Taiwan’s democracy has often been touted as a successful story, but a recent disturbing media report concerning former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) suggests the nation is still a fragile democracy in which transitional justice remains lacking and the residue of authoritarian worship can still be felt.
A section on the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall’s Web site meant to introduce Chiang’s life story to children was recently discovered by parents to be scattered with sycophantic, hyperbolic praise of the late dictator.
Titled “Stories of Grandfather Chiang,” the section describes Chiang as the “savior of mankind” and “a great leader for the world,” who had “a heart full of goodness and kindness.”
“He forgave past wrongs done against him by old foes. He repaid enemies’ malevolence with kindness,” it says of “the revered President Chiang.”
The myth-making and worshiping of Chiang is dumbfounding considering that, as recently as February, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), in an address marking the 66th anniversary of the 228 Incident, again apologized for the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime’s brutal and bloody crackdown on dissent, and issued a call for greater awareness of this part of history.
It comes as yet another irony that Ma then turned around and on Thursday last week paid solemn tribute to Chiang — the main culprit behind the 228 Massacre, as reported in The 228 Incident: A Report on Responsibility published by the 228 Incident Memorial Foundation in 2006.
Seen against this background, many have to doubt Ma’s sincerity when he apologized to massacre victims and said that he could empathize with what they had gone through. It was to many’s wonder, after all, that Ma could look family members of the victims in the eye when he personally issued them certificates that officially “restored the reputations” of the victims of the 228 Massacre, when, a few days later, his eyes glistened as he paid homage to the man who was primarily responsible for inflicting such grief on victims of the White Terror and their families.
Statues of the main instigator of the White Terror are everywhere, from public parks to school campuses, from district courts to railway stations, from streets bearing his name to the various figurines portraying Chiang as a smiling grandfather-like figure.
How does the president expect the public to take him seriously when he says that he wishes the nation’s educators could help the public better understand the lessons of history and to cherish human rights when he remains silent on how little transitional justice is being implemented.
In view of the Ma administration’s inaction in addressing transitional justice, it is little wonder that distorted values and sycophantic “hero”-worship, such as the case of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall’s Web site, continues to find its way to members of the public.
Action speaks louder than words. Ma can lecture all he wants about the values of human rights and apologize every year to mark the anniversary of the 228 Massacre, but until his administration takes concrete steps to eradicate all sorts of totalitarian worship that permeate virtually all corners of the nation, Ma will remain unfit to trumpet having advanced the cause of democracy as his administration’s achievement because he is as culpable as anyone else for allowing authoritarian worship of Chiang to continue.