High School History Syllabus in Taiwan

The following is a translation of a letter printed in Sing Tao Daily.  It is written by Professor Wang Zhongfu (王仲孚), a former director of the School of Literature at the Teachers' University in Taiwan.  

In order to let people see the chaos caused by nationalism in Taiwan, I am going to use the example of the public hearing held in the northern district on November 14 by the Taiwan Department of Education on the matter of the <<Draft for High School History Syllabus>>.  I will relate what I observed, so that you can see if the opposition movement in Hong Kong has similarities, or perhaps there are hints that these things will be heading there.

On the day of the "public hearing", the notice from the Department of Education stated that the "public hearing" will be held between 10 am and 12 noon.  The Syllabus group founders would make a report for one hour, and then the attendees would have one hour to make comments.  I arrived at the meeting place just after 930am, and I found out that people who wanted to speak must register first.  By this time, there were more than 20 people already registered.  My premonition was that certain individuals had planned to stake out the time, and events would proved me right afterwards.

At 10 am, the Syllabus group chairman Professor Zhou Liangkai began his report.  He began by making a few light-hearted remarks that were completely not connected to the subject.  Someone in the audience yelled out: "Please give us some time to speak!"  This was immediately drowned out by angry shouts of "Get Out!  Get Out!"  Then a muscled man wanted to confront the first person, leading to more jeering by the crowd.  For a while, it was quite chaotic.  Finally, the chairman called for order and things calmed down a bit.

At 11pm, the chairman announced the start of the comment session and he asked people to proceed in the order of registration.  Those who were unable to make their comments by the end can write in.  I raised up my hand immediately and recommended to the chairman that all registrants should be permitted to speak.  As soon as I said that, the "clapping" section in the meeting room began clapping rhythmically and yelling.  The chairman declined to accept my suggestion and insisted on speaking according to the order.

The purpose of the "public hearing" was to "hear" what various sectors of society had to say about the syllabus, particularly those who study history or teach history in high school.  Unfortunately, about three-quarters of the comments had no connection to the proposed syllabus itself and were either expositions of the tenets of Taiwanese independence or condemnations of Great China thoughts.  

The first speaker came out with this stunning remark: "My compatriots of the Taiwan Nation (台灣國) ... "  Another young speaker launched a personal attack: "The textbook written by Wang Zhongfu and Jiang Yongjing praised Chiang Kai-Shek, and that is why all of Wang Zhongfu's books have been tossed on the floor of the Guanghua Mall to feed the worms."  (This was a thoroughly malicious fabrication).  Based upon the brief introductions by the chairman about the speakers, I counted a high school physics teacher, an art teacher, a music teacher, an elementary school teacher, a high school administrator, a member of the 228 Concern Association, a member of the Friends of Lee Teng-hui, ... In truth, there were quite a few high school teachers at the meeting, but only three or four of them got to speak.

I was fortunate to be able to speak near the end of the "public hearing."  I should point out that that the main purpose of today's "public hearing" was to discuss the <<Draft for High School History Syllabus>>, but three-quarters of the speakers were just using political jargon to express their ideals which were totally unconnected to the syllabus.  Furthermore, there were  "clapping sections" in the audience who used coordinated actions to control the situation.  Was this a "public hearing" or a "mass demonstration"?

I guarantee you that most of the people at the meeting have not read the syllabus draft, which totaled 62 pages and was released only three days ago.  They had no idea what the syllabus was about.  There was no lack of so-called "experts" and "professors" who seemed to have come to the meeting without reading the syllabus.  For example, a retired professor formerly at a research institute emphasized that the reason why Sun Yat-sen came to Taiwan was to persuade the governor of Taiwan to fight against the Manchu dynasty and not because he loved Taiwan; a professor of Taiwan history said that his opinion was that Chinese history ought to be removed and just lumped under Asian history.

Furthermore, the new syllabus was designed in order to assure continuity of the temporary syllabus that covered nine years of elementary-secondary school syllabus.  With due respect, I must say that if the High School Syllabus Committee members don't even know the nine-year syllabus, how can they speak of continuity?  Since they have thoroughly forgotten about the main purpose of the syllabus revision, what then was the purpose of this yelling-and-screaming session?  It was indeed regrettable.

