Is China Using Language Textbooks to Influence Taiwanese Education?

A crucial post-Sunflower debate over China-centric language learning has been rekindled in Taiwan.

The News Lens
Date: 2019/01/22
By: Brian Hioe, 破土 New Bloom

Concerns about Chinese attempts to subtly influence the Taiwanese education system are back in the news.

Reports last month indicated that Chinese language textbooks cowritten by China’s Fujian Normal University and Taiwan’s Chinese Classics Association are in use at 20 high schools in Taiwan, mostly concentrated in Taipei and Kaohsiung. These textbooks were approved last year by the National Academy for Education Research, with some warning that the aim of the textbooks was to subtly influence Taiwanese student’s perceptions of Taiwan and China through language learning, but they received little attention at the time. The project to produce these textbooks was a four-and-a-half year collaborative project, meaning that the project to write these textbooks has been a long-term effort.

Credit: Davidzh / WikicommonsThe campus of Fujian Normal University in Fuzhou, China.
Language learning is oftentimes fraught political territory in Taiwan, with criticisms of the disproportionate focus on classical Chinese in language teaching despite its remoteness from contemporary vernacular language as it is used today in Taiwan. However, political actors in the Kuomintang (KMT)-aligned “pan-Blue” camp have historically called for the preservation of classical Chinese teaching in order to reinforce political claims that Taiwan is part of China. It should also not be surprising that language learning also necessarily engages with Taiwan and China’s respective political histories, seeing students are taught using historical literature from both Taiwan and China, and a specific notion of the political relation between Taiwan and China oftentimes creeps in with regards to what literature is chosen as required reading for students.

Groups supportive of the preservation of classical Chinese education and the current, China-centric curricula tend more often than not to be pan-Blue in nature and they lash out at calls to reduce the portion of classical Chinese used in contemporary Chinese language education as efforts by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-aligned “pan-Green” camp to realize the “desinicization” of Taiwan and push for “cultural Taiwanese independence.” It is not surprising either, that in opposition, many of those who call for a reduction in the proportion of classical Chinese taught in schools are pro-Taiwan organizations such as the Association for Taiwan Literature and Taiwanese literature scholars involved in cultural contestation over Taiwanese literature in recent years, such as Zhu Youxun (朱宥勳) and others.

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