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.

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7 thoughts on “Taiwanese students and activists protest against high school history curriculum changes

  1. Hello! Can I ask you, what do you think are the root cause that led to this push for changing the history curriculum? Is the KMT trying to whitewash the reality of the white terror (pardon the pun), and sugarcoat unpleasant facts?

    • I think the KMT is flexing its political muscles and attempting to undo the work of the past DPP administration. The KMT has continued to hide the truth about Taiwan’s history, so burying the truth is nothing new. But by making the curriculum align with their ideology, they can make students believe that is the only view. Ma has less than a year left in his presidency, which is probably why they want to approve and implement so quickly.

      The last curriculum change was implemented in 2006 (when Chen and the DPP administration was in office). In the history curriculum, Taiwan history was separated from the history of China.

      The original form of this recent change was passed in 2008 (during the Chen administration), and was supposed to be implemented in 2009. In late 2008 (by now the Ma administration took office), portions of the curriculum were given to new committees to revise. The revisions were publicly released in 2012. But in January 2014, it was taken back for 微調 (minor adjustment). But in reality, major changes were made by a biased committee. Later in January 2014, the Ministry of Education passed the curriculum changes without much public discussion, claiming the adjustments were needed for the new 12-year compulsory education system (which is a different mess).

      • Thank you for the detailed account. I’d read about the struggle there was when the history curriculum was first de-sinicized, but I was unaware the struggle was still going on, and for the worse. I’m happy there was a strong reaction, it is a good sign, and hopefully there will be an administrative change with the next elections. I will keep an eye on the news.

    • It looks like the students are in organization mode: forming groups at their schools and holding discussion sessions. Exams are coming soon: the last exams are around the end of the month, and university entrance exams are in early July. This is why the activists say if they decide to organize a demonstration, it will be in July (after the school year has ended).

      So far, there hasn’t been a direct call to the public for help. One social group did hold a discussion session where they extended an invitation to the public, so maybe there will be others. I think it’s best to keep informed and discuss the issue with others. Keep the conversation going about Taiwan’s past and present, and learn as much as possible.

  2. Pingback: Update to protests against high school curriculum changes | 思想語言 | Thinking About Languages

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