The University of St. Thomas



September 2006 : VOLUME 4 : NO. 1

Featured Articles

The Politics of Implementing Local Cultures in Music Education in Taiwan


Recent studies of the localization and globalization of Taiwan’s music education cannot explain the complicated interplay between localization and the pursuit of local cultures in national development and policy making in the broader society, and in school education in Taiwan between the late 1980s and 2004. Features of localization in Taiwan’s music education include the highlighting of local artists and musical styles such as Taiwanese opera, puppetry shows, and local folk music in the curriculum. More importantly, music education to support the indigenous core values of peace, the beauty of the homeland, and harmony in society and in everyday life is reflected in the selected song lyrics. This article, however, argues that there is a vacuum as a result of the cultural gap between traditional Chinese music and contemporary Taiwanese local music. Music education in Taiwan is socially and politically constructed, and subject to change by the ruling regime as it seeks to preserve its political power. Owing to the different political ideologies of Taiwan and mainland China, there is difficulty in bridging the cultural gap within the school curriculum.

The Context of National Development in Culture and Education

Taiwan has been a disputed region at least since the seventeenth century, with China, Holland, Spain and France contesting its occupation over several centuries. These various cultures have had an impact on present-day Taiwanese society in terms of government, social issues, and cultural identity including the subject of the present study, music education. A brief synopsis of Taiwanese history and culture follows here as an aid to understanding these processes.

In 1895, the Japanese defeated the Manchus in the Sino-Japanese War, and China ceded Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Between 1895 and 1945, during Japanese colonial rule, the people of Taiwan were cut off from the mainstream of Chinese culture and compelled to learn the Japanese language and culture (for details, see Chen, 2001; Clough, 1996). The strong tie to traditional Chinese culture was re-established when mainlanders reached Taiwan after 1945. Among them, a considerable number were intellectuals, including historians, writers, painters, Chinese opera performers and other supporters of traditional Chinese culture. After being defeated by the communists in China, Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), who had served as the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) and more than two million of his followers retreated to the island of Taiwan. There he set up the government of the Republic of China (ROC), which claimed to be the legitimate government of China. The KMT media in Taiwan used a Confucian discourse of family, hierarchy, and education, in order to promote development (Chun, 1994).

Under the KMT’s administrative control, the central government attempted to force the aboriginal peoples to be subsumed within the larger, predominantly Han culture. Within this attempt, there was official disapproval of any manifestations of indigenous culture, the abolition of communal activities and traditional festivals which featured indigenous customs, as well as the obligatory use of Chinese names, etc. Students were thoroughly immersed in Chinese culture, history and geography courses, which were arranged chronologically and used to teach the characteristics and causes of events in Chinese history, whilst geography courses were a description of “mountains, rivers, and resources in the Chinese political territory” (Tsai, 2002, p. 235). School songs were used as a vehicle to cultivate patriotic support for the KMT regime, and to inculcate “The Three Principles of the People” (i.e. nationalism, livelihood, and civil rights) in children (Lee, 2003). Students who defied authority and spoke Taiwanese (a dialect of southern Fujian, also known as Minnan), Hakka, or other aboriginal languages could be fined or subjected to other disciplinary punishment in favor of Mandarin, the “national language” (Yang, 2004, p.219; also see To, 1972).

