Taiwan: Protests as history is rewritten

5th September 1997 at 01:00
Controversial history books are to be used by schools this month, after seven + years' work by publishers.When final versions of Getting to Know Taiwan were + released in May, conservatives threw eggs at the education ministry building + and threatened to burn it down. The editors received threatening phone calls, + television discussions on the subject became ferocious. "These texts are deeply+ political," said New Party (opposition) legislator Lee Ching-hua who believes + the government's purpose is to promote the notion of Taiwan's independence from+ China. Critics on all sides of the political spectrum say the series is an + attempt to brainwash students, although they acknowledge the old texts were out+ of date.The education ministry is trying to please all sides and instil some + sense of national pride in children by updating texts.It is unclear how the + education minister Dr Wu Jin will achieve a balance,despite over 160 amendments+ since May. Almost everything in the series is being questioned, including + whether the 21 million inhabitants of this island should be referred to as + Chinese or Taiwanese, or even the island's name, officially referred to as the + Republic of China, and referred to in the books as the Republic of China on + Taiwan.New Party protesters have also criticised the portrayal of the period of+ Japanese colonisation which Lee Ching-hua said is written from the point of + view of the colonisers. A Japanese newspaper recently praised the books for + highlighting Japanese colonial accomplishments in Taiwan. Critics say this + reflects President Lee's own political bias. Taiwan's president, Dr Lee + Teng-hui, was educated in Japan. Attempts to provide more knowledge of Taiwan's+ own history have not been well received either. Indigenous Taiwanese groups + protested that they had been referred to as "barbarians" in the books. The + series is an attempt to update textbooks which for almost 50 years had + basically stayed the same as the Chinese school texts brought to Taiwan by the + Kuomintang Nationalist Army.Current texts concentrate on the history, geography+ and culture of mainland China which few Taiwanese have ever visited. Taiwan is+ described as a "province of China".Until the end of martial law in 1987 it was+ taboo to focus on Taiwan's indigenous history, geography or literature. The + ruling KMT viewed it as tantamount to promoting Taiwan's independence from + mainland China, and promoting independence could even result in a death + sentence.Things changed with the election of the island's first Taiwan-born + president, Dr Lee Teng-hui. The sense of national identity has strengthened + and it is no longer illegal to advocate independence. However, political + divisions over Taiwanese independence could take much longer to bridge than the+ seven years it has taken for Getting to Know Taiwan to be written.l The + Japanese Supreme Court has awarded historian and textbook author Saburo Ienaga + 400,000 yen (#163;2,060) in compensation for the education ministry's unlawful+ deletion of a passage from one of his books. The excerpt referred to a + Japanese germ warfare group - Unit 731 - which conducted biochemical + experiments on humans in northern China during the Second World War.However, + the court decision still leaves the education ministry free to continue its + censorship of texts.

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