Taiwan’s History Textbook Protests: One Year Later
One year ago, on August 3, 2015, tearful high school student representatives walked out of a meeting with then Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa, disappointed that their campaign to block implementation of new Sino-centric guidelines for social studies and history textbooks had come to naught.
Wu refused to suspend implementation of the new guidelines. He ordered that the new textbooks be printed, although he agreed that if teachers did not want to make the transition to the new textbooks yet, it would be possible to continue to use the old textbooks for the time being.
Anger against the new guidelines for the history textbooks had simmered under the surface since they were first approved by the Education Ministry in January 2014. The opposition focused both on the “black box” process followed by the Ma administration, as well as the substance of the new guidelines, which represented a major shift towards a Sino-centric perspective of Taiwan’s history.
According to many critics of the process, none of the members of the review committee tasked by the Ministry of Education to develop the new guidelines was a history specialist, while the committee’s convener, Professor Wang Hsiao-po of Hsin Shin University, was known as a fervent advocate of Taiwan’s unification with China.
On the substance, many critics pointed to major distortions in the new guidelines, such as the downplaying of the February 28, 1947 massacre of tens of thousands of Taiwanese, including teachers, students, and intelligentsia, by Chiang Kai-shek’s troops; the whitewashing of the subsequent White Terror repression (1947-1987); and the downplaying or even deletion of major events in Taiwan’s momentous transition to democracy (1979-1992).
The 2015 protests swelled between April and early August of that year, culminating in the storming of the Ministry of Education by hundreds of students, and a brief occupation of Wu’s own office by a group of students on July 23, 2015. It was also marked by the death of one of the student leaders, Lin Kuan-hua or “Dai Lin,” who ended his own life on his birthday, July 30, 2015. In his final Facebook posting, Lin wrote: “Wish me happy birthday. 8 5 12 16. I have only one wish: Minister [Wu] withdraw the curriculum guidelines.”
The tumultuous episode thus ended with the meeting between Wu and the student representatives on August 3, 2015. The students (and several accompanying history teachers) made eloquent appeals to call off or at least suspend the curriculum changes, and also criticized the opaque process. To no avail: the minister only made some superficial concessions. Read more…