Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Taiwanese History & Education

"In accordance with the draft, the ministry plans to have high school students take one semester of Taiwanese history, one-and-a-half semesters of Chinese history and one-and-a-half semesters on world history in their first and second years. If passed, the new curriculum could come into force in 2012. At present, high school students spend one semester on Taiwanese history, another semester on Chinese history and two semesters on world history."
Yet even now, before this terrible "brainwashing" occurs, how many Taiwanese students know that large scale Chinese settlement in Taiwan was initiated by the Dutch? How many Taiwanese students can list the significant scientific, technological, economic or cultural achievements of Taiwanese people under Qing rule from 1683 until 1860? How many Taiwanese students are aware of the historical importance of Taiwan to the development of plastics (and thereby photography) due to the international trade in camphor during the mid-1800s? How many Taiwanese students are aware that the first railway in Taiwan - from Tamsui to Keelung - was constructed under the engineering expertise of the British and Germans and that it was completed in spite of the insane demands of Qing governor Liu Ming-chuan and not because of them?

In sum, how many Taiwanese students are aware just how much of Taiwan's progress is owed to contact with the philosophical, ethical, scientific and technological enlightenment of the world by western culture and how little of Taiwan's progress is owed to the ingrained influence of Chinese culture?

My own sense is that the general malaise of historical ignorance, whilst certainly not specific to Taiwan, is nonetheless already rife here. Next April for example, the Tainan City Government is planning to celebrate the arrival of Zheng Cheng-gong in 1661 who, they will mistakenly claim, "took back" Taiwan from the (evil) red-headed foreigners. Actually the arrival of Zheng Cheng-gong marked the beginning of a near two hundred year endarkenment of Taiwan as the Chinese cut the island off from contact with the ongoing enlightenment of the world over the western horizon.

The answer to this "brainwashing" is not to fight over what gets taught in schools, where attendance by students is compulsory, but to fight against the very compulsion itself. Taiwanese parents should be free to decide what to teach their children, when, where and how. In addition to fighting against State control of schools, colleges and universities, preserving the intellectual and historical resources for a future, free Taiwan is of the utmost importance. Yet on the question of how many Taiwanese parents understand this point, never mind actually want freedom in education for their kids, I have doubts even here.

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