Students protest in Taiwan over 'China-centric' education

Taiwanese high school students protesting against the revision of history text books during a demonstration in front of the education ministry in Taipei on July 22, 2015.
Taiwanese high school students protesting against the revision of history text books during a demonstration in front of the education ministry in Taipei on July 22, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Around 200 students protested outside Taiwan's education ministry Wednesday against what they say are "China-centric" changes to the school curriculum.

Increasing fears in Taiwan over Beijing's influence sparked a three-week occupation of parliament last year by student-led protesters opposing a trade pact with China.

Several of the groups that took part in the occupation joined protesters at the ministry in the capital Taipei, piling up school textbooks at the main gate and shouting protests against "brainwashing education".

The students say changes to the high school curriculum, due to be introduced in September, undermine the island's sovereignty and have been introduced without proper consultation.

"We strongly oppose using the new curriculum which is aimed to indoctrinate students with the thinking of 'greater China'. This is totally unacceptable," student leader Chu Chen, 18, told AFP.

Taiwan split from China in 1949 after a civil war and is self-ruling, but Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary.

Relations have improved under current president Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party, leading to a number of trade deals but triggering growing public unease.

Curriculum changes disputed by protesters include a reference to Taiwan being "recovered by China" instead of "given to China" after the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.

The 50-year period of Japanese rule is also referred to as an era when "Japan occupied" the island, replacing the previous phrase "Japan governed".

"It's biased towards the China ideology," said protester Gina Wang, 17.

"We want our curriculum to be neutral, diversified and objective." University student Wu Chang-an, 21, added: "For me, Taiwan is Taiwan. It feels like they are trying to sneak pro-unification ideology into our education."

The scholars who devised the changes said they were seeking to fix what they saw as distortions under the rule of the Democratic Progressive Party, which had a pro-independence platform.

There have been small-scale student protests for weeks over the adjustments.

The demonstrations have echoes of a mass campaign in semi-autonomous Hong Kong in 2012, which saw tens of thousands take to the streets against a bill to introduce mandatory Chinese patriotism classes into schools.

Taiwanese protesters also said they would arrange candles in the shape of an umbrella - symbol of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement - outside the ministry Wednesday evening, adding it would reflect being "kept in the dark".

The education ministry told AFP it would give schools the option of following either the old or the new curriculum.

"The curriculum has been adjusted since the late 1990s with different governments in power," spokesman Wu Ching-shan told AFP.

He said there had been public consultation over the changes and they were part of a wider update to the school curriculum to reflect "social changes" and at the request of some teachers.