With the 60th anniversary of the 228 Incident just past and the campaign to rid Taiwan of Peanut paraphernalia in full swing, I thought I would make this week's column a chronicle of some of the weird, wonderful and downright wrong things that have been said in defense of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and advocating the preservation of the sculptural "status quo."
The apologists who pose as defenders of the Chiang legacy are a strange and varied bunch, and they become particularly creative when it comes to thinking up reasons for keeping these unwelcome relics of a bygone era.
First we have the "achievement touters," or the "Yeah, Chiang may have killed a few people, but look what he did for the nation" gang.
Leading the way was Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Fei (費鴻泰), who told the press that history would dub President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) a bad man if he denied the contribution Chiang made to the country.
A-bian a bad man? Well, I have to admit the way he parts his hair is criminal and he did allude to having impure thoughts about a young female reporter in a rice paddy the other week, but as far as we know Chen has never ordered the deaths of hundreds of people as the generalissimo-in-training did during the communist purges of Shanghai and Guangzhou in 1927. But then I suppose one's definition of "bad" is flexible if your icon is a man who shoots old pals in the back.
And while it is easy to overlook some of the positive things the last emperor eventually did get right in Taiwan, some people, understandably, cannot forget the big contribution he and his troops made to population control.
Another member of the "achievement" crowd -- and thanks to members of the blogosphere for pointing me in his direction -- is Joe Hung over at the China Post, who wrote a March 12 column entitled "Is [sic] Chiang Kai-shek all that bad?"
Funny, that -- I thought he was dead.
After name-dropping himself ("The first thing I learned in historiography at Georgetown University where I got my PhD in historia is that history is a dialogue between the past and the present,") he argues that said "historia" is a matter of interpretation, and biased pan-green historians who blame Chiang for the 228 Incident distort the facts to support their case.
He goes on to argue that Peanut was probably "unaware" of what was happening in Taiwan and that he was a "good autocrat," crediting him with defending Taiwan from communist invasion and working wonders with the economy (while grossly understating the role of the US Seventh Fleet and Washington's millions of dollars of financial and technical aid).
Unaware! Chiang was a control freak who distrusted his subordinates so deeply that he countermanded his generals mid-battle. At one point he held 82 government posts simultaneously, including chief of the government, army and party, plus -- rather bizarrely, the presidencies of the Boy Scouts and National Glider Association. To believe that he could have been "unaware of conditions on Taiwan" is pushing it just a little.
I don't care if you have a doctorate in historia or anything else. You cannot excuse the systematic murder of a generation of Taiwanese leaders by saying: "Yes, but, he did raise the average income." That would be like expecting the Burmese and Thais to say: "Hey, the Japanese Imperial Army wasn't really that bad. After all, they did help us build a delightful railway with nifty bridges."
Next up we have the "deniers," who twist facts and downplay the seriousness of atrocities. Academia Sinica fellows Chu Hong-yuan (朱浤源) and Huang Chang-chien (黃彰健) and four other academics took not just the biscuit but the whole damn packet when, at a recent press conference, they placed the blame for the 228 Incident on the Japanese -- even though Tokyo had handed Taiwan over to Chiang and his KMT cronies a full 18 months before.
These so-called historians said that the food shortages and inflation that finally pushed the Taiwanese over the edge were created by the nation's former colonists, and not the Shanghai carpetbaggers who shipped Taiwan's raw materials, agricultural stockpiles and production facilities back across the Strait to help the war effort in China or sell on the black market like most neutral chroniclers of the time believed.
Then there's that muckraking and formerly credible historian, independent Legislator Li Ao (李敖), who told a press conference that "only about 800 people died at that time." Li's evidence? A telegram sent by then executive administrator Chen Yi (陳儀) to Chiang saying that the death toll in the incident was about 800.
One would think that Li, who suffered at the hands of Chiang's regime, serving five years in prison during the White Terror era, would know better than to bank on the word of one of the most reviled and discredited KMT leaders ever.
But enough of this depressing subject, and on with the good stuff. The things people have been saying about preserving the status quo over at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall are much more fun.
First off, we have everyone's favorite drinking buddy, former Taipei mayor Ma "Mei you le" Ying-jeou (馬英九), who came up with this absolute beauty: "More than 2,300 people commit suicide every year, but the government only cares about tearing down the walls surrounding CKS hall."
Was Ma linking the national suicide rate to government economic mismanagement or making a personal cry for help? Wikipedia says suicide is common among heavy drinkers. I implore the shuai-ge president-in-waiting to cut back on the red wine before it is too late.
But the defenders-of-dictatorship roll call would not be complete without an irrational, emotional outburst from that ever-filial grandson, KMT Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴). "There is a culture center in remembrance of the late US president John F. Kennedy and [one] in memory of the late French president Francois Mitterrand," Chiang spluttered. "Why can't we have a culture center commemorating a Taiwanese politician?"
Well, for starters, Kennedy and Mitterrand were popularly elected.
But I suppose we could bow to this demand, assuming Chiang had ever considered himself a "Taiwanese politician." In his haste to defend his grandfather, it seems Chiang junior confused the ethnicity of his ancestor with the alleged deathbed conversion of his randy father.
And while we're talking about grandfathers, has it ever occurred to John Chiang that someone whose grandfather or father disappeared or was killed at the hands of KMT goons may want to use the cultural center, but finds the continued presence of a humongous, despotic idol offensive?
Finally we move on to the bizarre, and for this it is hard to beat People First Party Legislator Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀), who, in defense of CKS Memorial Hall's Ming Dynasty-style walls, said: "China Airlines even has a commercial showing the hall's winding corridors, and [it] has gathered favorable reviews [among foreign guests]."
Chalk this one up to the "don't change it because it's popular with Chinese tourists" crowd: It seems certain that some in my beloved country are advocating letting the Chicoms decide what is good for Taiwanese iconography. Since when did a government make decisions based on what is popular among holidaymakers from a hostile state?
But the award for bare-faced cheek must go to Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Wang Shih-cheng (王世堅), who applauded the Presidential Office's decision to replace a statue of Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) with a potted plant. Why? "Because Sun promoted the planting of trees."
All I can say is that with logic like that it's a good job Sun wasn't renowned for advocating the use of latrines. Now that would have kicked up a stink.
Heard or read something particularly objectionable about Taiwan? Johnny wants to know: email@example.com is the place to reach me, with "Dear Johnny" in the subject line.
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