As expected, controversies arose over the past few days at Ministry of Education meetings discussing guidelines for school textbooks.
This time around, media attention focused on whether high school history textbooks should be compiled based on “regional” contexts and “themes,” instead of based on the traditional categories of Chinese, Taiwanese and world history.
It came as no surprise that attempts to put Chinese history into an East Asian context drew accusations of “de-sinification” and “cultural Taiwan independence.”
To be honest, it makes sense to get rid off the old habit of looking at Taiwan’s history from a “national” or “ethnic” point of view. Such efforts should not be unreasonably blamed as attempts to “deconstruct Chinese history” or “desinify” (remove Chinese elements from) Taiwan.
If such attempts can be accused of being “ideological,” wouldn’t it be fair to call previous practices of writing textbooks from the Chinese dynastic perspective also “ideological?”
In the late 20th century, Taiwan broke free from its authoritarian past, and begun to democratize and grow its civil society. The new freedom, however, has not prevented Taiwan from becoming embroiled in endless quarrels about historical, ethnic and self-identity issues.
Arguments about textbook guidelines are but a tip of the iceberg of the problems hampering Taiwan’s growth. Untying all these entanglements is an urgent task for Taiwan.
In spite of Taiwan’s democratization, the state machine is still playing a key role in deciding the content of school textbooks, but outside groups have actually been fighting for that role in recent years.
Since the state machine tends to become a tool used to promote ideology, it would be better to allow the free market of ideas to play a greater role in solving the controversy over textbook guidelines.
The state needs just to set basic principles, and let the free market of ideas, which is part of civil society, play its role in a democracy. (Editorial abstract – Aug. 12, 2018)