What a coincidence that just a few days before today’s 28th anniversary of the death of Carnegie Mellon University Statistics professor Chen Wen-chen (陳文成), new evidence about the case should suddenly come to light.
Chen’s body was found on the campus of National Taiwan University on July 3, 1981, a day after he was taken away by Taiwan Garrison Command staff for questioning about his pro-democracy activities in the US.
At the time, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) authorities claimed Chen’s death was either suicide or an accident, but his family and others have long maintained that the former KMT government murdered him because of his political ideals. No real investigation into Chen’s death has ever been carried out and the truth remains a mystery.
Along with other unsolved White Terror era murders, such as the brutal killings of the family of former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) in 1980, the death of Chen is a dark chapter in Taiwan’s history.
In the ensuing period, the Chen and Lin cases have become part of a macabre political circus, with DPP politicians occasionally bringing them up, only for the KMT to accuse them of exploiting the issue for electoral gain.
And while this may be true, the very fact that neither of these cases has ever been solved is the reason that the DPP is able to continue doing so.
While it is also true that during its eight years in power the DPP mostly talked of transitional justice and did not do enough to probe such cases, it is more plausible to believe that these files have long been hidden away and are only now seeing the light of day so they can help the present administration achieve certain aims.
Indeed, the discovery of the new files comes just three months after Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) instructed prosecutors to set up a team to re-investigate Chen’s death and other cases.
Their discovery is all the more interesting because during past investigations, authorities had repeatedly said a written statement made by Chen and audiotapes of his interrogation had disappeared.
But Chen’s interrogation records were reportedly found by officials of the Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office in the National Archives a few days ago. This begs the question that if the files were so easy to locate, why didn’t earlier probes uncover them?
Given his past 228 Massacre-related efforts, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has made no secret of the fact that he sees himself as the KMT’s “angel of reconciliation.” Any new light shed on such cases could help him cement this position.
But those who hope that one day someone will be brought to justice for these crimes will be disappointed, as doing so would undoubtedly compromise a number of senior KMT and military officials.
So unless the KMT has a major change of heart, the present circus will continue and the families of the victims will have to bear more shallow, half-hearted, stage-managed attempts at reconciliation.