Taiwan Communiqué No. 77, September 1997

Reforms in Taiwan

Discarding the "Province of China"

On Friday, 19 July 1997, Taiwan's National Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority of 261-8 votes to virtually eliminate the provincial government and freeze any further elections for the position of Governor and the 79-member Provincial Assembly.

The Provincial government was a left-over from the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists still ruled China. After the 1945 defeat of Japan by the Allied Forces, Chiang occupied Taiwan, severely repressing the Taiwanese, and designating the island "a province" of China without any democratic consultations with the population.

The new move will boost Taiwan's de facto independent status, and dismantles one of the remaining links with the repressive past. The development is part of a new consensus between the ruling Kuomintang of President Lee Teng-hui and the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. The DPP hailed the step as "...opening a chapter for a new Taiwanese history."

The National Assembly's decision was part of a series of amendments to the Constitution, which included a controversial expansion of presidential powers. The President gained the power to appoint a Prime Minister without the need for approval by the Legislative Yuan. This was a bone of contention, because the appointment of the previous Prime Minister, Lien Chan, was never ratified by the Legislative Yuan.

The Legislative Yuan did gain the right to take a vote of no-confidence in the premier. If the vote of no-confidence is passed, the president can subsequently dissolve the legislature and calls for a new election. The Legislative Yuan was also given the power of impeachment, and is being enlarged from the present 164 seats to 225 seats in the upcoming elections of December 1998.

{short description of image}

Governor James Soong: "Where are we going?"

The National Assembly itself is expected to gradually fade away, as it is also a relatively useless relic of the past. The legislative function is being performed by the increasingly influential Legislative Yuan.

The phase-out of the provincial government was strongly opposed by Provincial Governor James Soong, who rode President Lee's coattails a couple of years ago, and
became the first elected governor. However, he is a mainlander who is increasingly associated with the pro-unification extremist New Party, and his political career seems to have come to an end.

The New Party boycotted the vote, and according to a South China Morning Post report even held up banners saying "Taiwanese uprising, Jiang Zemin, Help!" Because of such extremist views, the New Party is increasingly marginalized in Taiwan.

"Getting to know Taiwan"

New geography and history for Taiwan's students

On 14 August 1997, the Far Eastern Economic Review published an excellent article, titled "Schools of Thought" by its Taiwan reporter Julian Baum about the issue of textbooks in Taiwan secondary schools. The report focused on the fact that under the Kuomintang government, Taiwan's students have had to memorize quaint facts about China's geography and history, while they learned very little about Taiwan itself.

{short description of image}

Finally, the Ministry of Education in Taipei decided to correct the situation, and had a series of textbooks written, titled "Getting to Know Taiwan", which is being introduced in Taiwan's junior highschool classrooms in September 1997.

The new texts cover many sensitive and once-forbidden topics, such as an account of early aboriginal settlement of the island, the killing of tens of thousands of Taiwanese by Chiang Kai-shek's troops in 1947, the "white terror" the Kuomintang's repressive intimidation campaign in the 1950s and '60s, and the "Kaohsiung Incident" of 1979, a turning point in Taiwan's modern history. The text also refers to the people on the island as "Taiwan ren" or "Taiwanese" rather than "Zhongguo ren" or "Chinese" a major step forward.

Several examples of some of the useless facts about China which Taiwanese students were required to know, and some of the basic facts about Taiwan, which they didn't know:

* Students taking high school entrance exams must know ancient capitals of imperial China, but not the capitals of Taiwan's counties.

* They have to learn the reign titles of the emperors of old Chinese dynasties, but are not taught the names of Taiwan's aboriginal tribes.

* Geography tests require students to identify China's rivers and major mountain ranges, but not those of Taiwan. Maps on the school walls show an anachronistic "Republic of China" which among other anomalies embraces all of Mongolia, a chunk of modern-day Burma, Tibet, and numerous Chinese provinces which no longer exist.

* History lessons cover extensively the atrocities committed by Japan during World War II in China, but give scant attention to the massacre by mainland Chinese of 20,000-28,000 Taiwanese in 1947, and totally ignore the political repression that followed.

* Students must study quaint intellectual movements preceding the Nationalist overthrow of the Chinese imperial dynasty in 1911, but not the Taiwanese self-rule movement under the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945).

Back to: Table of Contents

Copyright © 1997 Taiwan Communiqué