Even though the government is now structured along the lines of a democratic system, many examples of authoritarian legacy can still be seen in Taiwanese society today. While institutional factors, such as the failure to institute transitional justice, may have some part in this, the fact that many people have never truly bid farewell to authoritarianism or discarded the ideas that it inculcated in them is also an important element.
Deng, Chen and Chiang are all highly political symbols, but their significance is not the same. The Taiwan Association for Truth and Reconciliation has since its inception been concerned about Taiwan’s democratic development and transitional justice, and believes that when a democratic state or academic institution is trying to preserve memories it should encourage members of society to remember those who resisted dictatorship, rather than remembering the dictators.
Unfortunately, what has happened over the course of Taiwan’s democratization is that there has been “transition without justice.” As a result, society has not been able to discuss or overturn these kinds of political memory issues, or establish consensus about them. Many controversies end up with an unhelpful “agreement to disagree,” with each side remembering and describing its own preferred version of events.
“You pay respects to your Deng Nan-jung and I’ll pay respects to my Chiang Kai-shek,” people might say. Few people have thought deeply about what kinds of values are helpful for maintaining public life, or indeed for consolidating and deepening democracy, and therefore are values worthy of being preserved as public resources.
The proposal to name a plaza “Nan-jung Square” (South Banyan Square, 南榕廣場) and the earlier proposal to set up a memorial for Chen Wen-chen were both put forward by students who grew up under a democratic system, and they were both voted down by teachers who were educated under the authoritarian system of years gone by.
This similarity is no coincidence — it is a reflection of the influence that systems can have on people. Both cases involve profound lessons about democracy that are worthy of continued discussion and reflection.
Huang Chang-ling is chairperson of the Taiwan Association for Truth and Reconciliation. Yeh Hung-ling is the association’s executive secretary.
Translated by Julian Clegg