This past week Taiwan observed its annual 228 Massacre remembrance and Taiwanese again recalled the tragic imposition of the White Terror era and subsequent Martial Law era that the nation endured under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for 40 years. Yet even as these services were being held, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) once again demonstrated the strange, if not coldly chilling, lack of connection that he and his administration have with Taiwanese.
On the one hand, Ma repeated his standard promises to spare no effort to “uncover the truth” behind the killings and that the “truth would not be forgotten.” With supposed sympathy, he said that he understood the pain and suffering of the families of the people killed as a result of the 228 Incident and vowed that this “would not be erased.”
Yet, in deep ironic contrast, just weeks before, Ma’s Ministry of Education was doing just that. By changing school textbooks, it sought not only to alter Taiwan’s history, but to whitewash, if not eliminate, the KMT’s blame and responsibility in the killings.
There was no truth. There was no justice. All was wiped clean by saying this was a “40-year necessary evil.”
It was the classic KMT interpretation of history: It admitted that there were victims, but allegedly there were no perpetrators. The deaths were somehow necessary. How this could be a search for the truth left many mystified; the contrast was so great that some not only questioned the apparent disconnect in Ma’s position, but even began to wonder if something worse were involved.
It did not end there; the president’s disconnection exposed another deep problem: the burden of the outdated 1947 Constitution that he continually touts. What is too often lost in recalling the history of this document is that the defunct National Assembly formulated the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution in December 1946, just two months before the 228 Massacre began. Taiwanese participation in writing the Constitution was basically zero, unless one considers token representatives appointed by Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).
Further, when the Constitution went into effect in December 1947, thousands of Taiwanese — their elite and educated leaders, as well as others — were already being imprisoned, tortured or killed. With the positions in the Legislative Yuan frozen, Taiwanese were further denied any future contribution to this Constitution, yet Ma says it should be considered sacred.
To make matters worse, in March 1948, the National Assembly nullified it by enacting the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款). These provisions suspended the Constitution and unleashed the dreaded Taiwan Garrison Command.
Taiwanese persecution continued under this KMT one-party state, but then the ROC lost its UN seat in October 1971. Then, in January 1979, its major ally, the US, switched its embassy from the ROC to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). All this created more problems and anomalies for the ROC Constitution — such as how to explain the reality of the PRC, the independence of Mongolia, and that the San Francisco Peace Treaty never designated that Taiwan should be given to the ROC, or to any government.
As a result, this one-party state created by the KMT claimed to be governed by a Constitution that had little or no justifiable territory over which it legally ruled. The KMT were a diaspora, a “party-in-exile” that not only lorded it over Taiwanese, but also tried to claim that they were their saviors.
When the harsh reality of all this sinks in among Taiwanese, they may well start to understand that the ROC Constitution represents more a preserved memory of Taiwanese exploitation and that it is an albatross regarding any hopes of Taiwan ever entering the UN. It also explains the reasons behind what recently happened in Greater Tainan, where a statue of Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), considered the founder of the ROC, but not of Taiwan, was surprisingly toppled and the phrase “ROC Out” was painted on its back.
When closely examined, Sun’s stillborn revolution of 1911 was a revolution of Han freedom from the rule of the Manchurian Qing Dynasty, a freedom and independence that Tibetans and Mongolians also sought and which Mongolia finally obtained in the 1990s.
Sun’s revolution had nothing to do with Taiwan, which had been given to Japan in 1895. Sun’s revolution eventually ended with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — not the KMT — taking control of China. This left the ROC, with its Constitution, “wandering in the wilderness.”
Sun may have been a great man and his ideals of a government of the people, by the people and for the people are admirable and worth pursuing. However, those principles are not what the KMT brought to Taiwan when they unleashed the White Terror era. Taiwan’s democracy was won through the protests, deaths and demands of Taiwanese who suffered long in that process, just as they struggled for representative government under Japanese colonialism.
Thus the only reason that there are pictures and statues of Sun in Taiwan is the same reason that there were pictures and statues of Chiang Kai-shek here: These images were brought by the “exiled” KMT.
Whether Sun would have agreed with the KMT’s imposition of 40 years of White Terror, martial law and a one-party state would make an interesting topic both for speculation and debate.
Regardless of that, Taiwanese should now realize that they not only need to uncover the truth of 228, but they also need to rename or create a new Constitution.
Jerome Keating is a commentator in Taipei.