Fri, Mar 09, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Grasping the antagonism over 228

By Chen Tsui-lien 陳翠蓮

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) played a contradictory role during the nations democratization. On one level, as the president, he fully understood why they wanted to pursue the truth behind the 228 Incident. But on another level he was the successor of an authoritarian system. That is, if he had come clean about his dictatorial KMT predecessors, he would have negated the legitimacy of his power. Therefore, Lee decided to apologize, offer financial compensation to the victims and erect monuments for them, but did not seek to trace responsibility back to its ultimate source.

What Lee did as president is commendable, for he set the course for democratization. Nonetheless, to help the KMT hold on to its power, Lee did not seek to address issues relating to its party-state ideology, state-controlled media, stolen assets or authoritarian system. In doing so he missed the best opportunity to implement transitional justice.

Even though Taiwan is already a democracy, the descendants of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石)and former chief of the general staff Peng Meng-chi (彭孟緝) still attempt to defend the wrongdoings of their forefathers. Ma's discourse on the matter even distorts the history of the incident.

Without the truth and responsibility behind the incident fully clarified, offering superficial financial compensation to the family members of the victims only makes them angrier. Having been made scapegoats, Mainlanders reflexively become very defensive when the 228 Incident is brought up.

What's worse, the media, still bound by the KMT's party-state ideology, tends to recite the same old line that the incident was the result of ethnic conflict. As a result, the incident still causes a stir. By attempting to understand the process by which discussion of the 228 Incident came to be associated with stirring up ethnic tensions, we can perhaps resolve those tensions.

Chen Tsui-lien is an associate professor in the Graduate Institute of Taiwan History at National Chengchi University.

Translated by Daniel Cheng

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