Cultivating a Humanistic Mind: A View from Taiwan

Part of the The Humanities in Asia book series (HIA, volume 2)


On May 21, 2014 Zheng Jie, a 21-year-old college student, made headlines for a random killing spree with a 30-cm-long fruit knife on the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). Under interrogation Zheng, showing no signs of remorse, told the police he had aspired “to do something big” since elementary school. The trigger effect of the tragedy was brewing at Internet speeds: many youngsters romanticized Zheng’s killing spree as a “heroic” deed, a template for their lives. Information showed that Zheng was a loner and a fan of video combat games. I will take this incident as my point of departure to discuss university-level liberal education in Taiwan. The paper is also a response to budget cuts in humanities and to dwindling enrollments in related departments in Taiwan and worldwide. I will first identify three major crises of the current situation, such as dehumanization in the cyber age. I will then survey the realities of teaching and studying the liberal arts in Taiwan, mainly with reference to the curriculum of Liberal Arts and General Education courses offered at National Taiwan University (NTU) and cross-listed at her partner universities. Finally, I will explain how these preliminary findings support an argument that liberal education is not an educational luxury. Rather, it addresses life’s enduring, perennial questions. Chances are we may redeem other lost souls like Zheng Jie.


Humanistic education Liberal arts education Taiwan higher education Dehumanization 


  1. Asimov, Nanette. 2015. Shakespeare getting little love from American colleges. San Francisco Chronicle, April 23, 2015.
  2. Bastian, Brock, and Crimson Daniel. 2014. Self-dehumanization. Testing, Psychometrics, Methodology in Applied Psychology 21(3):1–10.Google Scholar
  3. Bennett, William J. 1984. To reclaim a legacy: A report on the humanities in higher education. Reprints from the collection of the University of Michigan Library. Michigan: University of Michigan Library.Google Scholar
  4. British minister in cultural gaffe after giving Taipei mayor taboo watch. The Guardian, January 27, 2015.
  5. Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. 2014. The second machine: Work, progress and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  6. Doidge, Norman. 2015. The brain that changes itself. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  7. Donne, John. 1623. Meditation XVII. In The private devotions, reprint, ed. M. H. Abrams et al. The Norton anthology of English literature, Vol. 1, 1968. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  8. Ferrall, Jr. Victor E. 2011. Liberal arts at the brink. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Han, Yu. 802. Shi-shuo. In Gu-wen guan zhi, August 1, 2014.
  10. Ho, Ding-zhao. 2015. Bai Xianyong: Literature, the greatest consolation for a human soul. United Daily News, A5. December 12, 2015.Google Scholar
  11. Hsiao, Alison. 2015. Taipei Times, 1. December 17, 2015.Google Scholar
  12. Johnson, Richard R. 2014. Reasserting the values of liberal education in the second machine age: A view from America. In Proceedings of the international conference on classics and college education in an age of globalization, 57‒68, Taipei, NTU, July 31‒August 1, 2014.Google Scholar
  13. Jouvenel, Bertrand De. 1964. Why all should have a liberal education. Excerpted from “Toward a political theory in education”. In Humanistic education and Western civilization, ed. Arthur A. Cohen. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  14. Lin, Yutang. 2009. The wisdom of Confucius, Vol. II. Lin Yutang Chinese-English Bilingual Edition on Education: (trans: Lin, Yutang). Taipei: Cheng Chung Book. Reprint: Modern english reader. Taipei: National Taiwan University, 1984. 1–6.Google Scholar
  15. Nussbaum, Martha C. 1997. Cultivating humanity: A classical defense of reform in liberal education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Nussbaum, Martha C. 2010. The liberal arts are not Elitist. Chronicle of Higher Education 56(25):A88–A92.Google Scholar
  17. Russell, Bertrand. 1968. The autobiography of Bertrand Russell, vol. 1. London: George Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  18. Sussman, Steven Y. 2010. Love addiction: Definition, etiology, treatment. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 17:31‒45.Google Scholar
  19. Verne, Donald Philip. 2002. The art of humane education. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Taiwan UniversityTaipeiTaiwan

Personalised recommendations