Thu, Sep 07, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Let Taiwanese decide Chiang’s fate

By Li Chung-chih 李中志

A campaign to remove statues of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) has been going on for many years. Although it has to some extent succeeded, there is still a long way to go, given that Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall continues to tower over Taipei.

Interestingly, a movement to remove statues and achieve transitional justice is also taking place in the US, that great democratic nation. This movement comes more than 100 years after the related historical events, and its main target is statues commemorating General Robert E. Lee.

Rising tensions between black and white people in recent years have led people to reconsider the myth of Lee.

As far as his military achievements are concerned, Lee was not the greatest of Confederate generals nor was his character or beliefs particularly remarkable. After surrendering to the Union, apart from accepting the abolition of slavery, in which he had no choice, Lee’s opinion of black people did not change much.

When he was invited to testify before a congressional committee, he strongly advocated keeping the South’s economic conditions as they had been, and he opposed giving black people the right to vote.

Despite this, the political considerations of northern and southern politicians led to him being highly praised and elevated to an important symbol of reconciliation between the north and south.

However, that meant reconciliation between southern whites and northern whites, not between black and white, still less between former slaves and former slave owners.

Lee’s heroic image is now crumbling, and the memorials that were erected to him have become politically incorrect edifices that many people see as eyesores.

In May, New Orleans removed a statue of Lee that had quite a long history. At the beginning of this year, the Charlottesville City Council in Virginia decided to remove its memorial to Lee, and in June it resolved to change the name of the park where the statue was located from Lee Park to Emancipation Park.

Unsurprisingly, these moves were met with protests from far-right groups, who converged for demonstrations, which turned into a bloody terrorist attack in which three people were killed and many others were injured.

This issue has become the focus of attention nationwide and a hot topic for commentators, especially after remarks by US President Donald Trump that poured oil onto the flames.

Following the incident, Charlottesville authorities covered the Lee memorial with a black tarpaulin in mourning for the dead. The city council has been very cautious, doing its best not to cause even bigger clashes.

However, some people still asked why it did not cover the statue until more than a week after the incident. The city council said that it could not find a big-enough tarpaulin right away.

The council’s concerns were quite reasonable, but after the statue was covered, white supremacist groups descended on the area again. Gunshots were heard, and it looked as though the tense situation could spin out of control.

Following the clash at Charlottesville, the trend of removing memorials to Lee and other Confederate generals has become unstoppable. Statues of Lee have been removed from the University of Texas, Duke University in North Carolina, Wyman Park in Baltimore and in other places, with more likely to be removed as time goes by.

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