Editorial: Meet the David Irvings of Taiwan

Sat, Mar 03, 2007 - Page 8

In the bad old days of martial law, if the subject of the 228 Incident was brought up by overseas guests -- and that was very rare -- the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) blamed "hoodlums" and communist insurgents for the violence. Occasionally, the government would attack the Japanese, blaming them for instilling anti-China sentiment in the population.

During the unrest of the 228 Incident, however, rumors circulated of Japanese forces in the mountains that were training Taiwanese to attack KMT troops. Nothing captured this hysteria more than the stupidity of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), who informed an incredulous audience of Taiwanese soon after the 228 Incident exploded that there were 100,000 Japanese in the mountains ready to attack.

Contemptible nonsense, but the rumors endured into the early 1950s, when there was still concern that the Japanese might attack from within.

This year's anniversary of the 228 Incident cannot be allowed to pass without a final commentary on a theory so preposterous that even the KMT of that era did not peddle it -- namely, that Japan was primarily responsible for the 228 Incident.

This theory was announced this week by a number of academics led by Chu Hong-yuan (朱浤源), a fellow at Academia Sinica's Institute of Modern History. With him was Chi Chia-lin (戚嘉林), a political scientist at Fo Guang University, and Wu Chih-chang (武之彰) a freelance history researcher. Also supporting this team is Hwang Chang-chien (黃彰健) a veteran historian at the Academia Sinica and a handful of others with no expertise in the area.

The group's evidence was sparse, speculative and selective, ignoring the scope of the available literature and primary sources. They chose to discount all information that points to Taiwanese anger at KMT misrule as the primary spark of the uprising and to the massacre of many civilians as premeditated.

Chu also attacked George Kerr -- in 1947 a naval attache to the US embassy and later an academic, and one of the few foreign witnesses of 228 to publish on his experiences -- as conducting a pro-independence campaign and sparking discontent with the Chiang regime. And -- surprise, surprise -- Chu is one of the key progenitors of the conspiracy theory that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) staged his shooting before the last presidential election.

Chu has since been accused of misappropriating the names of other Academia Sinica researchers to lend weight to his group's campaign of 228 denial.

Hwang Chang-chien this week whitewashed the late General Peng Meng-chi (彭孟緝) -- the "Butcher of Kaohsiung" -- over the killing of civilians, saying the actions of the military across Taiwan were justified. He did not explain how the murder of unarmed civilians, including children, and the hunting down and killing of civilian elites met the mandate of restoring order.

Chi Chia-lin previously attacked Bruce Jacobs (家博), a top scholar on Taiwanese affairs, as suffering from "misunderstandings" of Taiwanese history, an unprovoked attack on a foreign academic that reeks of a political agenda.

In parts of Europe it is an offense to deny the Holocaust or to employ fascist imagery such as the swastika, punishable by imprisonment, as Holocaust revisionist David Irving found in Austria last year.

In Taiwan, the scope for freedom of speech is wider: The threshold of tolerance for those who deny crimes of the past is high. Extremists therefore serve an extra function: They give fuel to the hardliners that run the KMT machine. The KMT at one time was so impressed with Chu Hong-yuan that it nominated him as a National Assembly representative.

All this should also give readers pause when attaching weight to the words of academics at the Academia Sinica, which is a church so broad now, it seems, that just about any crackpot can get a stipend.