Chiang Kai-shek (
We shake our collective heads, or recoil in horror, when we hear young Palestinians, young Iraqis, Afghans, Serbs or Chinese tell the camera that Osama bin Laden, the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic or Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) were, in similar terms, the saviors of their people.
Aside from the telling fact that it is not altogether outlandish to name Chiang alongside such enlightened murderers, the characterization -- by children born long after his death -- of the generalissimo as any kind of savior reveals that some elements within our society are still passing along a revisionist version of history.
If, as outsiders, we have the clarity of vision, or the advantage of emotional distance, that allows us to pass judgment on youth who see bin Laden and his ilk as saviors, then surely admirers of Chiang cannot be exempt from similar criticism.
And yet, to this day, many are those who refuse to throw Chiang into the pit alongside the multifarious tyrants that pepper the long, sad history of man's inhumanity to man. Instead, as do some misguided parents and teachers in far-away lands, they pour the poison in their children's ears and thereby perpetuate falsehoods out of which no good can come.
While it would be invidious to even conceive of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) trading his jogging shorts for the generalissimo's ever-pristine martial costume, or to imagine that he could make recourse to the same dictatorial methods as his predecessor, his failure -- and that of his party -- to completely break ties with the past and decry the crimes for what they were belies a continuation of a mindset of oppression, the epitome of which is the teaching of youngsters that Chiang was, and remains, a hero.
If, heaven forbid, Chiang were still alive today, Taiwan would be an entirely different place. In this alternate universe, the generalissimo would conceivably still be at war with China, as a result of which the powers in Beijing would likely be more repressive and more bellicose than Chinese President Hu Jintao (
In fact, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that, with Chiang still in power today, Taiwan and China would by now have come to blows and the 1,000 missiles pointed at Taiwan as you read this would appear like a minor day-after headache.
All this to prove that Chiang, the old savior revered by some, wasn't good for Taiwan, as his presence today would mean more dangers for the country and a hotter conflict than the Cold War that haunts us every minute.
The only reason Beijing has softened its stance on Chiang and, to a certain degree, refashioned his image, is that he is safely long dead. In so doing, by rehabilitating its old nemesis into a character worthy of -- granted, mitigated -- reverence, Beijing has once again demonstrated in no uncertain terms that it doesn't have the interest of Taiwanese at heart. A true friend of Taiwan would never change his line on a murderous dictator, or choose to visit Taiwan for its last remaining monuments to this man's dreams of grandeur.
With elections looming, Ma and the KMT cannot pretend to stand for Taiwanese if they continue to refer to the Martial Law era and the White Terror as mere tactical "mistakes," or to encourage so-called historians to portray Chiang as a savior. Anything less than a full repudiation of what the generalissimo stood for, a complete denunciation of the crimes he and his followers committed against a people, will be -- should be -- insufficient to convince Taiwanese and the world that the KMT is worthy of the people's trust.
The beauty of elections, inasmuch as there can be beauty in the process, is that they encourage us to review history and see if, indeed, our purported leaders are worthy of representing us.
Irony of ironies, by calling for rapprochement -- if not unification -- with China, Ma and the KMT have been betraying Chiang, who would never in a million years have brooked such efforts. Heaven knows what such treasonous activity would have implied for Ma and his like-minded group had they endeavored for such ends when Chiang was in power.
But the beauty of democracy, that which the generalissimo denied the people he claimed to represent for almost 30 years, is that Ma is allowed to strive toward the ultimate betrayal of his old master's wishes without fear of persecution. We may not agree with his objective, but as a citizen of a democratic country, he has the right to fight for his goal.
That he chooses to ignore the great irony at the core of his understanding of history is his decision to make.
One thing the Ma cannot be allowed to do, however, is betray Taiwanese by telling them lies about their history.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
In the closing weeks of 2000, an army of Singaporean government officials descended on Washington to make good on a handshake between then-US President Bill Clinton and Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟). They had agreed to strike an FTA after a round of golf in Brunei that past November. Running a small city-state, Singapore’s leaders and their diplomats live with their ear to the ground, attuned to the slightest geopolitical movements. They were motivated then by a big-picture strategic concern — keeping the US embedded in their region. An FTA they thought would help do that. It worked. Clinton’s successor,
On Oct. 7, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi sent letters to the Indian media asking them to refrain from calling Taiwan a country while reporting on its 109th National Day, which fell on Saturday last week. This move backfired and, on the contrary, contributed to the immense popularity of Taiwan among Indians, leading to an outpouring of congratulations for it on Twitter. Asked about the letter, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said: “There is a free media that reports on issues as it sees fit.” Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman Tajinder Singh Bagga put up several banners outside the
On Oct. 6, the UN Committee on Human Rights released a statement on the concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang region in which at least 1 million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities are incarcerated. On the same day, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was telling delegates at a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) meeting that “happiness among the people in Xinjiang is on the rise.” It was a stark reminder of the CCP’s longstanding practice of trampling on human rights and deceiving the world. In October last year, the Taiwan East Turkestan Association and the Taiwan Friends of Tibet held an event titled
In a Facebook post on Wednesday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) wrote: “The KMT must fall for Taiwan to improve.’ Allow me to ask the question again: Is this really true?” It matters not how many times Hsu asks the question, my answer will always be the same: “Yes, the KMT must be toppled for Taiwan to improve.” In the lengthy Facebook post, titled “What were those born in the 1980s guilty of?” Hsu harked back to the idealistic aspirations of the 2014 Sunflower movement before heaping opprobrium on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP)