Five days before the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) abruptly changed the name of National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall back to “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall,” the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) held a ceremony in memory of the victims of the 228 Incident and the White Terror at Liberty Square in front of the edifice to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the lifting of martial law.
Hundreds of victims of political persecution and their families attended the memorial. Seeing their old and weak figures in front of the structure that again serves as a memorial for the prime culprit behind a past dictatorship, I felt extremely saddened. I cannot but ask how we can strive for democracy and freedom while extolling autocracy, and how we can solemnly pay tribute to the dead on the one hand while shedding tears for a slaughterer on the other?
We must speak out. If you weep before the alter of this culprit, it is tantamount to flogging his victims and rubbing salt in the wounds of their families and society in general. If you wish to maintain this memorial hall for a dictator using taxpayers’ money and public resources, then this would be a betrayal of democratic politics and a most ruthless trampling on the value of human rights.
The biggest lesson we learned from World War II was the cost of brutality and cruelty, but what frightened humankind the most was the Holocaust. At about the same time, Asia witnessed the regrettable and painful Nanking Massacre. While the Holocaust highlighted the value of the life of a human being and the existence of universal values, the Nanking Massacre continues to be interpreted from a nationalist perspective with little regard to the sacredness of life and human dignity.
Ultra-nationalism has therefore relegated the memory of massacres carried out by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to oblivion. We must realize that it is this process that turns ordinary people into accomplices of a dictator’s purges and the revisiting of genocide.
Although the number of people massacred by the CCP and the KMT is much higher than those who died in the Japanese invasion of China, the Chinese-speaking world continues to fail to reflect on this. In addition, the KMT and the CCP have avoided facing up to their histories of dictatorship. Thus, Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) remain the celebrated founding fathers of their parties and national heroes, while those who were killed at the time have been forgotten and disappeared quietly from history.
The late human rights activist Bo Yang (柏楊) wrote a poem for the Weeping Tablet (垂�? on Green Island, which reads: “How many mothers have wept long nights for their imprisoned children on Green Island?”
The KMT and the CCP now seek reconciliation and are working together to eradicate their histories of purges and massacres. To the families of victims of political persecution, talks between the KMT and the CCP and cross-strait exchanges are like a black curtain covering the blue sky of freedom. Taiwanese and Chinese worry that they may end up like the Israelites who wandered through Babylon.
I oppose commemorating dictators. We embrace freedom and democracy. This is our commitment to both our ancestors and our descendants. The restoration of the name of the dictator to the memorial hall cannot be recognized by a democratic society, while those responsible for the restoration will be remembered forever for their actions.
Tsai Ing-wen is chairperson of the Democratic Progressive Party.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG
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