I always know that the current government doesn’t really identify themselves as “Taiwanese” but Chinese, but this document issued by the Education Ministry to all the senior high schools, junior high schools and elementary schools in Taiwan really blew my mind.
The main purpose of this document is to direct the high schools and elementary schools how Taiwan and China should be marked on a map, which is a controversial topic in Taiwan. The second point states that the colors for Taiwan and China on the maps should be different. The third points states as follows:
“3. As for marking the capital, our country’s capital is Nanjing according to the constitution of Republic of China. Taipei is the current location of the central government. Considering that the legends on the map are used worldwide, the legend for the capital will be used for Taipei in the current textbooks. The accompanying text should state “the location of the central government.”
Okay, here we go, “our country’s capital is Nanjing.” When I read it, I was angry at first. I thought “our country’s capital is TAIPEI, NOT Nanjing!” But then I soon fully realized who is stating this sentence. It is Republic of China that is stating “our capital is Nanjing.”
Republic of China (ROC) still thinks that they rule the whole Mainland China. They want to reunite “ROC in Taiwan” with the bigger part of China over there across the strait. They still call Nanjing their capital. However, plenty of Taiwanese people like me have long been in Taiwan and think that Taiwan is their country and Taipei is the capital. We grew up on this island and the Taiwanese identity developed quite naturally.
Yesterday I told a group of my 40 high school students about this news and this document released by the Education Ministry. When I got the the part when I said “…and in the document, it says that ‘our country’s capital is Nanjing’,” all the students laughed like crazy. I didn’t quite expect this reaction. I thought they would all be silent like usual or look confused. But no. They laughed, like I was telling a joke or saying something silly. Taiwanese young kids think you’re making a joke, Education Ministry.
When our government issued a document like this, it pinches my heart, because it shows so sharply that there’s a big gap between what I want and what our government wants. I know that the country they call “our country” isn’t the same as the country I would call mine. They think their country is Republic of China, a country that rules Taiwan and the whole China over there (which is a huge joke) with the capital in Nanjing. I think my country is Taiwan, including the islands around, and the capital is Taipei. The weird thing here is that the government that’s leading Taiwan now, the ROC government, doesn’t think the same way as I do. But they’re ruling Taiwan. There’re plenty of people in Taiwan who think like me. My students are good examples. There’re also over 57% of the people in Taiwan that think they’re just “Taiwanese” now (source: http://esc.nccu.edu.tw/modules/tinyd2/content/TaiwanChineseID.htm). This gap between the government and the people worries me, and I’m doubtful about if our current government, the ROC government, can give its people what is the best for the country of Taiwan?
I have to say though that I grow up thinking ROC is Taiwan, and I also identify the ROC flag as the flag for Taiwan. ROC is the government(country?) that has led Taiwan to what it is now, anyway. However, if I could choose, I would identify with the word Taiwan more. In the media in Taiwan, we often hear “Taiwanese government” as well, instead of saying “ROC government”. When people ask me where I’m from, I definitely always say I’m Taiwanese instead of saying…I’m a ROCer.
This is a hotly debated issue in Taiwan. I think that’s because the formation of Taiwanese identity is still on its way. With the data given by the survey done by National Chengchi University (source: http://esc.nccu.edu.tw/modules/tinyd2/content/TaiwanChineseID.htm), I think Taiwanese identity will only keep rising year after year. The government should not respond to this with ignorance.
Being “internationalized” or having “world vision” is a canned phrase used to describe the goal for schools and businesses alike. In my opinion, it’s just window dressing most of the time. For example, universities might brag about having an increasing number of international students, but in fact they put them in separate dorms so Taiwanese students/school officials don’t have to deal with the cultural clashes.
I’ve always been looking for chances to see how much Taiwanese students know about the world. This summer, I had the opportunity to teach English to two classes of students freshly enrolled in junior high school. I took the chance to do a little survey during the class about place and country names in English. I thought they would be good subjects because I would be able to get a glimpse of the fruit of Taiwanese elementary school education regarding “world vision”, and they weren’t so jaded by Taiwanese high school education that they would be unmotivated to even fill out the blanks.
So this is how I did it. I chose 27 countries in total, as shown on the map below:
I chose these countries because I thought these would be easier for the students, since they are on the news more and people talk about them more in Taiwan.
I distributed 60 handouts including the map shown above and 27 blanks for their answers. I gave them 10-15 minutes to fill in the countries they knew or thought that they knew. Then, I gave them the correct answers and told them to use a different color of pen to correct their answers. Among the handouts returned to me, 45 were countable and valid data.
I thought it was interesting that the first reaction a lot of students had was shouting, “Teacher, why isn’t Taiwan numbered?” So that’s comforting. A lot of them know where Taiwan is, and no one asked me “Teacher, why isn’t Republic of China numbered?”
So how much do these 12-year-olds know?
Most of them know where China and Japan are (93% for both). Many of them know where the Philippines are (71%). I started out this project expecting the worst, because I’m generally pessimistic about the Taiwanese cramming style of teaching. So I already consider it comforting that most of these kids were able to name the countries closest to us.
Following China, Japan, the Philippines were Australia (56%), U.S.A (47%), Russia (36%), Canada (29%), New Zealand (18%), India (16%), and Egypt (11%). The percentages were relatively low for all of these countries, especially for Australia, the U.S.A. and Canada when considering that they had come up often in conversation, and a lot of native English-speaking teachers are from these countries.
All the other countries not mentioned had percentages under 10%: Spain (9%), France (9%), Indonesia (7%), Mexico (4%) and Germany (4%). Only one student knew where Norway is. Same for Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
What was also interesting was their mistakes. I really appreciate these mistakes because they tell us something more interesting than correct answers. Most of the students just left the places they didn’t know blank.
The number in the parentheses is the number of students who gave that answer. So yeah, three people named Canada “U.S.A.” Surprising? What’s probably more funny is that one student named the U.S.A. “Russia”.
Another thing I would like to mention is that all the students seemed to enjoy this activity a lot. I could see that they were actively thinking when they were filling out their answers. When I announced the correct answers, they would raise their hands (usually you have to push ten times for that in Taiwan) and share what they knew about the countries with me. A lot of them were stereotypes, true, but those at least gave me chances to correct them. I don’t know if they’ll stay like this until the end of senior high school or if they’ll become super jaded, teacher-hating students. I certainly hope they can keep up their interest in the world.