Tue, Feb 27, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Remembering is key to the future

By Li Thian-hok 李天福

A Wall Street Journal reporter once compared Taiwanese businessmen to lemmings, which are known for their propensity to plunge to death en masse.

There are also substantial differences between Taiwan in 1947 and in 2007. Taiwan in 1947 was an obscure colony, little known to the outside world. Today, it is the world's 17th largest economy and 16th largest trading nation. It has evolved from a one-party dictatorship into a nascent democracy and a de facto independent country.

Second, although isolated from the international community due to Beijing's pressure, Taiwan maintains substantial relations with the US under the Taiwan Relations Act. US policy dictates that any dispute between Taiwan and China must be resolved peacefully and Taiwan's status must be determined with the consent of the Taiwanese people. Japan has also expressed explicit concern for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Finally, while in 1947, the Taiwanese had no hope of establishing an existence separate from China, today they have the potential to maintain the status quo as a de facto independent nation until an upheaval in China overthrows CCP rule, provided the Taiwanese people can unite and defend their hard-won freedom.

For Taiwan's ethnic groups to unite toward a common goal, there must first be reconciliation.

The KMT leadership likes to say, "Let us forget the past and move forward." Many native Taiwanese believe, "We should forgive but never forget." In my view, "We should neither forget nor forgive." During the White Terror era, there were many victims but no perpetrators. The KMT has shown no contrition and offered no apology, which makes talk about forgiveness premature. In any event, atrocities should never be forgiven or condoned.

Does this mean never-ending enmity between native Taiwanese and Chinese emigrants? Certainly not. The notion that the 228 Incident was a conflict between these two groups is a myth propagated by the KMT for political purposes. It enables the KMT to falsely claim that ethnic reconciliation is possible only if the 228 Incident is buried and forgotten.

The 228 Incident was in essence a conflict between democratic values and a corrupt autocracy. During the White Terror, many Chinese also fell victim to KMT repression. Because native Taiwanese and Chinese emigres worked together to achieve Taiwan's economic miracle and build a robust democracy, and due to intermarriage, the sense of Taiwanese identity has grown.

In 2004, 60 percent of the people considered themselves Taiwanese, while only 9 percent regarded themselves Chinese. The rest said they were both Taiwanese and Chinese.

Thus, the 228 Incident should not be regarded as an impediment to all ethnic groups pulling together to preserve Taiwan's sovereignty and democracy. On the contrary, the courage exhibited by many 228 heroes should inspire the current generation of Taiwanese to strive for genuine reconciliation and a nation everyone can be proud of.

Ong Thiam-teng (王添燈), a Provincial Council member and president of the Taipei Tea Merchant's Association served as spokesman for the Settlement Committee and was the chief drafter of the "32 Demands." He knew that in presenting the demands he was risking his life. Chinese security agents poured gasoline on him and burned him alive but to his last breath, he never relented on the rightness of his cause.

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