Update to protests against high school curriculum changes

The latest round of news started with the Ministry of Education announcing it would seek charges against students arrested on July 24 for breaking and entering. Among those that would be charged were journalists, who also protested against arresting journalists and defended their rights as members of the press. In response to the unprecedented news of the MoE suing students, an English translation of the news was published on 新頭殼.

Sad news broke the afternoon of July 30, when it was reported that 林冠華, a member of a student group protesting against the curriculum changes, was found dead from an apparent suicide. The Taipei Times articles “Student protester commits suicide” and “Curriculum Protests: Interview: Lin gave interview three days before death” are good reports in English.

Students broke into the MoE at roughly 1:30 in the morning on July 31. As of 11am, they were still there, calling for the resignation of the current head of the MoE. Note that the head of the MoE has never had direct discussions with students regarding the curriculum change. The response to the students is that the minister has events away from the office and will be unavailable.

The latest news is that 立法院 (the Legislative Yen) will hold a discussion at 3pm on July 31 to determine if an emergency session will be called to deal with the issue of the curriculum change.

For those following the news, 新頭殼 has organized all their articles on the issue. 苦勞網 has also been updating their facebook page. And of course, there is the facebook page of 北區反課綱高校聯盟.


Update to protests against high school curriculum changes

It looks like students’ call for revoking changes to the high school history curriculum has not resulted in a reasonable response by the 教育部 (Ministry of Education). There have been further protest since I last wrote about the situation.

There were protests at 教育部 on July 5 and 6, 2015. This was the first time metal structures were positioned in front of 教育部, to keep students from entering the building. There were protests by student groups at the 國教署 (the administration of 教育部 that handles K-12 education) on July 13, 2015 and July 17, 2015. Students were able to lift the metal gate and enter. The MoE has planned explanation meetings in four cities on July 23, 2015. However August 1, 2015 (the date the new curriculum will go into effect) is looming and students are ramping up their protests.

Students have organized a protest for the afternoon of July 22, 2015 in front of 教育部. They plan to surround the building before the end of the work day. The best Facebook groups to follow for up to date information are probably 北區反課綱高校聯盟 and 反黑箱課綱行動聯盟.

I do hope the 教育部 responds with something reasonable. The one person who hasn’t come forward at all with a response is the head of 教育部. In the announcement of the meeting scheduled for July 23, it explicitly stated that he would not be present at any meeting. At some point someone needs to be accountable for making a poor decision that influences all students’ education. Attempting to teach an unbalanced curriculum is the last thing that should happen. As the students have said: this is not about pro-China or pro-independence, this is about providing a curriculum that explores all views and being open about our past.

As an aside, it looks like history teachers in Texas are dealing with the aftermath of a curriculum change and will have to do their best to teach a balanced curriculum even though their teaching materials are not balanced at all.

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.

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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.