Since each speaker was given only three minutes, many questions could not be brought up.  The chairman then announced that time was up and those who did not get to speak can submit written comments.  One young man sitting in the front row leaped up on stage and said to the crowd: "I protest!  Only the people of the Taiwan Nation (台灣國) got to speak.  We did not get a chance to speak ..."  Then he turned and headed towards the chairman.  The chairman and the two other committee members quickly slinked away, and the  young man toppled the chairman's table.  Three policemen came quickly to "invite" the young man to leave, and this was the final scene of the northern district "public hearing."

The "public hearing" is a mandatory step in the Department of Education's history syllabus revision process.  But this very serious public hearing of the <<Draft for High School History Syllabus>> ended with popular action instead.  Before the Democratic Progressive Party assumed power, their mass movement was already filled with blind emotions driven by revolutionary slogans.  After they assumed power, they had no political accomplishments to show after several years but their blind totalitarianism has gotten worse.  All the political morality, the rule of law and the system of trust achieved over decades have all been erased in a few years.  The teaching of literature and history which are so important in forming the moral character of future generations are now destroyed by the dictatorial acts of those in power as well as the Red Guards-like nationalistic spirit.

Will the chaos in Taiwan today appear in the Hong Kong of tomorrow?  The teachers and parents who love the children of the next generation ought to think hard.

I don't think the exact situation in Taiwan can occur in Hong Kong, since there is absolutely no traction for  nationalistic independence whatsoever.  That story is more interesting in terms of the description of what transpired in a public hearing that was thoroughly compromised and therefore pointless.  This is not just a uniquely Taiwan thing, as this type of thing would happen in an American school board hearing about the teaching of evolution, for example.

At this time, there are public hearings held in Hong Kong about the West Kowloon Cultural District.  What does 'consultation of the public' mean then?  The idea is that in an open democratic society, the people should have some channels to express their views.  But how is the information incorporated into the decision-making process?

As the Taiwan case shows, public hearings may degenerate into political diatribes in which the comments are nasty, irrelevant and off-topic and nobody listens anyway.  Are the WKCD public consultations just a venue for people to air accusations of business-government collusion or the failings of an unelected government in general?  And after all that, what is supposed to happen?  Will you conclude that after hearing from 200 people in six public hearings around town that most of the speakers don't seemed to like the WKCD project and therefore it ought to be abandoned?  This is not a truly democratic decision in the spirit of one-person-one-vote because the opinions of 200 self-selected people should not be taken to represent the 3.2 million registered voters.  Furthermore, if you believe this is the path, then the developers will be stupid not to stack these public hearings with their people to chew up the time and drown out the opposition, just as you read in the Taiwan case.

Is the alternative a public opinion poll?  I don't think that works either.  Look at an example the poll cited in yesterday's post:  53% disapproved of the "single vendor" approach to WKCD.  Now that the people have spoken, you must therefore go with "multiple vendors", right?

I have great difficulty accepting that the People is qualified to make that above decision.  Let me use an analogy about a large public corporation that has to choose an IT supplier for the thousands of computers used by its employees.  Suppose the corporation takes a poll of its shareholders and finds that 53% of the shareholders disapprove of the "single vendor" approach.  Since the majority of the owners have spoken, "multiple vendors" must be the way to go, right?  But how many of the shareholders are qualified to understand the difficulties and additional complexities involved with using multiple vendors (such as getting Dell to provide desktop computers, Apple to provide laptops and HP to provide servers)?  No, this is no way to run a business.  That decision should not be up to the shareholders to make.

By analogy, how many of the survey respondents actually understand the trade-offs and difficulties involved with using multiple vendors in a massive multi-billion construction/cultural project like WKCD?  When asked for a preference, they have no real knowledge base and their answers are based purely on instinct ("more is better", "monopoly is bad", "spread the wealth").  Is this any way to run a business?