Sun, Apr 23, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Hatta’s ‘decapitation’ indefensible

By Chen Fang-ming 陳芳明

The decapitation of a statue of Yoichi Hatta, the Japanese engineer who is honored as the “father of the Chianan Irrigation System,” appears to have pleased the pro-unification camp in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and even Chinese academics have reacted with schadenfreude.

The decapitation was a counter-reaction to the excessive use of force by the government, associate dean Wu Yongping (巫永平) of Tsinghua University’s of School of Public Policy and Management in Beijing said.

Another theory is that the KMT chairperson election has been heating up and because one candidate, former vice president Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), has been consistent in his praise of Hatta, his opponents decapitated the statue as a way of attacking him.

Perhaps this kind of ideological showdown is related to the government’s removal of references to Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).

However, regardless of the reason, the statue’s vandalism shows that Taiwanese do not understand their history well.

Whether this should be viewed in the light of the KMT chairmanship election or the removal of references to Chiang is up for debate. One thing to consider is whether Hatta and Chiang could be measured by the same yardstick.

From a party perspective, Hatta was praised by both former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

The Yoichi Hatta museum at the Wushantou Reservoir Scenic Area in Tainan was completed during Ma’s presidential term, and at the time Ma praised Hatta’s contributions to Taiwan’s agricultural irrigation on Facebook.

Sarcastic remarks by Wu — a Beijing lackey — after the Hatta statue was decapitated have precisely nothing to do with Taiwan.

Perhaps it is not right to unreservedly praise Hatta, but the Chianan Irrigation System that he set up was not beneficial to Japan’s rule alone: It was also of great help to Taiwanese farmers after the war.

History is not an either/or affair and historical verdict on this Japanese engineer must be reached with an open mind.

When Hatta set up this important irrigation system, he was furthering the policies of the Japanese governor in Taiwan — objectively speaking, he was not only considering the best interests of Taiwanese farmers.

If we praised him unreservedly it would not be possible to evaluate the forebears of Taiwan’s agricultural movement, such as Chien Chi (簡吉) and Yang Kui (楊逵). These leaders of the agricultural movement clearly understood how the Japanese colonial government exploited Taiwanese farmers.

To a certain extent, Hatta was serving the colonial government, but from a post-colonial perspective, the facilities he built had a substantive positive effect on post-war agriculture in the Chianan area.

We should not reject all construction that took place during the colonial era outright. Instead, assessments should be relative.

For example, the north-south railway line was originally built to allow the colonial government to exploit Taiwan’s natural resources and speed up transport of Taiwanese products back to mainland Japan. However, modern construction that was left in Taiwan after Japan’s defeat in the war gave Taiwan an advantage.

From this perspective, it is clearly a very strange exercise to compare Hatta’s construction with Chiang’s rule. No one in the history of Taiwan can compare to Chiang when we consider the White Terror era and the murders committed during that time, the suppression of free speech and other human rights and the denigration of intellectuals committed by his government between the 1950s and the 1970s.

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