08/07/2015, 00.00
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Lin Kuan-hua’s suicide does not stop Taiwan’s student protest

by Xin Yage
The young man killed himself to protest against the new textbooks, deemed too pro-mainland China. His parents ask that his memory be respected, whilst his comrades say they will continue to protest. The affair becomes political as the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party openly spar over it.

Taipei (AsiaNews) - On the morning of 30 July, the parents of Lin Kuan-hua (林冠華) found their son dead, in an apparent suicide, after he lit coal used for winter heating and closed the doors and windows to his room.

After tackling depression for years, the young man had recently a cause to fight for, namely the China-centric textbooks Taiwan’s Education Ministry was planning to introduce in the upcoming school year.

As leader of the new textbooks protest (反 高中 課 綱 微調 運動), Lin had led 32 of his peers in a raid inside the Education Ministry on 24 July. He was arrested, then released and had written an enigmatic message on the eve of his 20th birthday: "I want to make the media talk" (我 要讓 媒體 輿論 瘋狂 燃燒), but I cannot say it now: "There are things one cannot say, but one can only do" (不能 說, 有些 事 不能 說, 只能 做).

Although the dead man’s friends and comrades see him as a symbol against the ministry, his family said their son’s memory should be respected, especially his mother who spoke about her son’s depression in a moving plea. For her, his death ought not to be seen as the result of a "defeat" inflicted by the police and the government.

"We thank the school and teachers,” said his father, “who were close to our son during these, sometimes difficult years, helping him cope with life and depression. The events of the past few days are insignificant compared to his history of suffering.”

Obviously, even though they respect the family’s position, student protesters disagree. "He was very coherent in his choices. The fact that under the current regime we cannot claim certain historical truths is proof that individuals no longer count," said Wang Liuyi, a student who has been involved in the protest since day one.

During an interview, the head of the Juang Jing technical school (莊 敬 高職), Lin Shu-kuei (林淑貴), stressed the emotional problems that had weighted heavily on Lin Kuan-hua for some time, and had pushed teachers and parents to ask that he receive support and treatment.

Last Sunday, almost a thousand students met to continue the protest in Lin’s name. For one student, his death "has awakened the conscience of many who had suffered 'brainwashing' by the nationalist Kuomintang party (KMT, 國民黨) for decades".

As Typhoon Soudelor nears the island ready to make landfall over the weekend, many protesters expressed they are intent to hunker down in front of the Ministry. "We do not want to leave,” said one student called Chen. “We want to show the importance of truth and our historical roots”.

A visit to two high schools in Taipei to survey students’ opinions shows that most support the protest, although they do not considered it as important as last year’s sunflower protest.

"It is a minor cause though it has its reasons," said Ivy, a student in her year at Taipei’s most prestigious high school for girls.

For other students, although the causes of Lin’s suicide "are to be found in his personal history of recurrent bouts with depression, as his own parents said, being free to question the choices imposed by the Ministry is a very important element in a democracy."

"Without freedom of speech, we are back to era of the (KMT) regime," said Wang Mingde (王明德), a third-year high school student.

"In our families, there are grandparents or ancestors who made great sacrifices to fight for freedom, rights and democracy. We do not want them to be forgotten or devalued," said Wu (吳學生), another student.

Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民主 進步 黨) president Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who could become Taiwan’s first female president next year, said that charges against the students and the three journalists detained on 24 July should be dropped.

"Students are struggling for a better society, one that is more respectful of other people's opinions, whilst the police, by arresting journalists, has denied the simplest and most basic right, that of freedom of the press."

The popular mayors of Taipei and Kaohsiung have also strongly condemned the arrest of three journalists who followed the students during the break-in to cover the event.

For his part, Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the KMT presidential candidate, said that the DPP is irresponsible and complicitous in sending students to lead the protest, whilst working behind the scenes in supporting them materially and ideologically.

From the start, Education Minister Wu Se-hwa (吳思華) stressed that the new textbooks were not mandatory but were at teachers’ discretion. The old texts are still valid and would still be available.

In terms of their content, protesters objected to changes in four areas, namely geography, culture, history and civics.

In terms of the history of Taiwan, the new texts say that Taiwan “was recovered by China" rather than “given to China" after the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.

Similarly, Japan’s 50-year presence is described as Japan having “occupied” the island rather than “governed” it.

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