Editorial: Good riddance to a tyrant

Wed, Feb 07, 2007 - Page 8

The good news for Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正) is that he may get to come inside after braving the elements for more than half a century. The bad news for him is that "inside" may be some dark and obscure corner of a warehouse.

The statues of Chiang that had been a ubiquitous feature of the nation's streets, parks and military bases have been subjected to increasingly diffident treatment since power transferred from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000.

DPP legislators have asked the Ministry of National Defense to move all of the statues at its bases indoors before the anniversary of the 228 Incident at the end of this month. The party is also working to have Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall renamed "Taiwan Democracy Hall." After a report last year on the 228 Incident placed the blame for the incident on Chiang and with the coming 60th anniversary of the incident, anti-Chiang sentiment has seen something of a revival.

Many Taiwanese grew up being told that the dictator was the "savior of the people and a hero of the world."

But Taiwan has democratized, power has shifted and society isn't obliged to suffer KMT brainwashing any longer.

Now Taiwan can freely gather the facts and decide what Chiang's legacy should be.

After decades of reflection, Taiwan's negative view of Chiang has grown firmer. While in China, Chiang succeeded in leading the Northern Expedition to defeat the warlords and unify China. But Chiang was a warlord himself who fostered corruption and civil strife in his quest for power.

Although he led the Nationalists against the Japanese, his rule remained unstable after the Japanese defeat, ultimately leading to civil war in China and the Nationalists' retreat to Taiwan.

Chiang's military crackdown during the 228 Incident led to massive loss of life. The purges of the White Terror era that followed led to the killing and imprisonment of many dissidents and activists.

Chiang always considered himself a visitor and viewed Taiwan as just a base for an invasion to recapture China. He was never accepted in the same way as his reformist son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), who identified himself as both Chinese and Taiwanese.

Like many things, power is fleeting. With the loss of the influence that elevated Chiang to his position as dictator, the adulation he received earlier has all but disappeared.

Opinions have always been polarized on Chiang's rule, but a democratic Taiwan should make an even-handed assessment of his historical position.

An even-handed assessment is based on facts. It is a fact that Chiang had tens of thousands of Taiwanese killed. It is a fact that he had thousands more imprisoned, ripping them away from their families because they dared to challenge their oppressor. It is a fact that the KMT, the world's wealthiest political party, amassed assets during Chiang's corrupt rule by stealing them from Taiwanese, their rightful owners.

An even-handed assessment was delayed by years of KMT rule and it has taken seven long years for the DPP to remove the statues.

But better late than never. The government should let Taiwanese society freely discuss what Chiang's legacy should be. The statues are relatively unimportant in themselves, but while some might see them as representing Chiang as a hero, others will see the statues as proof of the KMT's efforts to keep Taiwanese in a state of symbolic subjugation.