Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) may have been rivals, but they shared fundamental values. Even in death, both men occupy prime real estate in their capitals, where they continue to overlook and poison the nations they ruled from a splendid memorial hall.
In 2007, the name of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was changed to National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall — a symbol of democracy and rejection of dictatorship.
Since his election last year, however, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has ignored public opinion and — true to style — reinstalled the plaque with the memorial’s original name.
Ma said Chiang’s contributions and mistakes should be defined by historians, but by restoring the plaque he is contradicting himself: This decision was made by a government dominated by Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), not historians.
If Ma respects history and historians, he might look at how a Western historian outside the pan-blue/pan-green divide describes Chiang’s status.
Rudolph Rummel, a 77-year-old professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii, is an expert in this field. He has published 24 books about dictators and mass death and created the term “democide,” which refers to murder by government. In his book Death by Government, he listed the 10 worst dictators of the 20th century — and Chiang was among them.
Rummel’s studies are highly respected and he has received many awards, including a lifetime achievement award six years ago from the American Political Science Association. According to The Associated Press, he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.
This man’s research and his definition of Chiang can therefore serve as an authoritative judgment.
Even if we view Chiang from a layman’s perspective, we see that in the 50 years from obtaining power as commander-in-chief of the Northern Expeditionary Army in 1926 to his death in 1975, his government held no democratic elections and his word was law. What is this, if not a dictatorship?
Putting aside Chiang’s responsibility for the 228 Incident, he and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) oversaw 38 years of martial law in Taiwan. According to a report by the Ministry of Justice when Ma was minister, “military courts handled 29,007 political cases with approximately 140,000 victims” under the two Chiangs. In 1960 alone, the government listed 126,875 people as “missing” and withdrew their household registration, showing just how many people were executed publicly or in secret. If Chiang, who ruled the nation through violence and political prisons, was not a dictator, then who is?
Just like any other dictator, Chiang loved erecting statues of himself. According to media reports, there were at least 45,000 such statues around Taiwan, making it the country with the highest density of statues of a national leader in the world. In addition, his dozens of villas and items that he used are now treated as historical monuments and relics — even one of his handkerchiefs is on exhibit at the memorial hall.
When the government proposed that the name of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall be restored, the Washington Post, The Associated Press and other media outlets called Chiang a “dictator” and pointed out the cruelty of his rule. By reinstalling the plaque, the government is publicly challenging democratic values while boosting the name of a tyrant.
Ma was elected KMT chairman on Sunday. With both party and government in his hands, he is leaning toward totalitarian China while praising Chiang and his son. This is a bad omen for Taiwan.
Cao Changqing is a freelance journalist based in the US.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG
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