Houston Community News >> Taiwan Eyes Editing China From Textbooks

7/22/2007-- Taiwan plans to revise school textbooks to drop references that recognize Chinese historical figures, places and artifacts as "national," an official said Sunday.

The announcement is the latest in a series of moves by the island in the past few months to assert its sovereignty as President Chen Shui-bian's final term in office winds down. China claims Taiwan as its own and has repeatedly threatened to attack should the island formalize its de facto independence. Beijing opposes anything that appears to give Taiwan the trappings of sovereignty.

Pan Wen-chung, an Education Ministry official, said authorities are considering dropping about 5,000 "inappropriate" references in Taiwanese textbooks to help "clear up confusion" about the island's identity.

Pan did not elaborate on the proposed changes. However, local media said the revisions would include changing "national opera" to "Chinese opera," "the Ming Dynasty" to "China's Ming Dynasty," and "this nation's historical figures" to "China's historical figures."

The textbook changes are in line with the current thinking of Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which favors Taiwanese independence and opposes identification with China, from which the island split amid civil war in 1949.

The pro-DPP Liberty Times newspaper praised the textbook initiative, saying it fit with Taiwan's effective status as an independent state.

"China is my country? And Taiwan is located off my country's southeastern coast?" it asks mockingly. "All those descriptions are obviously contrary to the facts, belittling ourselves and confusing the national identity. Yet they have long been everywhere in our textbooks."

The main opposition Nationalist party, which favors eventual unification with the mainland and is seeking to curry favor with voters ahead of elections next year, lambasted the announcement.

The DPP is "seeking to impose thought control ... and distort the base of our national and cultural development," said Nationalist presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou.

The move could also provoke a harsh reaction in China, which has long been sensitive to its neighbors making changes to their history textbooks. Massive protests erupted two years ago after Japan approved a new textbook that critics say whitewashes the country's wartime atrocities.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry duty officer who would not give her name in line with ministry policy referred questions about the proposed Taiwanese textbook plan Sunday to the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, where phones rang unanswered.

Taiwan's school textbooks have traditionally given heavy weight to China's 5,000 years of history and works of ancient Chinese poets and philosophers, leaving little space for Taiwan's own history. The current textbooks date back to the early 1950s, after Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist forces fled the Chinese Communists' takeover of the mainland.

Chen has emphasized his desire in recent months to push the envelope on Taiwanese independence before he leaves office in May 2008.

In March, Premier Su Tseng-chang said Taiwan was considering abandoning its long-standing policy of recognizing Mandarin Chinese as the island's only official language, saying it wanted to promote the use of local dialects and prohibit linguistic discrimination.

Many of the Taiwanese-speaking descendants of Chinese immigrants who arrived on the island in the 17th and 18th centuries favor Taiwanese independence, while most Mandarin-speaking families who arrived when Taiwan split from China in 1949 support eventual unification.

Chen has also substituted "Taiwan" for "China" at the post office and two large government-owned companies, and his government has said it will proceed with a planned referendum on rejoining the United Nations under its own name, despite strong objections from China and the U.S.

In addition, the DPP has scrapped a government body charged with supervising eventual unification with the mainland and attacked the legacy of Chiang, who was an avatar of the unification doctrine.

(Contributed by AP)