Wed, Nov 24, 2004 - Page 8 News List

History is all too often distorted by politics

By Chen Ro-jinn陳柔縉

If you look at it, much current political debate in Taiwan derives from historical controversy -- from questions over Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) merits to the argu-ments over national identity. The latest point of discussion is whether Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) is the father of the nation, and if he had sought to save Taiwan. Amid the thick dust of battle, people should take a look at the historical facts informing this debate.

The last few generations have only been told that the father of the nation led the revolution, was undaunted in the face of numerous setbacks, established the Republic of China and should be seen as a great historical figure.

What the history books don't say is that he once said the two things he loved best were revolutions and women, or that when he reorganized his party into the China Revolutionary Party in the second year of the republic, he introduced a gangland-esque personality cult, with new initiates asked to swear that they were "prepared to sacrifice their personal freedom in order to follow Sun, on pain of death."

Missing also is how the revolutionary leader Huang Hsing (黃興) deferred to Sun, allowing him to become president, and how the "martyrs of the revolution" had denounced him on more than one occasion. Neither will the history books discuss why Sung's wife, Soong Ching-ling (宋慶齡) criticized the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for not implementing his three great policies.

After World War II the Tai-wanese were brainwashed for four decades. By making Sun an unblemished statesman it was easier to cast Chiang as his successor, consolidating his hold on power. There are other examples of historical manipulation, even the doctoring of photographs.

There are some who hold that Sun started the revolution to come to Taiwan's rescue. If that were the case, this would have been emblazoned in red, bold type in the textbooks decades ago, included in exams year after year, and students would have had to memorize it all. How is it that the KMT can't find evidence of this?

I have no idea whether Sun, when the republic was founded in 1912, intended to save Taiwan, which the Japanese had already held for 17 years. I can't say I have seen any evidence that he did, either. On the contrary, I have read that he counted many Japanese among his friends, who both sympathized with and supported his revolution, including the fourth governor of Taiwan, Kodamo Gentaro, and several former Japanese prime ministers.

Everyone over 30, back to at least three generations, should be wary of the history education they received and realize that a great deal of it was possibly somewhat at odds with the truth. It doesn't matter if people don't want to bone up on history in their spare time, but they shouldn't bristle with indignation whenever someone says something that diverges from what they have been told. They mustn't be fooled by politicians who criticize others for trying to indoctrinate them, and remember that they themselves are the products of indoctrination.

The deficiencies in history education in Taiwan are mirrored in China, and the stream of history has split into two branches. It seems that there are devils lurking behind Taiwan's history books. KMT Chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) grandfather wrote A Comprehensive History of Taiwan, but this doesn't change anything for Lien himself: history and politics are two entirely different things.

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