Sun, Jan 07, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The end of the Chiang dynasty

Realizing that autocratic rule no longer had a place in Taiwan, former president Chiang Ching-kuo made it clear in his later years that none of his family members would succeed him as he did his father

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Former president Lee Teng-hui speaks at the release of his 2004 book, Witness Taiwan: President Chiang Ching-kuo and Me.

Photo: Chen Tse-ming, Taipei Times

JAN. 8 to Jan. 14

When former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) died on Jan. 13, 1988, the reactions were quite different from when his father, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) passed away 13 years earlier.

With the elder Chiang, “the press and ranking officials had employed the contrived language of the imperial court to describe the ‘greatness’ of the departed ruler,” writes Jay Taylor in The Generalissimo’s Son. “But following Ching-kuo’s death ... the traditionally extravagant and quasi-religious titles and praise were absent. Instead, media commentary and individual eulogies focused on Chiang Ching-kuo’s empathy for the common person.”

Also different was who would take over — with Chiang Kai-shek, it was a given that his son would eventually succeed his presidency. But in an 1985 interview with Time magazine, Chiang made it clear that no member of his family would be a candidate for the next president, and that everything would be done under constitutional procedures. Later that year, he reportedly veered off script to make the same statement during a National Assembly meeting.

Vice-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) took over after Chiang’s death, though it took a bit of political maneuvering for Lee to solidify his power. And with that, 39 years of Chiang rule in Taiwan was over.


Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) ruled Taiwan under martial law with an iron fist for three decades, but by the time Chiang Ching-kuo took over in 1978, he faced a vastly different political landscape.

“The political opposition became more articulate in its demands, while the regime faced a loss of credibility among the politically active population as a result of the growing discrepancy between its self-characterization as a democracy and maintenance of a martial law regime,” writes Hermann Halbeisen in In Search of a Political Order? Political Reform in Taiwan.

A number of significant events took place in the 1970s and 1980s that led to the situation. Internationally, Taiwan was out of the UN while the US cut ties with Taiwan in favor of China. The Jhongli Incident of 1977, where rioters burnt down a police station in response to alleged ballot tampering by the KMT, is said to be the first large-scale civil disturbance in nearly 30 years. There was the Kaohsiung Incident in 1979 that led to a mass arrest of opposition leaders, and in 1984 the government allegedly hired gangsters to assassinate US-based journalist Henry Liu (劉宜良), who published an unflattering biography on Chiang Ching-kuo. With each incident, the KMT’s credibility and image dropped further.

Calls for reform even came from within. In the study The Transition to the Transition Toward Democracy in Taiwan, Phillip Newell writes, “The KMT would not have chosen reform, however, except that under pressure from intellectuals, the democratic opposition and critics in the US, ‘softliners’ in the KMT gradually convinced the pragmatic leader that the hardliner policy or resisting change indefinitely would undermine the KMT’s ability to win domestic and international supporters. The KMT thus chose to accept political pluralism and competition.”

“If we don’t rejuvenate the KMT, people will give up on the party, even its members will drift away,” Chiang is quoted to have said.


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