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positions: east asia cultures critique 8.1 (2000) 179-199
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Ah Neng's Critique
My mother died when I was a little kid so I lived with my Vuvu (grandma). One day Vuvu put me on her back and carried me to the field up the mountain. She put me down on the ground to take a rest. "You are my Vuvu," I told her, "but you're my Ina (mom), too." Passionately Vuvu stroked my head saying, "No, you're wrong Monanen. My shoulder is only your transient cradle. The land is our eternal mother!
I am blind and indigenous to Taiwan. I had only nine years of national education. I am not a scholar. Nor am I a politician, and I have never been a government official. Many people would consequently say that I am not qualified to discuss the problems that Understanding Taiwan: The Society presents. Nonetheless I heard some media criticism of this textbook that [End Page 179] parliamentary (legislative Yuan) members had made a couple of days ago. It brought back with vivid clarity the nightmare damage of those outrightly distorted stories, such as "Wu Fung," that I had heard when I was a little boy. The new edition of Understanding Taiwan contains, I heard very clearly, the word fang, or barbarian.
So I started paying attention to related reports in the media. I listened very carefully to the entire debate among three politicians, members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the New Party. When the DPP people, who are supposedly the ones who understand Taiwan, did not give direct responses to the questions that Yin Chang-yi raised about indigenous peoples, I got the impression that hot exchanges over Understanding Taiwan among them are but the instruments of party interests and the result of contrasting ideologies of unification (tung) versus independence (tu). And yet the exchanges do not touch on the contents of the textbook. I suspect that the participants have not even read the text carefully.
I heard later that Tu Cheng-hseng, Understanding Taiwan's principal author, was planning to give a public lecture titled "The Birth of a New Historical View." I presumed it would address the question of the textbook, so I set aside my massage work to attend. During the open discussion that followed Tu's lecture I tried to raise the fallacy of the four-nation formula and the distortions involved in relabeling indigenous people as fang. After I spoke for less than a minute, the loud voice of an old South Fukienese lady interrupted me. This led to an exchange between speakers of Southern Fukienese and a group of people who had Mainland Chinese accents. I never was able to finish what I had wanted to say. These occasions are in general easily transformed into quarrels between advocates of tung and tu where few people really listen to the voices of indigenous peoples. I admit that I was furious then. Though it was the last thing I had wanted, my emotional speech led to confrontation. To those who were present I want to apologize here for my fury.
Finally a friend got me a copy of the textbook. I asked my friend to read me the text word for word. After having Understanding Taiwan: the Society read to me, I realized that actually the book has quite a lot of problems, and I had every right to be furious about it. Naturally, we have to recognize how difficult it is to write textbooks on understanding Taiwan, especially the [End Page 180] parts on indigenous peoples. Many of the past studies and reports are neither neutral nor reliable. Nonetheless, were the authors truly sincere, they would not have been so careless as not to gather field information from various tribes but appoint only one indigenous person to the board of editors. Most ridiculous of all, when this indigenous member raised objections to the word fang, the board employed the prerogative of the majority and overruled the objection "for the sake of convenience in writing." This way...