Taiwanese students stormed a government building in Taipei on Monday to protest against a set of controversial high school curriculum guidelines. Demonstrators have threatened to escalate their action if the government refuses to scrap the guidelines.
Around 50 students demonstrated at the Education Administration building to present their demands to the Ministry of Education. Despite the heavy presence of security guards, the students lifted up a rolling shutter and 13 of them forced their way into the building, according to Taiwanese newspapers.
The group went up to the fifth floor to request a meeting with government officials, while those remaining outside faced police.
The ministry asked to meet with some of the students, who rejected the invitation and instead demanded officials speak with the entire group on the ground floor, Central News Agency reported. An agreement was reached when Han Chun-shu, a mid-level official from the ministry, led the 13 students out of the building and met with those assembled on the ground floor.
Taiwan’s current government, led by President Ma Ying-jeou of the pro-reunification Kuomintang (KMT), has made a series of changes to high school curriculum guidelines since Ma took office in 2008. In 2014, authorities announced new adjustments to the guidelines that were widely considered China-centric.
Ma reversed some of the changes made under the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which governed the island nation from 2000 to 2008. Under the leadership of former president Chen Shui-bian, Taiwanese history was taught separately from Chinese history for the first time.
In other subjects, subtle changes in wording reflected the DPP’s political stance: Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai was referred to as a “Chinese poet” rather than “a poet of our country”; Hainan, rather than Taiwan, was described as “China’s biggest island”; and geography textbooks taught students that their country was only as big as the island of Taiwan, omitting mainland territories which are still claimed by KMT diehards.
Critics were concerned that the new guidelines would fail to teach students about Taiwan’s history of democratic development. Despite widespread opposition, the Ma administration insisted that the revised textbooks will be adopted in August 2015.
Students push back.
A number of protests have taken place in response to the perceived “black box”, or non-transparent, policy making process of the Taiwanese government. On July 5, around 100 high school students from central and southern Taiwan protested at the Education Administration building in Taichung to demand the withdrawal of the curriculum guidelines.
Student leaders have demanded that a Taiwan-centric curriculum be promoted and have said that the controversy lies not so much in the differences in perspectives as the lack of plurality in the guidelines.
The student alliance behind Monday’s protest said in a statement that they would like the guidelines to be written by professional educators. However, they said they expected their demands to be dismissed “given [the government’s] habit of doing things illegally and forcefully in the ‘black box’”.
President Ma responded on July 8 that the government would not remove the guidelines, and there were “only about 100 debatable issues” regarding the guidelines. The Ministry of Education later corrected his statement to “17 debatable issues”.
Supporters of the new curriculum guidelines said that the changes are in accordance with the constitution. A journalist for United Daily News wrote that changes such as referring to China as “mainland China” rather than “the mainland” prove that the new guidelines are not China-centric.
Tsai offers support.
DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen, tipped to win next year’s presidential poll, showed her support for the students on Facebook last week. “We believe that the curriculum must correspond with historical truth, and the procedure of making new guidelines must be objective and professional,” Tsai wrote. “If the current government is unwilling to make corrections, we will take up the responsibility next year.”
Citing a Taiwanese professor, China Times said that Tsai’s stance against the curriculum guidelines “exposed her pro-independence nature” and “denial of the Republic of China”.
In March 2014, students in Taipei occupied the country’s legislature to protest a cross-strait trade pact that the ruling party pushed through the Legislative Yuan without clause-by-clause review. Many also believed that the agreement would hurt Taiwan’s economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing.
Additional reporting by Ryan Kilpatrick