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Reactions to criticism of classical Chinese content in schools mixed

12/10/2023 09:44 PM
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Students at the Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School study their textbooks in class in this CNA file photo
Students at the Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School study their textbooks in class in this CNA file photo

Taipei, Dec. 10 (CNA) The government defended itself and Taiwan's presidential candidates had mixed reactions after a high school teacher blasted a change in curriculum guidelines in 2019 to teach less classical Chinese as politically motivated "desinicization."

The significant cut in the number of classical Chinese texts was "a crime deserving more than 10,000 deaths," said Ou Kui-chih (區桂芝), who teaches Chinese literature at Taipei First Girls' High School, at a press conference on Dec. 4.

The current curriculum guidelines, introduced in 2019 as part of Taiwan's extension of its national education program from nine to 12 years, were "shameless," Ou said, arguing that students were no longer able to learn about important values, such as integrity, from writings by Ming Dynasty literati Ku Yen-wu (顧炎武), for instance.

Ou's comments at the event, held by a teachers' group to review the current government's education policies, went viral as they rekindled the debate on "desinicization" ahead of Taiwan's January 2024 presidential election.

The process of "desinicization" in Taiwan refers to emphasizing Taiwanese identity and eliminating Chinese cultural symbols, in opposition to the country's historical identification with China under the Kuomintang (KMT) regime.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has been in power since May 2016 and is ideologically aligned with "desinicization" efforts, was responsible for setting the new curriculum four years ago.

In a statement on Dec. 8, the Ministry of Education (MOE) defended the general direction of the curriculum guidelines, saying they were aimed at helping students develop the right values and attitudes from more diverse texts -- including modern Taiwanese literature, foreign literature, and literary essays.

Ministry of Education. CNA file photo
Ministry of Education. CNA file photo

Students were also encouraged to develop critical thinking and communication skills from their life experiences instead of solely relying on reciting texts, as well as spending more time in selective rather than required courses, the ministry said.

The MOE also rejected accusations that it has abolished classical Chinese, explaining that such content still averages about 35-45 percent of high school Chinese literature textbooks, compared with 45-65 percent in the previous curriculum used between 2001 and 2018.

Hou Chun-liang (侯俊良), one of the 2019 curriculum review committee members, told CNA that the curriculum guidelines simply offer a framework under which there remains flexibility for teachers to teach whatever content they consider appropriate.

Ou's criticism drew mixed views from students, with an internal online poll of National Taiwan University students showing Sunday that 38 percent of the 1,814 respondents agreed with Ou, 23 percent disagreed, and the rest were neutral.

Taiwan's three presidential candidates also weighed in.

New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) of the KMT vowed that if elected, he would chair a national affairs conference to review the guidelines.

The campaign office of Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德), the DPP's presidential nominee, said the 15 classical Chinese writings currently selected were for teachers' reference only and open to adjustments.

Taiwan People's Party (TPP) Chairman Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said he personally objected to desinicization, calling it an unnecessary movement as Taiwan and China share the same history and culture.

In addition to the classical Chinese issue, the 2019 curriculum has raised other controversies, such as teaching the history of China in the broader context of East Asia rather than singling it out, as was the case previously.

Ou was not speaking out on the issue for the first time.

According to the China Times, a Chinese-language daily, she criticized the curriculum in 2019 on the same grounds.

(By Chen Chih-chung and Lee Hsin-Yin)

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