Taiwan remained a military dictatorship until the lifting of martial law in 1987. Since then, disputes between the Taiwanese (i.e. early immigrants who had long been settled on the island, and their descendents), the Chinese mainlanders (i.e. immigrants who came to the island with the KMT government after 1949, and their descendants), and the various Taiwanese ethnic groups such as Fukien, Hakka and other aboriginal groups have become features of Taiwan’s political culture. Taiwanese politicians have constructed and defined Taiwan’s identity in a variety of ways in order to demonstrate that Taiwan either is or is not Chinese (Brown, 2004; also see Chao, 2003; Wang, 2004). Taiwan’s “Chineseness” was expected to establish the dominance of Han culture, and the historical relationship between Taiwan and China. On the other hand, there were those who argued that Taiwan must be identified by the influence of aboriginal and Japanese cultures, and the fact that Taiwan has been politically separate from China for most of the twentieth century (Brown, 2004). A cultural trend known as localization (sometimes also called indigenization or Taiwanization) has swept the island, as a move to detach national identity from the KMT Party (Yang, 2004), which has emphasized cohesion with the great mainland Chinese civilization. The quest for Taiwanese identity is also an attempt to weaken the strength of the KMT in society (see Gold, 1994, 2003). By the mid-1990s, Lee Teng-Hui, the first president born in Taiwan, came up with the slogan “New Taiwanese” to comprise the mainlanders and their children, and started school curriculum reforms, which deepened after Chen Shui-bian's election. After Chen Shui-bian was elected as the island-state’s first opposition party president, from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), he reacted to the public's expectations that ethnic tensions would be reduced, and also implemented de-sinification policies, proposing a new doctrine on “Taiwanese awareness and localization,” in his May 20, 2000 inauguration speech. Taiwan’s newspapers China News and the government-sponsored Free China Journal, were renamed as Taiwan News and Taiwan Journal respectively. On the monetary currency, images of KMT leaders were replaced by those of Taiwanese landmarks (Dreyer, 2003).

With a view to establishing a Taiwan-centered education and cultural system, the Ministry of Education (MoE) continues to deal with its education policy in accordance with four principles: 1) national history must deal with Taiwanese history; 2) national geography must include Taiwan's geography; 3) national literature must give credit to Taiwanese literature; and 4) Taiwan's various native tongues including Holo, Hakka, and other aboriginal languages, must possess equal status to that of Mandarin (see CNA, Taipei, 10 November, 2004, p.4; also see Law, 2002). The first government-edited Aboriginal Languages Curriculum, which covers 40 languages and dialects of the 12 aboriginal peoples in Taiwan, is expected to be published in 2005. Textbooks have been rewritten to focus more prominently on Taiwan. Taiwanese consciousness has thus been spread within the education system (see Chang, 2002; Chin, 2004; Tu, 1996; Weng, 2001). Courses on the philosophies of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (a founder of KMT) are being phased out, with greater attention to the art, culture, and history of Taiwan. The history of China, that of Taiwan, and the rest of world history will share equal weight in the new edition of high-school history textbooks to be released in 2006. Since 2002, the MoE has planned to reform textbooks, so as to use fewer classical Chinese texts in the nation’s high schools (Wang, 2004).

Within these cultural movements, music education in Taiwan has been influenced as well. Previous studies of Taiwan’s music education have examined the complex interplay of globalization, localization and Sinophilia that determine curriculum reforms in Taiwan’s music education in accordance with various social changes (Ho & Law, 2002). These reforms include the pursuit of national identity in school music education through the integration of local cultures, Confucian moral values in the school music curriculum (Ho and Law, 2003), and education for citizenship in accordance with Confucian nationalistic educational principles in music classes (Ho, 2003). However, the dynamics and dilemmas of localization in school music and other arts education have not been explored in relation to national development in the wider society, or to school education in the twenty-first century.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the present study is to investigate how the national development of Taiwan has shaped the context of music learning through the development of local cultures in current education reform. Through the examination of relevant literature, official documents, websites and a selection of music education publications that are commonly used in primary and secondary schools, this study addresses two main research questions:

  1. How is the cultural shift towards localization reflected in music learning in the arts and
    humanities curriculum?
  2. What are the limitations of students’ music learning in response to the localization of Taiwanese music in the school curriculum?

The intent of this study is to examine how Taiwan’s new paradigm affects the relations between the state and the transmission of music through education within the changing society of Taiwan. First, the study will explain music learning as a reflection of the relative localization of Taiwan’s political tendencies to allow greater expression of national local cultural identity in school music education. Second, it will examine the dilemmas of implementing policies on local Taiwanese music in the school curriculum by analyzing the localization process first in the wider context, and then in that of school music education.

