Academics in Taiwan and abroad are still studying and debating the complex question of how Chiang’s role in history is to be evaluated. However, few would dispute that even though the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government on Taiwan had eliminated the threat of underground Chinese Communist Party (CCP) activity as early as the mid-1950s, and that assistance from the US army following the outbreak of the Korean War to a considerable degree ensured political stability and consolidation here in Taiwan, Chiang continued to hold on to power in Taiwan for several decades.
With thousands of people thrown into jail for their political beliefs, resulting in countless families being torn apart, Chiang presided over a regime that trampled on basic human rights for years. Even after Taiwan became a democracy, the imposing memorial hall named after Chiang reveals nothing of the darker aspects of his rule.
Even now, Taiwan, a country upheld as a model for how democracy can work in a Chinese society, retains this artifact that keeps it apart from other emerging democracies around the world. That is, it still has this building, located in a prime location in the capital, that drains huge amounts of money from the public purse, commemorating a dictator who destroyed the lives of so many of its citizens.
This is not the first time Chiang and Soong have been promoted in a lighthearted way. The design company run by Demos Chiang (蔣友柏), Chiang’s great-grandson, has tried to market a gold and silver pendant themed on the dictator. One could say that it was just the descendant of a famous individual exploiting his pedigree to sell a few products, but as we have written elsewhere, this behavior is not only historically myopic, it is also offensive to the families of those executed for their political convictions by the regime, and is therefore totally inappropriate.
And if a private company is criticized for such behavior, why shouldn’t a democratic government, which should be shining a light on a murky part of history and learning from its past? And, if this government is trying to re-brand a dictator, in the name of developing products to help out the national coffers, at the expense of failing to reinforce the ethical values that should be promoted in a democratic society under the rule of law, then that government should be roundly chastised.
Huang Chang-ling is chair of the board for the Taiwan Association for Truth and Reconciliation. Yeh Hung-ling is the association’s chief executive.
Translated by Paul Cooper