The Ministry of Education surprised nobody with its announcement on Wednesday that it intended to change the name of National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall back to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂) by July.
The only surprise for most people was that it took so long.
With the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) so singularly unwilling to conduct even the slightest iota of reflection on its continued unwavering worship of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) — a man considered by most of the rest of the world as a corrupt, megalomaniac butcher — it seems Taiwanese will never experience transitional justice of any form.
The biggest hurdle to this is that there are still far too many people in high office — including President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — who owe everything to the cronyism and patronage networks that were constructed under the Chiang dynasty. Until such people fall from grace — something that does not look likely to happen anytime soon — Taiwan and those whose families suffered at the hands of the Chiangs during the 228 Incident and the ensuing White Terror will continue to be denied a chance for truth and reconciliation.
Instead, they will have to endure the prospect of daily encounters with the countless statues, memorials and places dedicated to the dead dictator that dot the nation.
While it is true that many Taiwanese hold Chiang’s son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) in high esteem — despite his earlier stint as chief of the White Terror secret police — because he oversaw a period of rapid economic development and began efforts to localize the KMT, it is doubtful whether they hold Chiang the elder in equal regard.
This is probably why the ministry reneged on promises to wait until a public “consensus” had been reached before deciding how to resolve the name issue, as it knew it would be impossible to reach the consensus it required in a forum open to anyone.
The other reason for the decision to roll back the change is that Chiang is a vital part of the KMT narrative that Taiwan — or the Republic of China — was and still is part of China.
This view may not be shared by a majority of people, but it needs to be kept alive if the Ma administration is to continue its rapprochement with the Chinese Communist Party and smooth the way for eventual unification.
The KMT and Ma, for that matter, have been completely honest and open about their wish for such an outcome.
But for this to become a reality, it first has to reverse all the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) attempts at de-sinification, and then set about shaping public opinion in preparation for a future cross-strait deal of some kind.
Work to this end began when the KMT came back to power in May and the name change, along with a president who shows no compunction about paying homage at Chiang Kai-shek’s tomb each year on his birthday, are just two elements of this depressing, yet increasingly fast process.