Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Another state funeral not required

The Chiang family has decided to bury former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), and has therefore asked the government's permission to bury them here in Taiwan. The government, already dealing with the issue, is planning a burial in the military mausoleum on Wuchih Mountain around the time of Tomb Sweeping Day next year.

The question of whether the two Chiangs should be given a state funeral has, however, led to disputes domestically. Considering both international and domestic factors, although affirming the interment of the two in Taiwan as an act of identification with Taiwan, we believe that a family funeral, not a state funeral, is the appropriate ceremony.

Both Chiangs were given a state funeral attended by international guests after their deaths. The two were not, however, buried in Taiwan, because they were to be buried in Nanjing once China had been retaken. If, 30 years on, the two are buried in the military mausoleum on Wuchih Mountain and once again given a state funeral, it must once again be an international ceremony. But we only die once, and there is no international precedent where a second official funeral is held after the first. If the two now are given a second state funeral, the international community may have problems understanding how they have managed to die a second death, 30 and 17 years after their first. And those who participated in the funeral ceremony the first time will probably find it very strange to participate in a second funeral ceremony for the same person.

The three state funerals for the two Chiangs will have been held in 1975, 1988 and 2005, three different years with strong symbolism representing three stages in Taiwan's political development. Under the totalitarian dictatorship of the Chiang family, vice president Yen Chia-kan (嚴家淦) succeeded Chiang Kai-shek as president in 1975, but Chiang Ching-kuo used his powers as premier and chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to arrange a funeral comparable to those of the old emperors.

When Chiang Ching-kuo passed away 17 years ago, Taiwan's party democracy had already begun to take shape, but the KMT still utilized martial law to control Taiwan. Although vice president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) took over the presidential seat, he still did not have any substantial power. With the help of the party-state apparatus, Chiang Ching-kuo's funeral, though not as splendid as his father's, still followed the State Funeral Law (國葬法).

The proposal to bury the two Chiangs according to the State Funeral Law and mobilize all Taiwanese to pay their respects, is not set in stone. Taiwan's democracy has matured, the knowledge of the Taiwanese people has taken great strides forward, and there are differing opinions of the two Chiangs. If the government holds another state funeral for the two, it may lead to polarization and conflict between pro-Chiang and anti-Chiang groups. For a Taiwan that has been divided since the presidential election this March, this would unnecessarily intensify this division.

The Chinese custom of collecting the bones of the deceased and moving them into another tomb or grave after several years of interment remains a family ritual where no one outside the family is invited. The interment of the two former presidents is just a burial ceremony that has remained incomplete for 30 and 17 years, respectively. It should be a family ceremony.

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