In this webinar, Dr Sivarin Lertpusit and Ms Jane Yugioksing spoke on how Chinese education in Thailand and the Philippines have changed over the years.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Friday, 02 September 2022 – This webinar focused on the significance of Chinese education as a form of soft power, highlighting the changes and continuity observed in the last century. Dr Sivarin Lertpusit, Assistant Professor at the College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Thammasat University, presented on Thailand. She is currently a visiting fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. Ms Jane Yugioksing, Assistant Professor at the Chinese Studies Department, Ateneo de Manila University, presented on the Philippines.
Dr Sivarin began her presentation by providing an overview of Chinese influence on Thai education. She suggested that the time period can be categorised into four phases. The first two phases, 1900s–World War II and post-World War II–1960s, saw Chinese influence being restricted by the Thai state. The last two phases, 1970s–1990s and late 1990s–present witnessed Chinese influence being allowed to flourish as there was already diplomatic cooperation between the two countries.
Before World War II, Chinese schools in Thailand were booming. In 1920, there were already 30 schools, but the number burgeoned to 271 in 1933–1934. However, China’s domestic politics and overseas Chinese political awakening through workers striker, coupled with anti-Japanese movements caused the Thai state to view the Chinese living in Thailand with suspicion. Chinese schools in Thailand were seen as a threat to Thai political stability as the schools were being used as headquarters by teacher-activists. Dr Sivarin observed that Chinese schools were controlled through laws and policies such as requiring teachers to have a Thai certificate. Following this, General Pibulsongkram came to power and he was a Sinophobic Thai nationalist. Thus, under his political administration, all Chinese schools were closed by 1940.
Between post-World War II–1960s, Chinese schools started reopening slowly after a Treaty of Amity was signed between China and Thailand. Yet, the Thai state sought to retain control over the Chinese schools due to their support of the communist movement in China. General Pibulsongkram returned as prime minister for a second term and this time, quotas were set for Chinese schools in each province.
In the third phase, 1970s–1990s, Sino-Thai diplomacy improved. Chinese language was promoted as a language with economic benefit and thus, Chinese language education returned to normalcy by 1992. In the fourth phase, late 1990s–present, Dr Sivarin highlighted that there has been active cooperation between the two countries. For instance, the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language was set in the 1980s and it has now transformed into the headquarters for the prolific Confucious Institutes around the world. Such initiatives have caused Chinese language learning to boom in Thailand, acting as a form of Chinese cultural policy. Furthermore, other activities facilitate this relationship between China and Thailand with China providing scholarships and sending Chinese volunteer teachers to teach in Thailand. There have also been efforts to establish an overseas Chinese college in Bangkok, concentrating on vocational and language teaching.
The second speaker, Ms Yugioksing explained about the evolution of Chinese education in the Philippines can be divided into three parts. In the first part, Ms Yugioksing, detailed how Chinese migrants settled in the Philippines even before the colonial period. With the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, thousands of Chinese from Fujian province migrated en masse to the Philippines. In the second part on American colonial rule in the Philippines, Ms Yugioksing pointed out that there were significant changes in how the Chinese in the Philippines were treated. For instance, there was no restriction on mobility or on the establishment of institutions. Eventually, more schools were established throughout the Philippines with the help of Chinese associations. By 1940, there were at least 45 Chinese schools and the Philippine Chinese Educational Association (est. 1914) played a key role in the administration and management of these schools.
From the 1940s to the 1970s, the Philippines signed a Treaty of Amity with the Republic of China (ROC). Thus, Taiwan had jurisdiction over overseas Chinese residing in the Philippines. Many Chinese schools during this time pedalled anti-communist ideology. The Kuomintang (KMT) had control over the schools and the political party ensured that the Chinese language and culture were promoted along with loyalty to the ROC. Ms Yugioksing then contextualised how this created a divide between overseas Chinese and Filipinos as the former’s activities were seen as deliberately separating itself from Philippine society. During the time of President Marcos, Chinese schools were required to “Filipinize” their curricula, forcing Chinese subjects to be taught for only one hour a day or less. Thus, the quality of Chinese education declined.
Since the 1990s to the present day, continuous efforts have been made to develop a pedagogy to cater to the needs of local students. Furthermore, Philippines-China relations have improved over time with the Philippines seeking to foster closer economic partnership. The introduction of Confucius Institutes in the country has also contributed to the revival of Chinese interest among Chinese Filipinos and promoted interest among the non-Chinese. Ms Yugioksing concluded that policy changes have affected the quality of Chinese education and the desire to learn it; and that the persistent efforts of the overseas Chinese to safeguard their ethnic identity and collaboration with the Chinese state through education grants and sponsorships is the mark of continuity in China’s soft power efforts
In the Q&A session, the two speakers addressed various topics of interest to the audience from Singapore and abroad. They fielded questions relating to HRH Princess Sirindhorn’s role in promoting Chinese education in Thailand, censorship in Chinese textbooks, reducing informal discrimination between Filipinos and the Chinese, and the influence of Taiwan on Chinese education overseas.