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Chiang Kai-shek’s name removed from his own memorial 

[Cross-posted] I thought communists were more in to revisionist history than democratic governments. From the Fairfax Press:


   I am glad I got to the Republic of China to see the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial before this sort of government-sanctioned vandalism happened.
   The Democratic Progressive Party, indeed. Bit like the German Democratic Republic.
   I can’t speak for those inside the Republic but I would say that the majority of overseas Chinese will react similarly to me. Gen Chiang was not Franco or Stalin.
   The DPP calls Chiang’s Kuomingtang (KMT) repressive. I assume they have romantic notions of what was happening across the Taiwan Strait after 1949—or, for that matter, during the Sino–Japanese War.
   I am not exaggerating: in my time in Taiwan in November I met intelligent people who held beliefs that life was better under Japan than under the KMT, conveniently ignoring massacres such as the Rape of Nanking where hundreds of thousands were slaughtered.
   However, I accept that their positive ideas stem from the fact that some Japanese officials in Formosa did try to be good governors of the island.
   Back then, however, we weren’t talking about two Chinas. When 9-11 happened, it’s not as though Californians were cheery because they were comfortable, while the Twin Towers fell in New York.
   While the KMT did its share of demolishing memorials of Japanese colonialism after the war, it doesn’t make it right.
   My main view is that those of us outside need to respect the wishes of those within who participate in the Republic’s democracy. All we can realistically do from faraway keyboards is create a bit of noise when we are upset, just as we might with the War on Terror or other international matters.
   The Republic’s government also needs to know that this act insults those of us who hope that all of China will be ruled by a free and democratic republic, and whose families left because we did not believe such a China could exist under the Reds.
   Our hope was placed in the last free part of China that remained, that part in exile in Taiwan.
   Sadly, we are not voters in Republican elections. Only the inhabitants of Taiwan are.
   What now? Will a portrait of Mao be erected?
   One wishes that the DPP recognizes that it would not even exist without Chiang and the remnants of the Republican government in exile in Taiwan, but this latest incident suggests it does not.
   From an overseas Chinese view, it’s seen as an acceptance by Taipei that the Communist Party is correct across the Taiwan Strait, doing its work to erase memories that the Chinese people can have freedom.
   Indirectly, this is a slap in the face of the June 4, 1989 protesters in Tiananmen Square.
   Rebranding is something to be done carefully, more so when it comes to national monuments and symbols of national identity. Rebrands are meant to unite, not divide.
   Calling the Memorial the Democracy Memorial Hall sounds well and good on the surface—but divisions and the months of protest suggest the movement is foolhardy.
   For me, there was nothing wrong with calling it by its new name officially, while leaving the traditional lettering honouring Chiang Kai-shek’s memory intact. It was a suitable compromise and a recognition of history. It also reminds people of the freedom that Taiwan enjoys and the setting for its prosperity. Freedom, tolerance and open-mindedness are what separate it from Red China—which is still a dangerous place to visit or invest in, at least without high-level official help.
   Years after the American Civil War, there are still states (Louisiana and Tennessee) that call a certain holiday Confederate Memorial Day—and that does not seem to have harmed the Union.
   So what harm is there to retain the Chiang Kai-shek name in the interests of national unity on the island? Does the DPP seriously prefer disuniting Chinese people?
   At best, this was an ill thought through development.
   At worst, this was a desecration and an affront to traditional Chinese beliefs that memorials to the dead should be respected.
   Talk of independence or a two-China system is dangerous. It would be easy for the Politburo in Beijing to raise its voice—without even threatening violence—and Taipei can watch its stock market index fall. And I would hate to see any of my people suffer once again.
   Part of Taiwan might not know of Maoist suffering under the Reds, but I would never wish for any Taiwanese to be directly reminded of it.
   Beijing itself should not cheer at this latest development at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as it sets the stage for separatism. During 2008, with worldwide attention focused on the Olympiad, the separatist movement might think it could get away with more mischief than usual.

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I am not exaggerating: in my time in Taiwan in November I met intelligent people who held beliefs that life was better under Japan than under the KMT, conveniently ignoring massacres such as the Rape of Nanking where hundreds of thousands were slaughtered.
However, I accept that their positive ideas stem from the fact that some Japanese officials in Formosa did try to be good governors of the island.

Well, actually Japanese rule on Formosa was harsh, but it was competent. Outside of aboriginal communities, which were victims of genocidal extermination campaigns, the Taiwanese had the opportunity to travel under Japanese rule, see steady economic growth, enjoy some of the benefits of rule of law, and so on. Japanese administrators were not known for their personal corruption.

The KMT arrived and imposed far harsher rule on Taiwan, killing thousands of people throughout the 50s and 60s, and sending about half a million into exile. The government became completely, rampantly corrupt, from top to bottom. Taiwanese compared the two, and found that the KMT couldn't match up to the Japanese. Hence the reason many older Taiwanese admire the Japanese and despise the KMT.

Since Chiang murdered millions of people during his long career, and since, as you note, neither Stalin nor Franco are the objects of major memorials in their respective capitals, neither should Chiang be -- like any other mass murderer and dictator. The DPP's attempt to return the word "Taiwan" to state owned companies, and to erase the markers of authoritarian rule in Taiwan, are natural processes of democratization and transitional justice known the world over.

