Sun, Mar 05, 2017 - Page 6 News List

The unfolding epic KMT tragedy

By Jerome Keating

With President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) recent directive to declassify all government documents relating to the 228 Massacre, Taiwan has passed another milestone in its pursuit of truth about its past. Linked to this is the continued removal of statues of former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), who clearly bears responsibility for the massacre.

However, Taiwan’s coming to terms with this part of its history and Chiang’s role in it is not the final step. It raises other deeper issues that remain unanswered.

Numerous books have been written on the history of Taiwan, as well as on Chiang and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), but a different book still demands to be written. That book is a thorough, comprehensive and honest history of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), along with its failed struggles with democracy, identity and power.

Such a book would need to cover the KMT from its inception to its current fading position and all its missteps and betrayals along the way, including its loss of China.

It would be a crucial work not only on the KMT’s role in Taiwan’s struggle for democracy, but would also have to trace how and where the party — which was allegedly built on the pursuit of democracy — lost its focus and soul.

The KMT dates its founding to right after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution when Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) and Sung Chiao-jen (宋教仁) united the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmenghui, 同盟會) and other revolutionary groups to form the KMT based on a belief in government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Sun became the first president of China, but quickly ceded that role to Yuan Shikai (袁世凱), and so began the KMT’s ill-fated journey.

Because of its length and scope, this history of the KMT has the makings of an epic, or — more accurately — of an epic tragedy. It would cover more than a century of numerous wars for control and leadership, and would end with the KMT as a diaspora in exile.

“I sing of arms and a man,” wrote Virgil at the beginning of The Aeneid, his epic on the founding of Rome. From its revolutionary inception, the KMT — through contention with Yuan, the warlords, the rise of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Northern Expedition, the Japanese invasion, the Chinese Civil War and more — has seen its share of battles, victories and defeats.

However, what makes it a tragedy is the KMT’s continuing identity crisis as it struggles to balance conflicting paradigms of power, money and democracy and its belief in “one China.” It wants to create the image and role of being modern China’s founding hero.

It wants to promote democracy, but it also wants dynastic power and profit. These paradigms do not mesh.

The KMT contributed to the founding of modern China, but never achieved its desired status as central hero, just as it contributed to the creation of Taiwan’s democracy, but was never the hero of that struggle.

Instead, it acquired the roles of obstructionist and loser, capable of “swelling a progress” and setting the stage for democracy, yet remaining a loser, never quite able to achieve its desired conclusion.

In this, the KMT has remained “full of high sentences, but a bit obtuse.” That is its tragedy.

All epics have an epic question. Here, the question would be: “Why did the KMT never learn from its past? Why did it miss the mark and continue to fail?”

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