Implementation of Local Taiwanese Culture in Education

Ethnicity has been an ever-present component of political, cultural and educational discourses. Identity issues centre on the ethnic split between Chinese mainlanders and the large segment of native Taiwanese who plead that Taiwan has an identity separate from China (Marquand, 2004). Taiwan is a multilingual, multiethnic country, composed of four major ethnic groups: 1.7% are the aborigines who speak Austronesian languages; 12% are Hakka; 13% are mainlanders; and 73.3 % of Taiwan’s 22.7 million people are the Taiwanese who speak Southern Min. Taiwanese aborigines are groups of Austronesian people, who are descended from the inhabitants of the island before Han immigration in the 1600s. Through the efforts of the Taiwanese authority at various levels, the organization of Taiwanese cultural events, the enthusiastic work of local artists, the work of MoE in the revision of the school curriculum, and the promotion of indigenous cultures by higher education institutes, the aboriginal administration has borne much fruit, making significant progress in the areas of livelihood, culture and education. In this paper, the term “local cultures” refers to the diverse indigenous arts and musical identities in Taiwan, whilst local cultures also contribute to the “national spirit” through the achievement of Taiwanese culture. It will be seen that a policy of cultural independence, reinforced at different levels, is a measure that seeks to create a cultural persona for Taiwan.

The promotion of aboriginal culture has encouraged people to pay more attention to aboriginal communities by means of policy consulting for the nation’s aboriginal policy, and by supporting Taiwanese local music through publications for the community. In a round-table discussion among artists, activists, and intellectuals who organized an Alliance for Ethnic Equality, which considered the influence of ethnic tensions on Taiwan’s political landscape, it was agreed that though there is no political control or inspection of different arts, a very serious pressure exists from the “politically correct” slogans of localization and de-sinification (Hou et al., 2004, p. 33), also see the Democratic Progressive Party, 2004). The promotion of Taiwanese consciousness and “de-sinification” are criticized as moves to construct a history and a culture for “Taiwanese independence,” covering up the actual history between the island of Taiwan and mainland China (People’s Daily News, January 1, 2005). In 1981, the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) claimed that fine arts and folk arts should be seen as equally important for the development of society. It has sponsored numerous folk arts festivals, publications, and other projects. The Cultural Heritage Preservation Law, which was passed in 1982, initiated such programmes as the Folk Art Heritage Award to honour outstanding folk artists. After 1987, aboriginal materials were emphasized in provincial schools and the government’s education goals were becoming more related to local society, and therefore localization began to make its way (Zheng, 2003). Websites on aboriginal music and identities in Taiwan, such as the “Taiwan Aboriginal Culture Park,” “Teaching Materials on Aborigines,” “The Sound of Taiwan’s Aborigines,” and “Amis Tribe” have been established to introduce particular parts of Taiwan’s cultures to a broader public. With a view to giving students an understanding of local culture, and reflecting the contents of the subject of teaching Taiwan-centred art, history, religion, music and customs, the MoE passed a resolution to change the name of schools’ “native literature” programmes to “Taiwanese literature” in December 2002 (Chang, 2002; also see Government Information Office, 2004; Council for Cultural Affairs, 2004a, 2004b).

Since the 1980s, the MoE has launched programmes to promote aboriginal cultures, and developed new teaching materials that emphasize the value of those cultures. The syllabus of 1982 included more aboriginal music, which is an improvement over that of 1964 and before (Zheng, 2003, p. 81). As for localization in the 1982 music syllabus standards, the most obvious example is in the changing proportion of songs of non-Chinese origin, for sight-reading and music appreciation. In grades 1 and 2, 70% of the songs used were local, 30% were foreign; in grade 3, 65% of the songs were local, 35% were foreign; in grades 4 to 6, 60% of the songs were local, 40% were foreign (Zheng, 2003, p. 101). Such aboriginal music was added, especially, after the new syllabus was published in 1993 (see Zheng, 2003, pp. 77-78). Teaching about aborigines is included in primary schools; “aboriginal arts” are added in secondary schools, and such subjects are taught in the native or aboriginal language, so that primary and secondary school students know about and respect the spirit and content of those cultures, and build a sense of belonging to the homeland; provincial editors publish teaching materials in native and aboriginal languages, e.g. those of the Taya, Ami, Kavalan, Bunun, Sdeiq, Saisiat, Puyuma, Yami, Paiwan, Rukai, Tsou and other tribes (see Huang, 1996, p. 21; Ministry of Education, 1997, pp. 55-56). Besides the school curriculum reform, the emergence of aboriginal education in Taiwan has also occurred in higher education. A recent survey showed that some 80-90 % of master’s and doctoral theses in the humanities and social sciences now focus on the study of Taiwan (Hou et al., 2004, p. 33).

