Thu, Aug 24, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Chang should remember his roots

Former KMT secretary-general John Chang (章孝嚴) -- who left Taiwan's political arena in disgrace after an extra-marital affair came to light in December -- departed yesterday for China's Zhejiang Province, where he will visit the Chiang family's hometown of Fenghua.

One day before his departure, Chang went to pay homage at the tombs of his "father" and "grandfather" in Taoyuan County and prayed for a smooth journey back to his ancestral home.

Chang and his late twin brother Chang Hsiao-tzu (章孝慈) are the illegitimate children born from an extra-marital affair between the late President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and Chang Ya-ruo (章亞若).

Everyone in Taiwan knows this story. But Chiang did not dare to make the story public during his lifetime, because of the opposition of his wife, Faina. Instead, Chiang met frequently with the two brothers in private and asked General Wang Sheng (王昇) to take care of them on his behalf. Chiang also helped with their living expenses, education and careers.

After Chiang's death in 1988, his second son Chiang Hsiao-wu (蔣孝武), was perhaps the only person from the Chiang family who had any sympathy for the Chang brothers. So after Chiang Hsiao-wu's death in 1991, there was no one in the family who recognized the Chang brothers as their kin. We can imagine their frustration at the time.

Chang used to say, "When Hsiao-wu was still around, he used to tell me, `Our friendship is not just like brothers (情同手足); we are brothers."

Chiang's words have turned all the more bitter since his death. Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have always attached great importance to their ancestry. Paying homage to one's ancestors has always been a virtue -- a sign that one has not forgotten one's roots.

The Chang brothers' ancestry problem surfaced only after Chiang Hsiao-wu's death. But no one can help them be recognized as members of the Chiang family as long as Faina Chiang does not relent. Society can only extend their sympathy.

Public sympathy and special care from superiors smoothly propelled the Chang brothers to prominence in political and academic spheres -- perhaps a compensation for the hardships they endured during the first part of their lives.

Despite his journey to his ancestral home, Chang has said he is not changing his surname due to opposition from some members of the Chiang family. But Chang perhaps still believes that the trip will allow him to inherit part of the political legacy of the two Chiangs, or least a symbolic "brand name" image.

Whether the political legacy of the two Chiangs will be positive or negative in a democratized Taiwan is, however, open to question.

The enthusiastic welcome that Beijing authorities have extended to Chang is obviously a political ploy. If Chang inadvertently falls into Beijing's trap, his trip may very well turn out to be a negative factor when he runs for a legislative seat in Taipei City next year.

To win support from the Taiwanese people, Chiang Ching-kuo once said, "I am a Taiwanese myself, too." This was an indication of Chiang's political wisdom. While on his trip to his ancestral home, Chang should not forget that his political life belongs to this land and her people, just like his father's life did.

Chang wants to make a fresh start in the political arena and wash away the dirt from last year's scandal. His hard work and determination are admirable. However, Chang's true test will be how to leave behind the public perception that he has risen to prominence on the back of public sympathy -- and the favor and protection of his father -- and create a political orbit he can truly call his own.

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