This was an e-mail I wrote to a personal friend. I went ahead and added a few extra annotations, and reformatted things to better fit the medium of an HTML webpage, instead of a plain-text e-mail. My friend and I have had many debates about politics and history, and this pretty much sums it up:
I remember in High School, a friend of mine from Mainland China, who immigrated here in 7th grade (相當於「國一」) once told me that he didn’t think Taiwanese knew anything about Chinese history, because they didn’t teach anything beyond the Ming dynasty, because he thought Taiwanese schools only talked about Taiwanese history, so it only started with 鄭成功 (Koxinga). However, he was surprised when our Taiwanese friend, David actually knew all the major dynasties, and actually knew some history. Then, I became surprised at how much more I knew than my friend about modern contemporary history of China. He blamed his lack of knowledge, due the year in which he immigrated. I never lived in China, but I know Chinese history, this is no excuse. I think what can be summed up is in this statement:
“School textbooks are interesting and tricky primary sources for historians to use. They often offer rather simplified worldviews due to their didactic function (especially those for school children).”
Basically, school textbooks don’t include a lot of the minor details of history, because they know not all kids will be interested in that stuff. I think this is more because they haven’t found an effective way to engage students in history [in ANY country]. Sadly, you know what has engaged many people about Chinese history? 金庸小說 (Louis Cha Novels). That’s really about the extent to which Chinese history knowledge is amongst most people, and it’s extremely nerve-wrecking. The way he twists history in his books… Eck! For instance, in 『倚天屠龍記』 (“The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber”), he featured Zoroastrians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoroastrianism), but in 金庸 (Louis Cha)‘s novels, his “fire-worshipping” people used their “holy fire” to burn their deceased. THIS IS WRONG! Zoroastrians don’t worship fire, they worship in front of it. Let’s make that clear. Second of all, fire is a holy obect, and by desecrating the fire to burn a corpse for cremation is actually a MAJOR taboo in that religion. All Jin Yong would have had to do, to research his book, was head down to a Zoroastrian temple in Hong Kong. Afterall, India and Hong Kong were both British colonies, so you saw a lot of people from the Indian sub-continent, including Pakistan, and Bangladesh moving to this area, which means their Zoroastrians known as Parsee‘s came, and had a major influence in Hong Kong as well.
In any case, history… It especially irks me when Chinese people tell me I don’t know history, when it’s clearly the Chinese themselves who have nothing more than a middle-school education on the subject, and the best idea they have about history comes from a fictional novel. This is why I say schools need to do a better job of engaging their students, otherwise, they let fiction writers hi-jack history.