On July 30, Guan-Hua Lin, 20, the former spokesperson of a student activist group protesting against high-school curriculum changes in Taiwan was found dead. Based on the initial police report and a conversation between Lin and his friends, it is likely Lin committed suicide in protest at the changes.
Since Taiwan’s Minister of Education announced the new high-school curriculum in February 2014, education professionals and students alike have been protesting against its changes. The ministry was accused of violating procedural justice as the curriculum revision committee refused to disclose the details of the committee discussion and voting results to the public.
Even after a court ruled that the ministry should put the committee minutes and voting records to a public examination, the ministry insisted there is nothing wrong with the new curriculum.
The controversies mostly lie with the history curriculum. Many consider that the new curriculum recounts the history of Taiwan through a united-China perspective. Critics say the revision is a political move by the ruling Kuomintang party (KMT), designed to build support for reunification with the People's Republic of China (PRC).
Despite these dissenting voices, the ministry claimed that the new curriculum became effective on August 1, and that changes cannot be stopped as new textbooks have already been printed.
Student activists began to protest outside the Ministry of Education and ask it to withdraw the new curriculum in June. On July 23, 30 high-school students even broke into the building of Ministry of Education. They were arrested and promptly sued by the ministry.
One of the key student activist organisations responsible for mobilising the protest was the Northern Area Student Alliance against Curriculum Changes (NASAACC), which Guan-Hua Lin acts as spokesperson for.
Soon after they heard the news of Lin's suicide, hundreds of high-school students occupied the Ministry of Education. In addition to their original request, they asked legislators to review the curriculum changes. Although legislators from the Democratic Progressive Party and Taiwan Solidarity Union agreed to help them, they still need to gain support from KMT, which represents the ruling majority in the country's Legislative Yuan.
While some KMT politicians claim the opposition parties have over-politicized the curriculum changes and used the high-school students as pawns, NASAACC said such claims were designed to belittle the student's campaign.
They wrote in a press release:
Today is Guan-Hua Lin’s birthday, July 30. He had only one hope: that the new curriculum that will be claimed as effective on August 1 could be withdrawn, so that we Taiwanese can receive an education based on a Taiwanese perspective. We cannot stop thinking: Is this hope a luxury hope for a Taiwanese? Is the request to allow Taiwanese to understand our own history and culture unfulfillable?
Another activist group mainly composed of history researchers, teachers, and human rights activists, the Anti-Blackboxed Curriculum Alliance (A-BCA), also urged the government to take responsibility and correct their mistakes:
Facing the students’ request for discussing the black-boxed curriculum, the Minister of Education, Shi-Hua Wu, just turned his back toward the students and insisted to make the black-boxed curriculum effective in Aug. Students have tried to protest in peaceful ways, but the Minister of Education did not respond. In the end, students tried furious measures and occupied the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Education decided to sue these students. Now it is heartbreaking to see a protesting student commit suicide!
What these students think is very simple: If adults make mistakes, why don’t they acknowledge and apologize, and why do they do whatever they want to do just because they have the power to do so? These young people are angry because they cannot accept a condition whereby none of us can differentiate right from wrong. Now we want to tell the students: It is this government who makes mistakes, and this government should face the situation and solve the problems. You have made a lot of effort, and you should not overpay for trying to solve the problems that are made by this damn government.
Although the debate over new curriculum changes is Taiwan's internal affairs, the PRC government has cast its shadow over the issue. Three years ago when the Ministry of Education considered amending the school curriculum, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council of China expressed its support for curriculum changes.
The Beijing body, which oversees its relation with Taiwan, claimed the move could “make things right” by retelling Taiwanese history from a united-China perspective, thereby eliminating pro-independence thoughts that might “mislead” the young generation in Taiwan.
After high-school students in Taiwan started to protest curriculum changes in June, several newspapers in China criticized the protesting students for making use of the campaign in order to advocate for Taiwan's independence.
On July 30, when the president of the PRC, Xi Jinping, spoke at a conference of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China, he also mentioned that Taiwan and China should write their history books together in order to protect Chinese pride and dignity.