Michael, I had read your blog entry at the time of posting and was going to email you to get a contrary viewpoint recorded on this blog. Thank you for taking your time on a reply.
   While I am not confronted with these arguments as regularly as you are in Taichung (a marvellous city, by the way) I am interested in your views.
   I think the evidence of political killings by the KMT cannot be disputed. I do not for a second condone them, even though I have to point out a discrepancy in your numbers above: thousands in one paragraph and millions in another. Would the latter be referring to wartime casualties? If so, we really should stick to the point of non-wartime, state-sanctioned murder.
   However, I still believe that Taiwan benefited from KMT rule and that laid the groundwork for its modern economy. For us, the KMT was the organization which overseas Chinese poured their funds in to to set up the Republic in the 1910s, so as a part of history its ideals should stand as a reminder of our freedoms. The jury is out on corruption, but I would be happy to read up on references you provide me. What is commonly held abroad (to my knowledge; you may wish to make a comparison on my other blog where this entry also exists) is that accusations of corruption stem from far-left propaganda; there is also evidence (direct quotations) that the idea of separatism comes not from within Taiwan, but as a ploy from Beijing to weaken the island endorsed by Deng Xiopeng and others.
   The status of Taiwan as an Asian tiger, however, has come from rule under the KMT, as well as the groundwork for Taiwan’s present freedoms. It has come at a terrible cost that is not acknowledged enough, but the positive elements of Chiang’s contribution should not be erased.
   When compared to the Japanese or Maoist mass murders, a few thousand, though despicable, are not comparable. Stalinist Chiang was not, and certainly the Japanese were far crueller to the Chinese as a whole; my knowledge of Franco is more limited so I will not debate you on that part. I do know that a law relating to Franco memorials’ removal was only passed this year.
   I do wonder: what were the numbers of Japanese killings on Formosa? Do they deserve the reverence of modern-day Taiwanese? As I said, the Rape of Nanking and other massacres seem to be ignored. I cannot do this as easily.
   While Taiwanese merely have to consider a debate between the DPP and KMT, and based on the last election prefer the former, the picture for overseas Chinese is quite different. I would like to think my post is reasonably representative, but welcome other overseas Chinese’s views.
   As I said in my post, we can’t really have much of a say in a national political debate beyond the odd blog post, press release and other communications. We are not voters, and we may have to resign ourselves to the fact that Taiwanese will vote based on their own immediate needs.
   Those of us living abroad see Chinese national life more as a division between the Communist Party on the mainland and a free, Republican Chinese government as the legitimate rulers of all of China. As I said to my Taiwanese friends last month, it does not ultimately matter to me whether the Democrats get in or whether the KMT does. It does matter to us whether the talk is one of separatism or unity, and I even advanced this viewpoint with DPP representatives.
   The DPP has shown a fairly consistent desire to give up the mainland, furthering the UN’s decision in 1971. You would be entirely reasonable to think that this is a logical move. But then what? It is not as this would provide Taiwan with a sudden legitimacy; the UN is unlikely to accede to demands for a seat, unless the whole debate about which is the government that best fits the Charter’s requirements for self-determination is entered into. That, too, is unlikely.
   Millions of us pin our hope on a free mainland and history should not be wiped quite as quickly. Chiang represents the only leader prepared to fight a corrupt, mass-murdering dictatorship in Beijing and it was history that, sadly, saw to movements of KMT supporters being in a position where they could not mobilize a revolution on the mainland. (Namely, it was the absence of US support but internally, I believe the numbers were there as my own family was involved.)
   Michael, if you feel we have a highly romanticized notion of the hope that the Republic of China represents, you are right, and you have a right to attack us on whether we are being realistic.
   You also have a right on saying whether this argument has a double standard of supporting someone who has ordered the killing of thousands because we oppose a Party that has killed 70 million on the mainland (or, for that matter, the nine million who died mostly at Japanese hands during the Sino–Japanese War).
   I stand by my points, especially that what happened at the Memorial was divisive and was ill managed, but feel I need to acknowledge that state-sanctioned murders did occur. I respect where you are coming from but based on my own cultural context I cannot agree with you wholeheartedly.
   Creating divisions is not what a government should do, especially at a national monument, so I have to wonder where the DPP’s interests lie if the Republic is being weakened like this.
   Unless there is a third way, I cannot see a resolution by which your and my viewpoint sit happily side by side.
   As for the future of China, some form of Commonwealth or federalism may be a way forward rather than the now-unlikely and potentially harmful struggle between two opposing governments.
   Michael, I once again thank you for reading my post and for your time.  
The KMT’s military rule was due to the wartime conditions against the Japanese invaders then the Communists. I think that it is an unfair comparison to give the Japanese war machine a free pass as a way of attacking the KMT. The left in America has worked overtime to attack the KMT and Chiang Kai-shek while either softening or promoting “Chairman Mao” – at a ridicules absurd level Andy Warhol’s image of Mao is really over the top. Can you imagine Warhol doing Hitler or Hideki Tojo?  
perhaps they should have done a referendum to whether remove the name or not. I know to some Taiwanese Chiang Kai Shek is seen as corrupt and evil while some Taiwanese see him as a hero, but i guess the best solution would have been to conduct a referendum or have public meetings to hear from the public.  
Andrew, while there wasn’t a referendum, this did go to the Legislature. And the decision was to not allow the name change, but the government has gone ahead with it.
   While criticizing the KMT, the DPP has shown that it is not exactly respectful of the wishes of the Chinese people.
   Mine is a simplistic reading of this English-language article. I do not pretend to know the Republic’s legislative system. Perhaps Michael and those on the other side of the argument can share their thoughts. To me, it looks undemocratic.  
I should also add that the lifting of the ban discussing 228, the apology for the incident and the setting up of a reparation fund came from the KMT. This sounds like a move toward unity. The DPP is sounding more disinterested in unity.  
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