Fri, Jan 10, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The great dictator?

Fifteen years after his death, late-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) is all-of-a-sudden a very popular person. A series of events arranged by the KMT -- including talks and papers presented by KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) -- and a commemorative concert entitled CCK, Taiwan Misses You suggest that the KMT is going all-out to deify Chiang.

There are at least two political ends served by the KMT's move.

First, by exalting Chiang and asking the PFP and the New Party to join the chorus, the KMT strengthens the internal cohesion of the pan-blue camp and at the same time solidifies its leadership role within that camp. This, of course, puts the PFP in a rather awkward spot. It is a well-known fact that PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) can't complete a sentence without referring to "Mr. Ching-kuo," so he has no good excuse for staying out of the "commemorative events."

Second, by declaring that Chiang is its spiritual leader and icon in this way, the KMT is deliberately severing its ties with the 12-year reign of Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). According to the KMT, Chiang deserves all the credit for Taiwan's economic miracle and democratic achievements -- leaving "black gold" as the only noteworthy legacy of Lee's era.

This, of course, is completely absurd.

It cannot be denied that Chiang made significant contributions to Taiwan, especially in terms of economic development. Moreover, during the last few years of his rule, Chiang did plant the seeds for the democratization and development of Taiwan after his death. Lee, who succeeded Chiang as president, was the person who gave these seeds the water and nutrients they needed to blossom.

But it is also very important to point out that Chiang's efforts began relatively late in life. He was so sick that he knew his days were numbered. He also knew perfectly well that he had no suitable heir-apparent.

Furthermore, it cannot be denied that Chiang's reign was an era of military dictatorship and White Terror. In fact, even when Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) was still president, Chiang Ching-kuo was already the executor of the senior Chiang's reign of terror.

If there was one thing that distinguished the younger Chiang from his father, it was probably the pragmatism of Chiang Ching-kuo. Perhaps as a former communist and atheist, Chiang Ching-kuo was by nature more practical than his fascist father.

At the very least, Chiang Ching-kuo apparently came to realize the impossibility of retaking the Chinese mainland and therefore was willing to make an effort to develop Taiwan and make it his home.

While Chiang Ching-kuo was perhaps an improvement on his father, this in no way means he deserves the worship he has received from the KMT recently. By deifying such a controversial figure, the KMT gains something and loses something.

In the short run, idolizing Chiang may help the KMT to obtain pan-blue cohesion and leadership. In the long run, the damage may outweigh the good.

After all, in the minds of many people, the name of Chiang Ching-kuo is synonymous with "alien regime" and "White Terror."

Many of those people still remember a time when they had to worship the Chiangs -- father and son.

Stirring up those kind of memories can only cause resentment.

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