I have been playing catch up to learn about the geography and true history of Taiwan. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to make it up completely, but I’ll try. This is not just my story. This is the story of generations of Taiwanese who were denied the right to learn from an unbiased curriculum.

The current curriculum does cover Taiwanese geography and a more comprehensive view of Taiwanese history. Languages that were once banned in school are now being taught. The approved changes to the history curriculum turns back the clock on Taiwan’s education system and sovereignty. Everyone should be concerned about it. We already know what happened in the past and how it influenced generations of Taiwanese. As we grapple with our past, we need to make sure future generations are not subjected to the same influences.

“Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters” Kickstarter


For those who are interested, there are less than three days left to pledge!

Originally posted on 來學正體字 | Learn Traditional Chinese Characters:

The Kickstarter deadline for Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters by Outlier Linguistic Solutions 久茂語林 is only a few days away! The dictionary aims to explain characters based on the latest research and academic knowledge of the Chinese language. It looks like a great project and is something to consider investing in. The dictionary looks suitable for everyone interested in the Chinese language.

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Have you watched 臺灣吧 – 動畫臺灣史?

臺灣吧 (Taiwan Bar) just ended an eight episode 動畫臺灣史 Taiwanese History Series. I also just realized I never introduced it here. 臺灣吧 showed up online late last year with the plan of introducing Taiwanese history in eight episodes, one a month. The graphics are cute, and the topics are relevant. It took the internet by storm, with plenty of online discussions. Although 動畫臺灣史 has ended, a series on philosophy has started, 哲學哲學雞蛋糕 with 朱家安, and a series on Taipei, 故事.臺北, is in the works.

Obviously history cannot be fully explained in short videos, but it is a good starting point to discuss our history. Each video also includes references on its YouTube page. A lot of this history has been buried and hidden. It is not in textbooks, and not often publicly discussed. I’m glad this series exists as part of the broader goal of finding the truth to our past.

Little thoughts: Tibet, China’s influence, and Katy Perry

There have been a few things on my mind lately, each strangely linked to each other.

The Nepal earthquake occurred a few days after a swarm of earthquakes occurred off the east coast of Taiwan. The news reported the need for rescuers to act quickly, but also fears of strong aftershocks. Since Taiwan has earthquake rescue experience, it wasn’t a surprise that crews were preparing to depart for Nepal. Until they were told they weren’t needed, which sparked articles with titles like “China Rushes Aid to Nepal After Deadly Earthquake; Taiwan Is Turned Away” [time.com] and “Nepal is accepting earthquake aid from countries around the world—but not from Taiwan” [Quartz]. After hearing these reports, I started wondering, what about the Tibetan refugees in Nepal? Which took me to the story “Fears for Nepal’s ‘invisible’ Tibetan refugees” [BBC]. Politics is a constant issue if China is involved, even in a time of crisis.

Around the same time, I read about a campaign, by Students for a Free Tibet, against Confucius Institutes. I haven’t had direct interaction with any institutes, but to see them popping up on campuses worldwide is rather disconcerting. I’ve also heard of stories where scholars need to be extra careful of their research since their funding comes from China. I watched this video of a discussion about the institutes:

The description at 9:40, of a student wearing supposed Tibetan clothing, and the cultural misappropriation of minority culture from China, reminded me of minority dances from China. Dances of ethnic groups (such as 傣族 Dai, 維吾爾族 Uyghur, 蒙古族 Mongolian, 苗族 Miao, 藏族 Tibetan, 苗族 Miao, 回族 Hui, etc.) are considered Chinese ethnic dance. In China, these minority groups are considered part of China (and Chinese) because that’s what the PRC government dictates. (Even in Taiwan in the late 1980s, I learned that these groups belonged to the greater ROC, back when the ROC had a stronger stance on governing greater China.) But what I don’t understand is why it still happens in dance groups outside of China, don’t they know that these dances marginalize minority cultures? It’s also appropriation since hand gestures and movements have been taken from traditional dances, yet the PRC (majority 漢族 Han) oppresses people from these ethnic groups, especially in 西藏 and 新疆. It would be better to say those dances are inspired by the dances of minority groups, but are not the true authentic dances.

I suppose there are Chinese outside of China that can justify learning ethnic minority dances, and maintain their political leanings and continue spreading the propaganda of a peaceful and unified China. The dance 千紅 is accompanied by “Happy Valley”, an overture performed at the 1997 Hong Kong reunification ceremony. In some versions online it is labeled as a 漢族 (Han) dance. A search on YouTube came up with dance groups outside China performing it. One group seemed to be inspired by the choreography and used elements of it, but selected different music. If one group thought it best not to perform the original, I wonder about the decisions made by other groups. Perhaps they were appropriating the dance as Chinese dance, without understanding the political sentiment behind the music. I also wonder if anyone watching in the audience (or online) understood.

Katy Perry had been in the news in the past about cultural appropriation, but her latest concert in Taiwan has set off a different discussion. But it does involve the same song (“Unconditionally”) that was called out for cultural appropriation at the 2013 American Music Awards. The costuming and concert set for the song involves sunflowers. At the concert in Taipei, she also wore the ROC flag like a cape. The concert audience saw it as support for an independent Taiwan, as sunflowers became a symbol of last year’s protest movement. The latest headlines read “Katy Perry’s latest crazy concert outfit is too pro-Taiwan for China” [Quartz] and “Katy Perry’s Sunflower Dress Stirs Up Controversy in China: Political Statement or Style Snafu? Get the Details!” [E! Online]. It’s only controversy for netizens in China. It’s pretty interesting seeing the entertainment news sources navigate the situation. Some reporters seem confused about the difference between Taiwan and China. There’s even a long discussion in the comments section of the article on Billboard. I suppose it’s good that news about Taiwan is going beyond the international news section, and more people may learn about Taiwan. However, I don’t think wearing the ROC flag is a statement. This would have been a better statement to make.

