Wed, Mar 13, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Learning from the past and repurposing

By Lee Hsiao-feng 李筱峰

The questions of whether the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall — known colloquially as the “Chiang shrine” — should be repurposed and whether statues of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) should be torn down remains controversial, but is the issue really so complicated?

It is actually quite simple, as long as some fundamental democratic concepts are applied and historical significance is considered.

First, this is not about whether the hall should be demolished — it is about recognizing that it is wrong to continue using the building to commemorate Chiang.

Therefore, it should be repurposed, but why?

The obvious answer is that Taiwan is the only democratic nation in the world that has erected a memorial hall to a dictator, leading to the question of whether Taiwan is democratic, or whether Chiang really was a dictator.

Taiwan has a democratically elected legislature and president, and the US non-governmental organization Freedom House, in its latest report, awarded it an aggregate freedom score of 93 out of 100. There is little question that Taiwan is a democracy.

Chiang was a president for life, free of any constitutional restraints, and was able to have anyone killed with the stroke of a pen, simply by writing “death penalty” or “immediate execution” in red ink. This really is Politics 101: The man was a dictator.

Some say that Chiang did some good and question why people must dwell on his faults. These questions should be left to historians, who should look at the context and decide the good and bad of what occurred, even though it would always be a matter of subjective evaluation.

People could ask whether Adolf Hitler was all bad. Did he not build the world’s first superhighway, oversee the creation of the Volkswagen Beetle and run an efficient administration?

Yet there are few people in Germany sympathetic to the idea of overlooking the man’s “faults.” Indeed, it is illegal in Germany to laud the memory of Hitler or the Nazis.

Chiang’s refusal to deal with the Chinese communists finds little support nowadays among the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) he used to lead. Party figures fall over themselves to fawn over the communists; had Chiang witnessed such behavior, he would have readied that red ink.

Since KMT members have turned their backs on Chiang and what he stood for, why are they so keen on retaining the memorial hall?

Rather than discussing whether to repurpose the hall, our energies should be spent thinking about what it can be used for. When will members of the pan-blue camp stop obstructing such efforts?

Finally, statues of Chiang should no longer be left on school campuses or in public spaces for the same reasons as outlined above.

However, they should not be destroyed — they should be collected and preserved, as they are at Cihu Mausoleum in Taoyuan’s Dasi District (大溪).

The multitude of Chiang statues collected there are a historical testament to Taiwan’s authoritarian era for future Taiwanese to behold and learn from.

I would also venture to suggest that there be a sign at the entrance to the park that says: “Spitting prohibited.”

Lee Hsiao-feng is a retired professor.

Translated by Paul Cooper

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