An Analysis of Local Taiwanese Music in the Arts and Humanities Curriculum

Compulsory education in Taiwan consists of six-year elementary and three-year junior high school attendance, which is connected and integrated into a new grades 1-9 curriculum with 7 learning areas for languages, health and physical education, social studies, arts and humanities (including music), nature science and life technology, mathematics, and comprehensive study. Arts and humanities take about 10-15 percent of the total number of classes. It is hoped that students willingly participate in all sorts of arts activities to broaden their vision, so as to learn about and respect various cultures, and know about and appreciate local and world history and culture (Ministry of Education, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c). Dance, the appreciation of folk music, the different singing voices used in solo and choral works, and appreciation of theatrical music, in particular of the aboriginal features of Taiwanese operas are listed in the arts curriculum (see Ministry of Education, 1999a, 1999b). The indigenous elements in this section of the school curriculum include a presentation of local artists and composers, and a study of the aboriginal styles of local opera and folk music, a message on the unity and beauty of the island, and an introduction to the distinctive culture that is different from the Han culture.

In an effort to provide resources towards Taiwanese cultural independence by cultivating students’ awareness of their local artists’ contribution to the development of arts in the community, the MoE, in conjunction with textbook publishers are publishing arts curricula that introduce excellent Taiwanese artists. Among these are Huang Tu-Shuei (1895-1930), Taiwan’s first fine-art sculptor, who was the first person to study sculpting overseas (Editorial Board of Textbook Committee of the Nani Book Company Limited (thereafter NBCL), 2004c p. 72), and artistic director of the Cloud Gate Dance (the name of the oldest known dance in China) Theatre, Lin Hwai-Min (b. 1947) who studied movement in Taiwan, modern dance in New York, and classical court dance in Japan and Korea (Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the Kang Hsuan Educational Publishing Group (thereafter KHEPG), 2004c, pp.10-11).

Musicians introduced in this curricula include aboriginal singer, Chen Da (1905-1981), whose pure singing style and rich lyrics are worth preserving as an aboriginal traditional art (Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the KHEPG, 2004a, p. 60, 2004c, pp. 6-7; Editorial Board of Textbook Committee of the NBCL, 2004e, p.44). Another musician, Hsu Chang-Hui (1929-2001), considered by many to be the pioneer local composer, influenced Taiwan’s artistic development deeply, and brought new musical ideas back to Taiwan (Editorial Board of Textbook Committee of the NBCL, 2004e, p. 114). Also important, are the latest "King" of Taiwanese popular songs, Chen Jian-Nien, as well as the "Queens,” Zhang Hui-Mei and Ji Xiao-Jun, all of whom are from the Puyuma tribe. The most common style of folk singing of this tribe is “call and response,” which usually tells stories of life and culture. Today music of the Puyuma tribe is not only well known in the popular song area, but its unique style has made the folk music on which it is based famous (Editorial Board of Textbook Committee of the NBCL, 2004c, p. 68).