318 a year later


It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since students and activists occupied the Legislative Building. The social protests leading up to and including the Sunflower Student Movement have collectively increased awareness in social and political issues. Criticisms will arise in looking back and reflecting on the movement, and while we can learn from the past, we must also do what we can to protect our future.

It’s pretty clear that the increase in voting participation by the younger generation was a result of the student movement. More people became aware of social issues. People who were perhaps unclear or disinterested in politics became educated. More social groups were formed to help students return to their hometowns to vote. However, there is a lingering problem ahead.

The next general election (which will decide the president and legislature) is scheduled for January 16, 2016. Currently this runs into the middle of final exams for universities. This will severely hamper the ability of students to return home to vote. Election day is on a Saturday. Not only would students need to pay expensive Friday or Saturday fares for the train ride home, but they would also need to quickly return back to school. This is making election day an unfair disadvantage for university students.

The KMT would be at an advantage with a low student turnout since students tend to vote for the opposition party. This was very clear in the November election when the KMT did very poorly. The election date issue also comes up time and time again leading up to the presidential election.

Until this is figured out and everyone is given a fair chance to vote, we will not have a fair election. This is why the battle for our rights has not ended. We need to keep fighting against unjust situations like these and keep democracy alive in Taiwan.

Translated books published in Taiwan, but not China

Previously I had heard a lot about books being censored in China – as in chapters and portions taken out before publication. I take that to be common knowledge about China. Two books published last year brought this situation back to light: Evan Osnos’ “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China”, and Hillary Clinton’s memoir “Hard Choices”. Osnos’ book was published in the U.S. on May 13, 2014. Clinton’s book was published in the U.S. on June 10, 2014.

Before Osnos’ book was released, he wrote New York Times opinion piece regarding the difficulty of publishing his book in China. The last paragraph of the essay was:

In the end, I decided not to publish my book in mainland China. (It will be available to Chinese readers from a publisher in Taiwan.) To produce a “special version” that plays down dissent, trims the Great Leap Forward, and recites the official history of Bo Xilai’s corruption would not help Chinese readers. On the contrary, it would endorse a false image of the past and present. As a writer, my side of the bargain is to give the truest story I can.

Articles about the ban on Clinton’s book were citing this Buzzfeed article. Still4Hill blogged about an email from Simon & Schuster, verifying the ban and releasing a new excerpt, the chapter on China.

I believe Osnos’ situation is more unprecedented, where an author refuses to censor a book for the China audience, which I completely laud. Clinton’s situation is probably a bit more common, where the publisher who wanted to buy the rights figures that there’s no way the book will pass the censors and fulfill the requirements of the original publisher.

Perhaps one thing that has passed people’s attention was that both books would be published in Taiwan. Both books are worthy of being translated into Chinese and made available to Chinese readers. However, if an author writing about a sensitive subject, such as China, wants to publish in China, it will most likely be an incomplete version of the original book. The only way to preserve the original material is to publish the book in Chinese in Taiwan, where there are no censorship restrictions.

The Buzzfeed article mentions that Business Weekly in Taiwan had the rights to Clinton’s book. 商業周刊 (known in English as Business Weekly) is part of a larger media group, 商周集團. I like reading 商業周刊. While the main articles focus on business and finance, there are also articles about daily life and news. Clinton’s book was published on June 12, 2014 with the title 抉擇. The release in Taiwan coincided with the release in the United States. She was interviewed by 商業周刊 on June 19, 2014 in Los Angeles.

The questions are posed in Chinese, but Clinton responds in English (with Chinese subtitles), the questions and translations are:

1. 如果你是台灣總統,如何做到與中國交往,同時又保持政治上的自主?
If you were the president of Taiwan, how would you handle relations with China while maintaining political autonomy?

2. 所以你認為,經濟上的依賴,會降低政治上的獨立自主?
So you believe that economic dependence will lower political independence and autonomy?

3. 你是否覺得,當台灣與中國靠的越來越近,美國與台灣就越來越遠?
Do you feel that as Taiwan and China become closer, the United States and Taiwan become farther apart?

4. 你認為台灣政府的兩岸關係處理得好嗎?
Do you believe that the government of Taiwan has handled cross-strait relations well?

Osnos’ book was published in Taiwan on January 28, 2015 by 八旗文化 with the title 野心時代:在新中國追求財富、真相和信仰. The ad in the front of the book says 全球唯一指定中文版, meaning “the world’s only official Chinese version.”

Joseph Esherick describes his experience with censors in this foreign policy article. His book “Ancestral Leaves: A Family Journey through Chinese History” was published in the U.S. in February 2011, and came out in China (with the title 葉:百年動盪中的一個中國家庭) in July 2014. The book was released in China and only the simplified Chinese version can be found. I suppose the U.S. publishers are not concerned with making an uncensored traditional Chinese version available in Taiwan.

Louisa Lim’s “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited” was published in the U.S. in June of 2014. I have not seen a Chinese version, but will keep an eye out for it.