Taiwan intensifies native language drive

By Lawrence Chung, The Straits Times, 13 December 2000

Part of Taiwanisation movement, the move is said to be aimed at enabling people to identify themselves with Taiwan and resist ‘one China’ claim.

TAIPEI—To cope with a severe shortage of native language teachers, the Taiwanese authorities are holding recruitment tests for anyone proficient in Hokkien, Hakka or an aboriginal language.

The move comes as preparations gather pace for a new mother-tongue course to be introduced in the new academic year beginning next September.

Analysts have described the move to teach Taiwan's native languages as part of the government's ongoing efforts to make the local people identify themselves with Taiwan and to resist growing pressure from Beijing for Taipei to embrace the ‘one China’ principle.

Under Taiwan's ‘nine-year educational programme’ approved by the then President Lee Teng-hui's government earlier this year, children aged six to 12 must study any one of the three local dialects to familiarise themselves with local Taiwanese culture.

Mr Lee, whom Beijing sees as the ‘culprit’ trying to split Taiwan from China, had quietly thrown his support behind the so-called ‘Taiwanisation movement’ initiated by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) when he was still president.

After the DPP's Mr Chen Shui-bian replaced Mr Lee as president in May, he gave his blessing for the introduction of the local dialect course in the new academic year beginning next September.

Mr Liu Yi-chuan, director of the Education Ministry's Department of Elementary and Junior High School Education, said the dialect proficiency test would be held in February.

Those who pass will get certificates which qualify them to teach Hokkien, Hakka or the aboriginal dialects, he said.

Ministry officials acknowledged that the language course is designed to help preserve the cultural heritage of children who come from different backgrounds.

However, they were reluctant to comment on whether there was any political significance behind the introduction of such courses.

But Professor Chiu Hai-yuan, director of the Institute of Social Science of the Academia Sinica, said: ‘The mother-tongue lesson is an important part of the Taiwanisation movement, which stresses the priority of Taiwan.'

‘In a way, it will enable people here to identify themselves with Taiwan,’ he said.

Analysts said Beijing's long-held position that Taiwan is a part of the mainland and that there is only one China has sparked the Taiwanisation movement, which is a form of resistance to China's claim over the island.

The former Kuomintang government, then ruler of China, fled to Taiwan after it was defeated by the Chinese communists at the end of a civil war in 1949, and ruled Taiwan for five decades.

Analysts said the movement has become more and more conspicuous since Mr Chen took office in May.

After the Taiwan emblem furore at the Foreign Ministry, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission of the Chen administration has become the latest to raise a spat on whether Taiwanisation is sweeping up yet another virile symbol of mainland presence on the island.

The commission has loaded its board with Taiwan-born members and banned songs promoting identification with China.