But Liu's students had another idea: a theme based on Adolf Hitler.
Liu warned his students that such a theme would be “very controversial,” the paper reported — but ultimately “chose to respect the students' decision and did not veto it” after the class voted on it twice.
On Friday, students from the school in Hsinchu, about 55 miles southwest of Taipei, showed up to the festivities wearing Nazi uniforms and brandishing signs, arm bands and long red banners with swastikas on them.
In one photo that the school has since provided to the media, one student can be seen sitting atop a tank made from cardboard boxes, his arm (albeit his left one) raised in a Nazi salute.
As word of the school activity circulated online, the outrage was swift and widespread. On social media, people in Taiwan and abroad condemned the students' decision as “ignorant” and “a disgusting display of disrespect.”
The incident also drew sharp rebukes from both the German Institute Taipei and the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, which handle nondiplomatic relations between Taiwan and their respective countries.
Israel's representative office issued a statement Saturday that called the parade “deplorable and shocking” and noted that, less than a year ago, Taiwan had marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day for the first time with the participation of then-President Ma Ying-jeou.
“It is deplorable and shocking that seven decades only after the world had witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust, a high-school in Taiwan is supporting such an outrageous action as we witnessed yesterday at Hsinchu Kuang-Fu Senior High School,” the statement read in part.
“We strongly condemn this tasteless occurrence and call on the Taiwanese authorities, in all levels, to initiate educational programs which would introduce the meaning of the Holocaust and teach its history and universal meaning. Israel would support such endeavors as may be necessary.”
Germany's representative office also released a statement saying it was alarmed by the Hsinchu parade.
“In the course of Nazi rule, millions of people in Europe were persecuted and killed,” the statement read in part. “The Holocaust can be regarded as one of the most heinous crimes in human history. Unfortunately, it is clear that the students are not aware that the Nazi symbol means oppression and contempt for human rights.”
That day, Taiwan's Presidential Office ordered an investigation into the incident and the country's education minister, Pan Wen-chung, formally apologized and urged all schools in Taiwan to learn from the mistake, the Central News Agency reported.
The school's principal, Cheng Hsiao-ming, said Saturday he took responsibility for the incident and would resign from his position.
Holding a sheet of paper with both hands, Cheng read aloud a lengthy statement to local reporters in which he apologized to Holocaust victims and to the general public for what had happened.
“Educational institutions have a responsibility to teach students the correct values,” Cheng said. “We should teach students to learn from their mistakes.”
In that vein, Cheng said the school would organize a series of educational activities about the Holocaust, including watching movies such as “Schindler's List” and “Life is Beautiful.” They had invited staff members from Israel's representative office to speak at the school, he added.
Cheng also asked that the public not blame the teachers and students too much, as they had received overwhelming blowback from the public already, and vowed that they would turn this into an opportunity to teach understanding.
Cheng then bowed deeply to reporters.
Liu, the teacher, told CNS that his students deeply regretted their actions — and that he regretted allowing them to proceed with their theme.
“I should have immediately rejected [their vote] on the spot,” Liu told the news agency.
Teachers' groups in Taiwan lamented the incident as a failure of the nation's education system, the Taipei Times reported.
“We feel that we have not worked hard enough, and have allowed this absurd, ignorant and indifferent attitude toward the universal value of human rights to spread and become an international joke,” said a joint statement issued by Our Story Alliance of History Teachers and Action Coalition of Civics Teacher.