Times are a Changin'

I visited a Hualien school (on the east coast of Taiwan) today to promote one of the magazines the company I work for publishes. I took some shots while I was making the rounds of the school, dropping in on classes and saying hello to the students. Of all the shots I took, I found the Chiang Kai-shek pics the most interesting. First, I couldn't help but think about the comment George, one of my blog readers recently made. According to George, it's illegal to hang portraits of anyone other than Sun Yat-sen and the current president on school walls. The schools in Hualien don't seem to haven't gotten the word yet, or they just don't care. I put up three of my favorites. Starting from the bottom, we have a pic that reads, in a tone obviously meant to echo more ominous times: "President Speak". In the middle, Chiang has been cleverly defaced with Wite-out. He now has bushy white eyebrows and a goatee. At the top, we have a Chiang portrait with a hole in it. For some strange reason, the holey Chiang has still been framed.

In one of the classes, when I asked the students about the Chiang portraits, I received a huge shock: its 16-year-old students didn't even know who Chiang was! I said Chiang's name in Chinese, but to no avail. The 16-year-olds were registering blanks. I even pointed at the illegal portrait of Chiang on the wall and said "Chaing!", but still they were oblivious. This got their teacher a bit excited, to say the least. Forgetting that the students should "speak English, in a sentence to practice grammar," she started to hammer away at them in Chinese about their knowledge of the Chiang episode in history, but she also came away with the same response: "Who's this Chiang guy anyway, and why all the fuss?"

Telling my wife about this with a chuckle, I received some unexpected feedback. (It's worth noting that my wife falls squarely into the pro-independence Taiwan-first camp.) She said that was annoyed to hear that the youngsters were now living in ignorant bliss: "This is not good at all. These guys shouldn't forget their history. That's why we have China-unifiers running around," she fumed. "Nobody in Taiwan should forget Chiang."

I found out another thing while I was at this Hualien school. Students don't have to go to shooting classes anymore. When my wife was a student, students had to shoot a gun once a semester as a part of their indoctrination - I mean so that they'd be ready to protect the ROC when the Chinese came, or to answer the call when it was time to regain the motherland. Shooting classes have been phased out.

My wife also informed me that when she was a student, they were forced to bow to the Chiang portrait everyday. When Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) passed in 1987, they were even required to kneel. It seems that's gone as well.

I noticed this language lesson on the chalkboard in one of the classes. From afar, I just assumed it was Japanese. When I took a closer look, and tried to read the sentences, however, I started to get excited, so I grabbed a passing student and asked: "what language is this?"

"It's Amis," she replied. "We have lessons in Amis now." Amis is one of the twelve officially recognized Aboriginal tribes in Taiwan.

In fact, lots of Amis (阿美), Bunan (布農) and Atayal (泰雅) Aborigines live in Hualien. My friends down in Hualien say this is a major reason why the city supports the KMT (Kuomintang) - they have 400 years of grievances and bad blood toward the Taiwanese, which they equate with the DPP, Taiwan's ruling party.

If I'm not a high school student in Hualien, where can I sign up for Amis language lessons?


Anonymous said...

Wasn't it the DPP who implemented these language class into the school systems? Under the KMT all languages were suppressed except for mandarin.

igor sitnikov said...

Great post, Patrick! Very interesting observations!

Patrick Cowsill said...

I think they're thinking about Taiwan from a more historical perspective. There's a long, awful history of abuse here; Taiwanese will often talk about 2/28 or White Terror, but these moments pale in comparison to what the Taiwanese did to the Aborigines. The Aborigines are still bitter the past, and want nothing to do with the DDP, which they equate with the Taiwanese who cheated them out of their land, bullied them up into the mountains and who even ate them on a regular basis.

Of course you're right: it was "the DPP who implemented these language class into the school systems? Under the KMT all languages were suppressed except for mandarin," but it doesn't mean much next to 400 years of history.

Geezer Foo said...

Surely, "Times are a'Ch(i)angin'"?

That is quite fascinating about the law that prevents hanging the picture of anyone but SYS or the current president. Is there a link anywhere to the actual law itself?

I found it very funny at the National Central Library to see, at each end of this massive seminar room, huge portraits of CKS and Chen Shui-Bian, glaring at each other as if they were staring each other down. I thought that encapsulated the whole debate, really. And by golly was it something to think about while being lectured to about the history of pig tails in 15th century rural China.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"And by golly was it something to think about while being lectured to about the history of pig tails in 15th century rural China."

Geezer, I have no idea what this means. What's this about a pig?

On the law, a local brought it to my attention. I'll ask him for the link and get back to you. The election looms and the portrait wars will surely continue. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the Chen legacy should the KMT win.

Gareth said...


No pigs involved. It's just that every so often I'd be summoned to the National Central Library seminar room to listen to some random lecture or another (15th century pig tails in rural China, the political significance of the pork dumpling in Manchu in May 1721, etc.) and as they were on the whole rather dull, I whiled away the hours imagining Chen and Chiang in the Taiwan heat of the World Staring Competition.


Patrick Cowsill said...


LOL, thanks for the Link!

I'll get back to you on that law. It slipped my mind, but I'll hunt the guy down that brought it to my attention. He's been pretty upset with my blog recently, especially my stuff about the visit to the Taipei residence of [Dictator] Chen. I'll get after him tomorrow. Cheers!