AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 346

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Session 346: The Past Contested: National, Cultural and Global Dimensions of History Education in Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore

Organizer: Yeow Tong Chia, University of Sydney, Australia

Chair: Ethan Segal, Michigan State University, USA

Discussants: Ethan Segal, Michigan State University, USA; Yoshiko Nozaki, State University of New York, Buffalo, USA; David L. Grossman, Independent Scholar, USA

This panel examines the contested nature of history education and the ways in which governments have obliterated competing versions of the past by using schools as a primary vehicle to legitimize state-sanctioned historical memory. The first paper discusses the international response to Japan's war past by highlighting the role of House Resolution 121 as a lobbying point against Japan's continued reluctance to acknowledge its war crimes. The second paper turns to Taiwan, analyzing the process by which elementary social studies curriculum has reflected and shaped domestic social identity movements since the end of the Kuo Min Tang (KMT) regime in 1987. The third paper examines the contested nature of history education in Malaysia's ethnically stratified context. It illustrates an instance of how dominant ethnic Malays have used history education to advance their communal goals, often at the expense of greater representation for ethnic minorities. The final paper discusses the use and abuse of history education in Singapore's nation-building project. Mapping historical changes in history and social studies curriculum, the paper shows that curricular evolution is closely tied to changes in Singapore's political and state developmentalist goals. Taken together, these papers demonstrate the contested nature of the teaching of the past, and show how states in the Asian context have deployed history education as a tool for legitimation, identity formation, and nation building.

H.R.121 and the International Response to the Japanese Textbook Controversy
Elizabeth Dutridge-Corp, Michigan State University, USA

There has been an ongoing debate over history education in Japan since the 1950s. Concerns about “revisionist history” in textbooks remained confined to political and scholarly circles within Japan until 1982, when it became an international concern. Gaining further attention in the 1990s, and again in 2001 with the publication of the Tsukurukai’s ultra-conservative New History Textbook, the controversy is often explained in terms of domestic factors, focusing on the impact of neo-conservatives and Liberal Democratic Party members. However, this debate must also be examined from an international perspective in order to better understand its significance. On 30 July 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 121 (H.R.121), a non-binding resolution calling upon the Government of Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility” for the “enslavement and trafficking” of comfort women during World War II. But with the war more than sixty years in the past, why, in 2007, was there a call for an “unambiguous” apology? Is it possible to reconcile if textbooks continue to present an “alternate” view of the past? This paper examines the impact of the Japanese textbook controversy both within and outside of Japan. Emphasizing that history education easily moves beyond borders, this paper explores contested views of the past in history textbooks that seem to threaten Japan’s relationship with its global partners. It traces the link between the controversy and H.R. 121, highlighting the resolution as an international response to the impact of nationalism on history education.

Who am I? An International Study of Cultural Identity in Post Democratic Taiwanese Elementary Schools
Ming Chu Hsu, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, USA

In Taiwan’s highly centralized education system, the Ministry of Education has dominated elementary school curriculum since World War II. School textbooks have been viewed as a way of implementing ideologies concerning cultures, identities, and their related languages. Considering the war swayed nationalities (standing), Taiwan has a long history of colonial rule in which people experienced the conflict of changing status as well as defining the self cultural identity as Chinese, Taiwanese, new Taiwanese, or others. This paper explores the degree to which the elementary Social Studies curriculum in Taiwan has been influenced by and reflects the significant social identity movements since the end of the Kuo Min Tang (KMT) government control of the country in 1987. It seeks to enhance the understanding of cultural identity, national identity, and their interrelation through an examination of Social Studies textbook (1987-2008) as a conceptual framework for decision-making. In this procedure, the study will contribute to the education efforts in dealing with complexities involving social, cultural, racial, political, and ethnic identities in a condition in which colonialism has been handed down, to maintain political and ideological hegemony in education, particularly curriculum. By examining multiethnic education resources, school curriculum and teachers’ response and ideologies, this study also attempts to provide evidence for keeping the nature of multiethnic and multicultural education free from political intervention.

The Politics of History Education and Nation-building in Malaysia (1960~2010)
Lee Lan Wong, Tsinghua University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This paper examines the politics and practice of History education in Malaysia within the context of ethnicity and nation-building. History can give a sense of national identity, while history education takes full responsibility in building national identity and social memories. Public education in Malaysia is promoted as a nation-building tool, intended to inculcate a sense of Malaysian-ness and patriotism. This paper seeks to look at the contents of Malaysian state-approved history textbooks and the policies of history education as indicative of nation projection. In particular, the paper focuses on the contradictions in the progress of nation building within history education. For the political party that has ruled Malaysia since 1955, the Barisan National, Malay-ness and Islam play an essential role in national identity but leave the non-Malay ethnicity behind. While attempting to create a basis of inclusion and patriotism, the textbooks also maintain exclusionary categories within the state cutting between citizens themselves. An internal contradiction and conflict arises between the non-Malays when the goal of history education in nation building is explicitly based on ethnic stratification rather than on promoting nation patriotism. Here, I argue that the endeavor of nation building in education, especially in Malaysia, should seek new approaches as minority groups in the nation need to be included.

History Education for National Building and State Formation: The case of Singapore
Yeow Tong Chia, University of Sydney, Australia

History is often viewed as a political battleground and a tool for state legitimization. In instilling a sense of pride in the common past, the teaching of a nation’s history contributes to nation building. This is especially so in the case of the ex-colonies which gained independence after World War II. Singapore is atypical of the decolonised states in that there was no impetus in the teaching of its national history in the first two decades following its independence. It was only in 1984 that Singapore history began to be taught in schools. Why did Singapore take so long to introduce the teaching of a separate Singapore history? What were the changes that have occurred since then? This paper examines the politics and policies concerning the formulation, implementation and changes concerning the teaching of Singapore’s history. The Singapore state initially regarded the teaching of the recent national past to be divisive, which resulted in a near neglect and de-emphasis of Singapore’s past in the first decade or so following its independence. However, the state did an about turn and emphasized history education since the 1980s. This intensified in towards the end of the 1990s with the introduction of the ‘National Education’ program in schools and the ensuing Singapore Story. This return to the past, however, obliterates alternative and competing versions of the past, especially the circumstances leading to Singapore’s independence. The Singapore’s case thus illustrates the (ab)use and disuse of history education in nation building and state legitimation.