Fri, Jan 14, 2000 - Page 12 News List

Editorial: A day to remember

Television viewers throughout the country yesterday were regaled by one of Taiwan's most touching rituals: the sight of leading KMT luminaries -- including those recently expelled -- paying homage at the temporary resting place of Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), marking the 12th anniversary of the death of Taiwan's own "dear leader."

One after another, the worthies paraded to the shrine, prostrating themselves and offering incense in the most proper Confucian fashion. It was a poignant moment, surely filling us all with nostalgia for the good old days when the streets were safe, the media reported only happy news and the trains ran on time.

We hope that readers who feel disappointed that we have not presented a photo spread of this deeply moving occasion will be consoled by the fact that it occurs not just annually, but three times each year. In addition, there is another round of equally touching commemorations of the "great leader" Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石). The preservation of these ancient rites is a testament to the fact that the old-fashioned virtues have not been entirely corroded by the brash chaos of democracy.

Besides the throngs of ordinary well-wishers, the most prominent visitors are each given the opportunity to offer his -- by tradition, men are given pride of place -- prayers in individual privacy, with only the mute witness of the TV cameras. With the passage of time, the event has been extended over two days to accommodate the swelling numbers of those wanting to pay their respects.

Those who once administered with stern authority to prepare Taiwan for the noble task of retaking the mainland showed a more tender side as they sobbed before the tomb of "Mr. Ching-kuo" -- as he is affectionately known. For others, tough exteriors, developed over years of fending off obstreperous members of the press and the legislature, were shed to give the television audience a rare glimpse of the tender inner feelings of our leaders.

The most august visitor yesterday was, naturally, President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). The felicitous fact that the anniversary of Mr. Ching-kuo's death coincides with that of his assumption of power in no way tempered his touching reverence for the man whose job he took over.

Naturally Vice-President Lien Chan (連戰) was not absent, pensively reminiscing how, long ago, Mr. Ching-kuo showed his favor by appointing him ambassador to El Salvador. Nor was Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), whose career was also set on the right path by the great man.

But the most memorable highlights of this year's anniversary came not from the political "ins" but rather from those cast down from greatness. For example there was recently-retired Secretary-General of the Presidential Office John Chang (章孝嚴), whose love trysts in the Grand Formosa Regent hotel led to the cutting short of a promising career. Chang must certainly have been able to draw comfort from the knowledge that the very fact of his birth proves that his father could empathize with his current marital difficulties.

But, for most observers, the most eagerly anticipated moment came when independent presidential candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) paid his respects. Tearful Soong held his head high, no doubt confident that the spirit of his mentor would ratify his careful stewardship of the monies entrusted for the protection of his offspring.

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