The MoE encourages preserving aboriginal languages by including folklore and songs in teaching materials. The songbook entitled Aboriginal Areas: Secondary and Primary School Choir Materials has 30 folk songs from 9 ethnic groups (Ministry of Education, 1999b). Aboriginal songs have played a central role in aboriginal life. Students are taught the diversified aboriginal music as a form of national treasure, and should also develop an understanding of the contemporary civilization of Taiwanese arts. Taiwanese opera (pronounced “gua-a-he” in Taiwanese) (for detailed information about the history and art of Taiwanese opera, see Huang, 2003; Yang, 2002) is the only indigenous form of drama in Taiwan and is always highlighted in the teaching materials (Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the NBCL, 2004e, pp. 41, 42, & 49). Taiwanese opera features local temple celebrations, having unique styles of performance, manipulation, playing music, costumes and settings. Glove puppets, which originated as early as the tenth century during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD), and are a form of a drama deeply embedded in Taiwanese folk society, along with shadow puppets and marionettes, are the three most common styles of puppetry in Taiwan. The puppeteer is the major player in a glove puppet performance. Besides the teaching of good performing skills with puppets, students are required to learn the plots, scenes, and the “Bei Kuan” music (see the Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the NBCL, 2004a, pp. 60-3, 2004f, pp. 108, 110-111; the Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the KHEPG, 2004a, pp. 76-95).

Taiwanese music and its history have emerged as key learning areas as more emphasis on Taiwan as a “homeland” is introduced (see Ministry of Education, 1995). Education for national identity has moved, from the singing of nationalist songs to understanding the cultural life of aboriginal people. Nationalist songs such as the national anthem of the ROC, “The Three Principles” composed by Cheng Mao-yun, “Song for the National Flag” (Guo-qi Ge) were compulsory in primary school music education (Ho & Law, 2002; Ho, 2003). Now these songs are no longer compulsory, and ethnic education in cultural life is stressed to help students’ growth of a Taiwanese national identity with historical, cultural, and demographic perspectives. Toward this end, divergent aspects of early and present-day life of the Taiwanese people are to be studied including the ocean that surrounds Taiwan, as well as the country’s trains (see Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the KHEPG, 2004b, 2004c, 2004e).

The contents of the music curriculum include aboriginal religious songs, as well as work and recreational songs for various social occasions (Editorial Board of Textbook Committee of the NBCL, 2004b, p. 19, 2004c, pp. 23, 70-71, 2004f, pp.19-20; Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the KHEPG, 2004c, pp. 24-27, 2004d, p. 109, 2004e, pp. 44-45). As well, among the recommended songs are those that express loyalty to the homeland in terms of beauty, fertility, prosperity and hope, of which, the works of Chen Xiu-Xi, who was the first female poet of Taiwan, and Hsu Min-Heng are examples. Examples of these are “Meili Dao” (Beautiful Island), a song celebrating the blessed homeland as the sweet home of the soul, with a paraphrased text by Liang Jing-Feng of an original poem by Chen Xiu-Xi and a melody by Li Shuang-Ze, and the song, “Hakka Bense” (Characteristics of Hakka People) written by Hsu Min-Heng, which shows the Hakka people’s ideal of never forgetting their origin, even if they must sell their ancestors’ land (Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the KHEPG, 2004c, pp. 26-27).

The school music curriculum in Taiwan attempts to foster a sense of separate cultural identity to that of the PRC. Contemporary Chinese literature and music from the mainland is hardly mentioned in textbook materials, and Communist music and revolutionary or protest songs from the mainland do not appear in Taiwan's school curriculum. Taiwanese aboriginals differ from the Han people in many aspects, and so their food, clothes, residence, transport, education and music are all emphasized in the curriculum (Editorial Board of Textbook Committee of the NKCL, 2004f, p. 6). Taiwan's indigenous art and music, artists and composers are introduced in the curriculum, so that students learn to respect the cultures of different ethnic groups (see Ministry of Education, 2003c). Whilst teaching materials focusing on local arts support the promotion of a sound understanding of Taiwan's cultural heritage among students, raising the status of local musical cultures in the school curriculum is expected to develop a unique collective identity. Localization of education has provided space for the local cultures and identities in the arts curriculum, including music. The teaching materials that focused on local arts support the promotion of a sound understanding and appreciation of the Taiwanese culture and heritage among students, so that students may express an interest of appreciation of the Taiwanese culture. Now, instead of a suppressing role, the school music curriculum promotes ethnic cultures-encouraging Taiwanese music and composers as parts of a new collective identity, which in turn articulate a sense of national unity and harmony.

