Former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) has been lambasted by the descendants of victims of the 228 Incident and by academics after he publicly questioned how many people had been killed in the tragic events that shook Taiwan in 1947. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who cannot afford to offend people on either side of the political fence, responded by insisting that the specific number was not important as he offered an apology, which he has done in the past.
This war of words highlights the hypocrisy and contradictory mindset of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), to which Hau and Ma both belong. Hau spoke from the heart and his opinion represents the deep-blue section of society who are diehard supporters of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石). If these people are unhappy about Ma, it is mostly because they think he is promoting Taiwanese independence and because he keeps apologizing for the 228 Incident.
Ma’s real opinion in his heart is probably no different from Hau’s. However, Ma needs to get people to vote for him, so he would never dare to say what he really thinks — not when prospective voters are listening, anyway. However, he did once reveal his real views when speaking in English to US officials. Some things he is reported to have said in private have made Taiwan-centric people furious, while the deep-blue Chiang loyalists are perhaps even more irate.
According to a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, during a meeting with then-American Institute in Taiwan director Stephen Young on March 8, 2007, Ma said that the estimate of 20,000 or more people killed in the 228 Incident was “far out of line” with the about 900 families that had applied for and received compensation.
Although Ma did not give a figure for the number of people that he believed to have been killed, he did reject the figure of 20,000 that had been published in an official report. The logic of what he said is the same as Hau’s recent comments: To deduce the number of people killed from the number of people who applied for compensation. In addition, that Ma expressed reservations about the figure of 20,000 dead in his conversation with Young proves that, contrary to what he said a few days ago, he does indeed think that numbers are important.
The 228 Incident also cannot be separated from Chiang’s legacy, and Chiang is revered by the deep-blues.
Around the time of Ma’s meeting with Young, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the Democratic Progressive Party had the name of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall changed to the Democracy Memorial Hall and the adjoining square named Liberty Square. He also told the Post Office to print the word “Taiwan” on Taiwanese stamps in place of “Republic of China.”
The KMT, then in opposition, was very angry about these changes. Ma apparently gave an honest appraisal of the situation in his conversation with Young.
According to the leaked cable: “Ma acknowledged … that the outraged KMT members were largely elderly Mainlanders, as most younger KMT supporters ‘do not care’ about name change or Chiang Kai-shek.”
Ma’s wife, Chow Mei-ching (周美青), says that he is a very honest person who cannot tell a lie without blushing, but this character reference is not at all reliable.
Anyone who listens to Ma prattling away, no matter which side of the green-blue divide they belong to, should take anything he says with a big pinch of salt. Those who think about things for themselves will avoid being hoodwinked.
James Wang is a political commentator in Taipei.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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