Taiwan protesters rip up textbooks, demand education minister's resignation

Activists march on the street during a protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Taiwan's capital Taipei on Aug 2, 2015.
Activists march on the street during a protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Taiwan's capital Taipei on Aug 2, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - Nearly a thousand people rallied outside Taiwan's education ministry on Sunday, demanding the minister's resignation and the scrapping of what they describe as a "China-centric" high school curriculum.

The protesters, whom police estimated to number about 800, ripped up the new versions of textbooks printed under the new curriculum guidelines.

The crowd, most of them adults, chanted slogans like "Supporting students", "Safeguarding democracy" and "(Minister) Wu Se-hwa step down".

The turnout was the largest since July 24, when 30 protesters, many of them students, broke into the ministry to protest at the changes.

They were arrested and later released but some face charges.

Young activist Lin Kuan-hua, one of those involved in breaking into the ministry, committed suicide at his home on Thursday.

Protesters on Sunday paid tribute to Lin, adorning an iron fence outside the ministry with hundreds of flowers, half of them white roses.

"The flowers are in memory of Lin," said Ms Chuo Li-chen, a 57-year-old housewife from the northern city of Taoyuan.

"I want Lin to know he won't die in vain. I believe his death has awakened more people who had been brainwashed by the Kuomintang government for decades."

Self-governing Taiwan split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war. But Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory and does not rule out force to achieve reunification at some stage.

Public concern is growing, especially among the young, at perceived increased Chinese influence over the island in the wake of a rapprochement with Beijing forged by current President Ma Ying-jeou from the Kuomintang (KMT) party.

Students occupied parliament for three weeks last year over a trade deal with China in a protest known as the Sunflower Movement, inspiring a new generation of activists.

The 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".

The main China-sceptic opposition Democratic Progressive Party accuses the KMT of being "cold-blooded" and says it tried to smear the student protest campaign. It calls for the curriculum changes to be rescinded.

The KMT and scholars behind the curriculum changes say the DPP is stoking the protests.