Criticisms of Introducing Local Taiwanese Music in School Education

The local movement for school music education has limitations for several reasons. First, the national curriculum reform on local cultures has received little support by higher education institutions for teacher education. Owing to inadequate education in aboriginal cultures, many music teachers are unlikely to be ready for teaching their music and cultures in school. Second, though aboriginal education has been strongly recommended since the late 1980s, curriculum reforms are regarded as shallow in their provision of teaching materials because they do not encourage students to enjoy and appreciate the aboriginal cultures. Third, in response to the new reforms, Taiwan’s music education community may find it difficult to explore diverse styles, and to combine elements from different periods and traditions. Born into an era that attaches considerable importance to globalization, present-day students in Taiwan face a much more complex environment in which to learn other musical cultures. The dilemma of globalization in the curriculum happens when a local culture faces the need to merge with the globalizing tide, but at the same time wishes to protect its identity and tradition.

Therefore, this section argues that the growth of a new Taiwan-centered identity in the music curriculum primarily accompanies the de-sinification policies concerning communist music and the “sinicization” of traditional Chinese music and the globalization of musical cultures. First, Taiwanese music was lacking in music education, which had been greatly influenced by the early transmission of Western music knowledge by seventeenth-century missionaries during the Dutch rule. After the Tianjin Treaty was signed in 1857, Christianity was spread again with many more Taiwanese being converted, and with further propulsion of Christian hymnody. The first Taiwanese church hymnal, Hymns, which contained 122 hymns, was edited by the English missionary William Campbell in 1900, but is now lost (Huang, 2003, p. 127).

During the Japanese occupation between 1895 and 1945, Taiwanese school music syllabi were mainly based on Western music, with local composers being trained outside of the country (prior to educational institutions being set up in the 1960s) (Huang, 2003, p. 182; also see Lee, 2003). Musicians from mainland China mainly used the Western harmonic intervals based on thirds as well as the Chinese pentatonic scales. While local Taiwanese composers, who were influenced by the Japanese, were creative in form and technique, they were not especially influential, and so the musical styles of this period were mostly Western Classical and Romantic (see Huang, 2003, pp. 182-183).

Taiwan’s music education system, which is still based mostly on Western music (Zheng, 2003), is still affected significantly by the political climate on the island with teachers continuing to face problems when implementing aboriginal music. As stated by Zheng (2003, p. 83), only the Chinese Culture University, the National Taiwan Normal University, the National Taiwan University of Arts, the Tainan University of Arts and the Taipei University of Arts have courses in aboriginal music or Chinese music education. Though teacher-training institutes have adjusted their courses according to the education policy, the learning of aboriginal music has not been popularized, and is not compulsory in the higher education curriculum. For instance, the module particularly devoted to Taiwanese local music and aboriginal music is not included in the present obligatory courses for the undergraduates of the Department of Music of the Taiwan National Normal University (TNNU) (Refer to

Even though there are three modules, “History of Music Education in Taiwan,” “Comparative Study of Cultural Zones on Aboriginal Music,” and “Introduction of Nan Kuan and Bei Kuan Music,” developed to cultivate students’ understanding of local music and educational development in the master courses, they are only elective subjects, and the credits are limited to a total of six (Refer to

Music teacher training at Taiwan’s universities focuses mainly on western music theory and practice as represented by the three recent leaders of European musical pedagogy: Carl Orff, Zoltan Kodály and Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (Ho and Law, 2002). As well, the content of music performance courses consist primarily of the repertoires and skills of the piano and other western instruments (Lee, 1987, and various university websites). Consequently, since Taiwan's aboriginal music is not highly recognized in the higher music education curriculum in Taiwan universities, aboriginal music courses are offered only as elective courses for fourth-year undergraduates or studied within regional music or ethnomusicology courses in the Department of Chinese Music of the Chinese Culture University (

