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Taiwanese High School Students Arrested After Protesting New Textbook Guidelines

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High-school students entered the Ministry of Education. Photo from independent reporter Yu Yo Lin.

Many high school students in Taiwan will have a more colorful answer than usual to the question “What did you do during your summer vacation?” when they return to the classroom in the fall.

A good number have spent the holidays protesting against new history textbook guidelines rather than having fun, and last week some were even arrested.

The protests, which began in June 2015, take issue with the Ministry of Education's new curriculum that recounts the history of Taiwan through a united-China perspective (from ancient China to Republic of China) instead of from a Taiwanese perspective.

For example, the original guidelines emphasize who Taiwanese are (including the history of its aboriginal peoples and migrants) and how Taiwan interacts with the world, but the new guidelines focus on how Taiwan interacts with China under the assumption that Taiwan is always part of China. Because none of the members in the supervision team for the revisions of the guidelines specialized in history and the major player in the supervision team (Prof. Hsiao-Po Wang) is a close friend of President Ma Ying-Jeou, critics say the revisions are just a political move by the ruling Kuomintang party, meant to build support for reunification with the People's Republic of China.

The guidelines will go into effect in August. Ahead of the change, 30 high school students entered the office building of the Ministry of Education on July 23 to protest and were arrested by police. Three reporters who followed these students were also arrested. All of them were charged with forcible entry into the building.

The Juvenile Law Garden released 11 students who are minors and demanded their parents accompany them home. Nineteen adult students made bail, while three reporters refused to pay. Later, they were released without paying bail, but the charge have not been dropped.

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Students were arrested by the police. Photo from independent reporter Yu Yo Lin.

In response to the arrests, student activist group the Northern Area Student Alliance against New Textbook Guideline proclaimed on Facebook that the July 23 action was just the beginning:

教育部不但不正視學生訴求,從去年五月底開始逃避與學生的座談會,堅持以各種方式令新課綱上路;[…]我們要馬上撤銷微調課綱,我們要立即釋放被逮捕的學生,我們不訴求虛假的道歉,我們要訴求正義的實現。

Since last May, the ministry has not dealt with students’ requests, has avoided attending public forums, all while insisting that they go ahead with the new guidelines. […] Our goal is [to force them] into withdrawing the new guidelines. We demand the release of the students, we don't want to listen to a hypocritical apology and want justice to be upheld.

One of the three arrested reporters is from independent news site coolloud.org. The news organization urged the government to respect freedom of the press and release the reporters.

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Three reporters arrested by the police. Photo from coolloud.org.

苦勞網記者宋小海於昨日(7/23)晚間11點半趕赴教育部採訪反課綱高中生最新行動,有幸在第一時間尾隨翻牆學生進入教育部,目擊了學生行動與警方逮捕的過程。[…]台北市警局表示,因為教育部已經提告,必須釐清三人「是否與高中生一樣有侵入行為」。
在此,苦勞網要對警方在新聞現場強硬限制記者採訪工作表達強烈抗議

Yesterday (7/23), Cooulloud reporter Shiau-Hai Sung went to the Ministry of Education to report on the actions of high school students protesting against the new textbook guidelines. He was lucky to enter the building of the Ministry of Education with the students and witnessed the students’ action and how the police arrested the students. […] Taipei City Police Department said that the Ministry of Education sued [all the people entering the building], so they need to clarify whether these three reporters forcibly entered the building like other high school students.

Coolloud expresses serious disagreement with the police's forcible restriction of the reporters’ work at the scene.

The Ministry of Education announced the new textbook guidelines on January 17, 2014, and claimed that the adjustments were minor. But closer reviews revealed the changes were much more in-depth than advertised.

Moreover, the ministry was accused of violating procedural justice as the textbook revision committee members were asked to cast their vote in a box and the votes were only counted by the committee secretary after the meeting was dismissed. Even after controversy arose, the ministry refused to release the meeting minutes or the voting results to the public.

To defend citizens’ right to access public information, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights sued the ministry for their black-boxed procedures, and the Taipei High Court ruled that it should put the committee minutes and voting details under public examination.

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Words left by the protesting students: This is our land, and this is our history. Photo from Denis Chen's Facebook page

The ministry insists that despite the procedural errors, there is nothing wrong with the new guidelines. However, the fact that none of the members in the supervision team for the new textbook guidelines are specialized in history provoked a public statement signed by more than 100 history researchers and teachers expressing their opposition to what they call unprofessional edits and additions.

Moreover, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has stated that the its party's mayors will not follow the ministry's new textbook guidelines in their cities and counties.

Despite these opposing voices, the ministry insists moving forward with the new guidelines as scheduled without changes. Therefore, these high school students will end up spending their summer vacation protesting outside the ministry or even inside jail.

History professor Yi-Fen Hua explained in a blog post why the new textbook guidelines are doomed to fail:

過去的掌權者可以透過各級學校歷史教育,灌輸國民特定意識形態,加深對敵我關係的認知。[…]年輕世代對「國家」、「歷史」與「世界」的認知,不再是透過意識形態教育的灌輸來取得;而是透過親身接觸、實際碰撞、近距離觀察,並參考網路世界提供的五花八門意見。當年輕世代必須以自由開放的多元視野來面對二十一世紀全球化浪潮帶來的嚴峻挑戰,黨國歷史教育想強力灌輸給他們的「大中國國族意識」,剛好只是幫倒忙而已。

In the past, the person in power could push a specific ideology as well as their vision of who the enemy is and who we are through history education in schools. […] The younger generation no longer recognizes ‘nation’, ’history’, and ’world’ through the instruction of ideology. They see the world on their own through personal contact, close observation and the overwhelming amount of information on the Internet. While the younger generation must have a free, open and multicultural perspective to face the austere challenges of globalization in the 21st century, the ‘big Chinese nationalism ideology’ in the new history textbook guidelines from Kuomintang don't help.

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