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Feb 27, 2010

History curriculum

I was up in arms recently about planned changes to the high school history curriculum which would emphasize Chinese history over Taiwan's, and possibly subsume Taiwan history into Chinese history.

These are long standing issues where there is plenty of good faith disagreement, even among those who are for Taiwan's continued independence. Remember that for a long time, Taiwan has never really been taught history in a Taiwan-centric way. It's been either Japan-centric or China-centric, and only in the very last years of the DPP administration did things start to swing the other way.

I was originally alerted to the upcoming changes by Weichen's post here. Taipei Times covers the issue and some of the protests to it, and describes the two proposals being considered:

Chou, who is on the task force making changes to the high school curriculum, said NTU philosophy professor Wang Hsiao-po (王曉波) and some other task force members had proposed that students spend two semesters learning Chinese history and just one semester studying world history.

On Nov. 15, the task force voted in favor of a proposal by Chou and others to allot one-and-a-half semesters each to Chinese and world history, but task force convener Wu Wen-hsing (吳文星), a history professor at National Taiwan Normal University, resolved to put Wang’s amended proposal up for further deliberation after task force’s term expired on Dec. 31.
For sake of simplicity, here is a chart (translated from Weichen's table) to break down the two proposals in a bit more depth. Please note this is written somewhat from Chou's perspective, and some of the characterizations seem rough; you'd obviously want to see what textbooks came out of the guidelines before deciding how reasonable Chou's proposal is, even if Wang's proposal is wack. And I'm not sure exactly about the last two things in the table, as the descriptions are a bit vague and confusing to me.

Wang's Proposal
Chou's Proposal
Taiwan:China:World History ratio
1: 2: 11: 1.5 : 1.5
Earliest included Taiwan-related historical recordsEastern Wu (~250 CE) and Sui Dyansties (~600 AD)
400 years ago
Japanese Occupation
Emphasizes Japan as colonizers, fact of second-class citizens.
Discuss both modernization and colonization issues
Taiwan in WW II
Place special emphasis on Taiwanese efforts to reunite with China and oppose Japan
No particular details especially emphasized
Post-WW II Taiwan
Describe international relations in such a way as to avoid picking apart the ROC sovereignty (over all of China) argument.
Describe international relations according to the historical record
Post-WW II Taiwan culture
Topics include: Re-Sinization, Taiwan's development of unique features and internationalization
Topics include: Sinization, localization and globalization
Chinese History
China-centric world view
Looks at China's neighbors and the world from the perspective of cultural exchange
Post-war Chinese history
The splitting of One China, discusses both Taiwan and Taiwan
Covers the People's Republic of China [and not Taiwan]
World History
Takes the nation-state and representative events [?] as the main units
Emphasizes a macro-view of schools of thought and frameworks



Unknown said...

Something is wrong with your table. I had to highlight it in order to read it.

Carlos said...

The text is white in your table... I was only able to read it by selecting it all.

So does anyone care? We do, but if the public is okay with a China-centric curriculum then it's over, isn't it?

阿牛 said...

Table should be readable now but fonts will still be weird.

Stephanie said...

"Describe international relations according to the historical record"
That's BS. Historical record as constructed by... Western scholars? Taiwanese scholars? Chinese scholars? The table should specify and don't privilege the Western perspective. I know it's translated and you didn't write it, but I'm saying that whoever wrote the table should specify the perspective taken, and not label it as if it were purely objective.

阿牛 said...

Stephanie, agreed, the framing of that point is not very clear. Basically, purposefully construed so as to make it look better than the Wang plan. Without giving much in the way of details.

Tommy said...

I don't like the debasement of Taiwan in the curriculum any more than you do, but what really shocks me is the implication that Chinese history requires just as much if not more time than world history. If some teachers are worried that they don't have time to teach Chinese history in one semester, reducing the time taken to teaching world history makes less sense. The world is much bigger and has a lot more "history" than China.

Carlos, it is important to find out whether or not the public cares. A-Gu certainly knows more about this issue, but, from what I have read, the task force's recommendations don't immediately lead to changing the curriculum. The curriculum has to be approved by many parties first. Their suggestions are troubling nevertheless.

阿牛 said...

Thomas, I certainly don't know more about this issue than the next guy. And you're right on target to say that whatever the committee recommends, its not going to become instant law.

Also, I agree that the whole world history ratio issue is nuts too.

Mark said...

In both cases the Taiwan history focus is either on Taiwan in the context of early Chinese dynastic periods or on the period beginning with major Chinese immigration (roughly 400 yrs ago). Obviously, they feel that the Micronesian/Aboriginal aspect of Taiwan is not worthy of study.
I guess this is something similar to American history being taught as starting from European immigration. The difference being that in the US there is quite a lot of information available on American Indian history. Unfortunately, all the research and awareness came too late to do the American Indians much good.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Place special emphasis on Taiwanese efforts to reunite with China and oppose Japan."

I'd be interested to see how they intend to back this up. The Taiwanese were volunteering for the Japanese Imperial Army as far back as 1932. I did my MA thesis on WWII conscription / volunteerism here in Taiwan. I'd say if the government does want to focus on the topic above, it will have to undertake a massive effort of revisionism. I remember British Consul to Taiwan Archer's comments in the early stages of WWII. He was describing the fall of Nanking, which was celebrated in Taiwan with "monster celebrations".

Anonymous said...


From your own thesis, these were "organized" monster celebrations. The notion that this single point of observation defines Taiwanese participation in World War II is both misleading and pathetic.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Anonymous - Only as pathetic as say:

- French concentration on the resistance to German occupation following their defeat in 1940 rather than the collaborationist Vichy regime.

- American concentration on Washington and his followers rather than the Tories and Loyalists.

- Chinese concentration on the CCP as the primary source of resistance to the Japanese, at the expense of the Nationalists who actually did most of the fighting, and also their avoidance of the subject of the collaborationist Nanjing regime.

And similar glossing over of histroy which people would rather forget in the education systems of the Philippines, Austria, Russia etc. etc. etc.