This absence of aboriginal music in higher education directly influences the knowledge that music teachers deliver in classrooms, resulting in little promotion of local Taiwanese cultures in schools. Because of their own limited training in aboriginal languages, and because schools banned the use of local dialects in teaching for many years, teachers do not know where to find aboriginal music materials, and instead, edit old folk songs, which are usually love songs. Additionally, teacher training in the performance styles of these songs is limited, and so even less is taught (Zheng, 2003, pp. 113-114). While some teachers therefore believe that students cannot be taught aboriginal music, the problem more likely lies with inadequate teaching methods and teacher preparation than with student inabilities (Zheng, 2003, p. 114).

In a study comparing the westernization and naturalization of music education in Shanghai and Taipei, Ho (2004) found that among various musical styles, including traditional western instrumental music, traditional Chinese instrumental music, Taiwanese opera, Taiwanese regional music, western folk music, Mandarin popular songs, western popular songs and other world music, etc., the three most preferred types among primary and secondary schools students in Taipei were Mandarin pop, western pop and traditional western instrumental music. The three least preferred types were Taiwanese opera, traditional Chinese vocal music, and other world music. As a result, most students are not receptive to studying Taiwanese native music, and neither teachers nor students typically are interested in studying Taiwanese opera.

Because of governmental bans leading to uninformed teachers and students, aboriginal music has not been given its own place within cultural and educational settings. Although the Research Institute of Musical Heritage opened its Ethnic Music Archive in Taipei in October 2003, which is regarded as the first archive devoted to ethnomusicology in Taiwan and which took thirteen years to build, it was immediately criticized for being under-stocked with musical publications (Lee, 2003, p.18). To compound the problem, there is no clear definition of “Taiwanese aboriginal” music in Taiwan’s nine-year compulsory education syllabus. The aboriginal songs in the textbooks can be sung, but not much background information is taught to give an understanding of the musical ideas or characteristics (see various issues published by the editorial boards of the textbook committee of the NKCL and KHEPG). The appreciation and singing of such songs are included in modern music textbooks, but folk songs of Taiwanese origin, e.g. aboriginal and Hakka folk songs, do not constitute the highest proportion of the total songs. This means that the ideals, cultural aspects and history of aboriginal music are not organized into teaching materials, and students cannot learn native music comprehensively. With fewer schools that teach aboriginal music, local music obviously becomes marginalized.

Finally, the modification of the music component in the Taiwanese school curriculum is a sociopolitical exercise of reselection and re-politicization. While the inclusion of traditional Chinese music is seen as part of the common national and cultural identity between China and Taiwan, it represents only a partial “sinicization.” The official promotion of Chinese traditional music (excluding music espousing communist ideologies) is a policy designed to maintain a larger utopian vision “grounded in shared myths, values, beliefs, ethnicity and history, to celebrate Taiwan’s own sense of its cultural past” (Ho and Law, 2002, p. 348; also see Ho, 2004, p.235). As part of this promotion of Chinese music, arts organizations such as the Taipei Municipal Chinese Classical Orchestra (TMCCO) perform both in and outside Taipei, and run music education and appreciation classes at schools and community centers throughout the city (Phipps, 2003).

Other modes of state promotion of traditional Chinese arts and amusements in primary and high school sectors consist of funding Chinese music, craft, dance, opera, amusements and children’s games (Ho and Law, 2002), which included US$1.4 million in subsidies to 1,100 schools for nearly 1,300 activities in 1998-1999. As well, teaching materials are also devoted to the learning of calligraphy, painting, the pentatonic scale (i.e. the five notes known as “gong, shang, jiao, jing, yu”), and the traditional theatrical music of China (Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the NBCL, 2004e; Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the KHEPG, 2004f). In particular, the Peking opera, with its different types of singing, opera characters, stage-settings, costumes and other features, is a representative of the Chinese theatre at its most mature, with over 200 years of history, and is greatly respected and represented in the curriculum (Editorial Board of the Textbook Committee of the KHEPG, 2004g, pp. 74-95).

