Education and Media Influence on Formation of New Taiwanese Identity after Democratization of 1990s

Identity formation is a process of development of an individual’s distinct sense of being or personality, where then the process brings about the variance of individuals from others. National identity is, therefore, a person’s self-identity by which he/she believes to be of a specific country. For one to understand Taiwan’s new identity formation, its previous identity should be recognized. Taiwan was ruled under martial law by KMT from 1945 until the democratic reforms of 1980. Upon their democracy, Taiwan people had varying views, on which their fellow citizens are, where their country borders should be and even much so, which state they belong to (Shen, 2013),A new unique identity arose when the nation became a democratic state where the influence of education and mass media came in the sense that, the modern found democracy ushered a new era of freedom of expression and end to media restrictions hence there was ease of access to information leading to rising of Taiwanese identity. Education influence was through new curricula on native Taiwanese cultural heritage were introduced in schools among other factors. This paper analyzes in depth the importance of education and media in the formation of new Taiwanese identity (Shen, 2013).

Taiwan’s national identity is better understood by knowing its ethnic composition. Taiwan’s population consists of the mainlanders and native Taiwanese, where the natives are the original inhabitants of Taiwan before KMT reign, while the mainlanders are the immigrants who came into the country during regime above (Shen, 2013). During KMT rule, the natives were oppressed as the mainlanders controlled all aspects of political, economic and social resources, including all learning institutions and media. Upon the democratic upheaval, the political arena was then in the natives hands owing to their majority, but mainlanders control a majority of learning institutions and mass media. During the period of democratization, Chinese national identity by mainlanders and Taiwanese national identity by natives became more distinct. Evidently, ownership of the tools of acquiring information and dissemination of information by the minority group significantly shaped the outlook of the new Taiwanese identity. KMT’s ruling council owned all media houses and so controlled the content of the media houses and often to portray their regime in favorable circumstances at the same time condemning the natives by highlighting them on derogatory narratives (Shen, 2013) . Furthermore, by owning a majority of the learning institutions, KMT controlled the curricula where learning was streamlined to teaching that Chinese culture was evolved and better than native Taiwanese culture. The learning institutions were the primary levels of indoctrination of the young minds to adopt the Chinese culture. This state of affairs served as one of the significant sources of contention leading to rapid growth of the new Taiwanese identity[1] (Teon, 2017).

According to (Shen, 2013), “the frequent and large-scale ethnic mobilization by the native elites to gain political support during the early stage of democratization contributed to the surge of Taiwanese national identity in the 1990s”. From the excerpt, by the onset of mass media advancement greatly aided the large-scale and frequency of mobilization, leading to deterioration of Chinese identity and ascension of Taiwanese national identity, as posited by (Shen, 2013). With the freedoms of association and assembly existing after democratization, the natives were able to meet and discuss their issues without fear of victimization or harassment by the previous regime. The sense of security provided by the democracy and togetherness experienced through the mobilization significantly influenced the formation of Taiwanese identity (Bachofer, 2014).

New mass media was established upon the withdrawal of martial law in 1987, and this meant that the pro-Taiwanese hardliners had legal avenues to sensitize the previously oppressed fellow countrymen. With the many bans such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly also lifted, the newly minted mass media worked in tandem with these new avenues to create social awareness among the majority of the population and eventually saw the rapid formation of Taiwanese national identity. Perhaps the most significant media tool that thrived during this era of media freedom was newspaper industry. Before bans lift, there were two dominant newspapers, China Times and United Daily News (UDN) both under KMT’s inner ruling circle as mentioned by (Tsai, 2016). However, upon bans withdrawal, rapid establishment of print houses was quite evident. Among the new newspapers, Liberty Times was the most prominent. It arose quite rapidly taking up considerable market portion by identifying with the more significant audience using its pro-independence stand (Tsai, 2016). With Liberty Times pro-independence stand, the more substantial market share meant that the majority of the population being the natives was educated through the newspaper and this forged a greater sense Taiwanese identity. This development led to the rapid formation of new Taiwanese identity.

At the onset of democracy, Taiwanese heritage became much more discussed in history books (Korostelina, 2013), by a more significant understanding of Taiwanese cultural origins, Chinese state identification decreased, and Taiwanese identity strengthened. Curriculum reforms were made during this period. Immense changes were made in the history syllabuses, where books on Taiwanese culture and heritage were introduced to different grades of primary schools. “The new curriculum included such topics as the customs, traditions, history, culture, economics, politics, religion and social issues of the country”. These developments cemented the sense of Taiwanese national identity at such impressionable ages, where these young nationalists would later influence further stronger Taiwanese identity once they grew into adult members of the society.

Though many books published around that period avoided direct reference to Taiwanese people and in so doing it circumvented emphasis on the view of nationalism, however, the mere fact of multiple identities at least replaced the purely Chinese individualism, hence the ethnic aspect of Taiwanese identity was empowered (Korostelina, 2013)Writers were a cautious at those early stages of democracy due to the uncertainty of their newly acquired freedoms because mainlanders still owned most economical and social structures (Dave’).

The book presented a fresh wave of a nationwide historical learning in three key facets, China, Taiwan and the world (Korostelina, 2013)after that Taiwan was explained as entirely distinct from its previous reference as a Chinese faction. The book explained the difference between Taiwanese and Chinese and even furthermore describing the geographical and political dissimilarities. Such publications consequently brought a sense of equality between inland China and island Taiwan where Taiwanese people started identifying the unique aspects of their culture. Worth mentioning is the fact that, Chinese culture was not wholly expunged, curricula did encourage one’s identification equally with Taiwan and China (Korostelina, 2013). The pro-alliance nationalists were not very fond of the curricula which led to several demonstrations among these nationalists. Chinese cultural influence and natives’ oppression were hence reduced in the long run but also let to some form societal tension among the people. Finally, Taiwanese stance as a dynamic multicultural society was therefore born from these strides in political and social development which in this later years has seen Taiwan’s accelerated economic advancement as a nation that came together after years of political strive now finally ready to mainly focus on realizing a national economic prosperity (Zhong, 2015).

In conclusion, it is evident that media and education had a significant influence on the formation of new Taiwanese identity after independence. Media influences were first through the fact that the KMT regime owned a majority of the schools and media up to even after democratization and so it influenced the media content in their favor and this escalated tension. Secondly, with the new freedom of speech and association, media changed a large scale and rapid ethnic mobilization among the natives lead to stronger Taiwanese national identity. Finally, martial law lifting of 1987 also saw bans on media freedom lifted which lead to a rapid emergence of the print press; this saw prominent pro-independence newspapers influencing Taiwanese identity formation. Education first changed identity formation by the curricula reforms in schools teaching Taiwanese ethnic heritage. Secondly, publications of numerous historical books help educate people on Taiwanese cultural background (Jacobs, 2014). Finally, national education through essential books that defined Taiwan’s cultural, political and geographical distinction from China.