Multicultural Considerations

After the lifting of martial law in 1987, the issue of Taiwanese identity shifted from focusing on Chinese to Taiwanese culture, and even toward global cultures (Ho & Law, Forthcoming). Yip (2004) explores the national imagination of Taiwan on the local, national, and global levels, and examines the shift away from traditional models of cultural authenticity toward more fluid and broader trends of global culture (Wang, 2000). Similarly, Taiwan has been expanding the international component of its curriculum to include global citizenship, so as to foster students’ consciousness of the different cultures and traditions of the global community as one of the goals of modern educational reform (Executive Yuan Education Commission, 1996; Law, 2004). Students are introduced to various cultures in the hopes of learning to appreciate both local and world history and culture (Ministry of Education, Taiwan, 2003b). However, classical Western and classical Chinese instruments are mainly taught in schools, and world music is rarely mentioned in the curriculum (Ho, 2004; Ho & Law, 2002, 2003). Ho’s and Law’s surveys (Forthcoming) found that multicultural music education in Taiwan was not valued much in school music education, and that students in Taipei perceived themselves as having little knowledge of Taiwanese or traditional music, or the other types of world music that are taught. Achieving a balance in the cultural dimensions of the teaching and learning of Taiwanese, traditional Chinese music and other musical styles in contemporary Taiwan’s music education will remain to be seen in the future political and cultural development of Taiwan.


When Li Deng-Hui was officially elected president in 1990, a profound cultural transformation began on the island with ethnicity gaining momentum as a component of political discourse. As well, cultural identity serves as a subject of heated debate over the issue of being “Taiwanese” and “Chinese.” During the last decade, Taiwan has reflected on education for its nationalist development and consciousness with the Democratic Progressive Party’s policy of promoting “localization” during the 2000’s administration affecting all areas of life, education and culture.

This article has argued that the dynamic of Taiwan’s political transformation is observable in music education, and that it is affected by power relationships, and musical cultures and values. Through efforts to enhance Taiwan’s local music at various levels, school officials and teachers are encouraged to consolidate community spirit, and to preserve local cultures through arts and music education by introducing local artists, Taiwanese folk and contemporary music, and education for character and values though the singing of Taiwanese and other aboriginal songs. Teaching the music of Taiwanese culture and identity could result in increased awareness of the historical experiences and shared cultures that have led to the formation of a new collective identity.

However, within this new paradigm, music education is half-hearted about promoting Taiwanese music. The local movement for school music education is limited by little support from higher education institutions for teacher training, a lack of available materials for teaching Taiwanese local music, and the insufficient integration of traditional Chinese and other global music. In searching for a national identity and cultural consciousness, the new cultural identity of school music continues to emphasize traditional Chinese music. This double identity is clearly shown in cultural developments, and the Taiwan state’s adoption of an open policy towards the preservation of traditional Chinese music in society and in schools. Besides the introduction of Taiwanese local music and traditional Chinese music, multiculturalism also plays an increasingly vital role in the school curriculum. Nationalization and globalization may explain the primacy of Taiwanese music in the curriculum. The desire for a new Taiwanese identity has created a cultural vacuum that has enlarged the cultural gap, not only between the music of contemporary Taiwan and that of the mainland, but also between the integration of local, national and global cultures. Nonetheless, the nation-state has the final power to prescribe what local, national, and global elements will be introduced, emphasized, and materialized in school music education. In view of globalization and an intensification of the commodifying of culture, the question of how to reach a national consensus concerning the form of a twenty-first century Taiwanese music curriculum remains open.


The author wishes to acknowledge the generous support of the Hong Kong Research Grants Council who funded this project (HKBU 2177/03H).


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About the Author - Professor in the Department of Music at Hong Kong Baptist University, Dr. Wai-Chung Ho is a specialist in music education with a special focus on curriculum studies and sociology of music/music education. She holds a BPhil in music and creative arts in education from the University of Exeter, and a MA and PhD from the University of London in music education. Her main research areas include the sociology of music; music education curriculum; and the comparative study of East Asian music education.

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