Demos Chiang (蔣友柏), a 31-year-old great-grandson of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), caused a stir last week when he told Next Magazine that the Chiang family had persecuted the people of Taiwan and that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) should apologize and move on.
His comments came as a pleasant surprise for many, given the steadfast refusal of almost every other member of the Chiang clan to admit to or apologize for the terrible crimes they or their relatives and the KMT committed during its more than four decades of authoritarian rule.
Demos Chiang's ability to judge a highly divisive subject in such an even-handed and rational manner must be applauded. He has lived in Canada since the age of 11, so being far away from this polarized society and having access to independent sources about China's and Taiwan's history may have allowed him to form his own opinions about his family's legacy.
This shows the importance of education, as so many who grew up under the KMT were brought up on false history and a diet of party propaganda, as well as being taught to worship the Chiangs.
It is doubtful these generations -- even today -- would know, for example, that during his formative years Chiang Kai-shek was a petty criminal who in 1910 was wanted by the police in Shanghai's International Concession for a range of crimes, including murder, armed robbery and extortion.
They would probably also be unaware, given his vehemently anti-communist stance, that former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) studied communism in the Soviet Union as a youth, where in 1927 he disowned his father and denounced him as a "traitor" to the Chinese cause.
Or that Chiang's second son, Wei-kuo (蔣緯國), was sent to Nazi Germany for military training and became a second lieutenant in Adolf Hitler's 98th Jaeger regiment and participated in the 1938 invasion of Austria.
While facts like these remain little-known, it is now common knowledge that the Chiangs and the KMT had thousands of ethnic Taiwanese and Mainlanders put to death or imprisoned during the 228 Incident and ensuing decades of White Terror, yet the KMT for years suppressed all discussion of these incidents and never once issued a formal apology.
For Chiang and the KMT, the killings and cruelty of that period were justifiable as part of the fight against communism and the campaign to retake China. Therefore we should not be surprised when loyalists and former military figures who served under Chiang Kai-shek, such as KMT Legislator Shuai Hua-min (帥化民), defend the general's legacy and criticize Demos for "lacking understanding of history." Even his mother, Chiang Fang Chih-yi (蔣方智怡), said her son's words must have been taken out of context.
These people know that even now, decades later, any loss of belief in that justification or admitting that the man they pay homage to was a murderous megalomaniac will take away what little credibility they have left.
An apology means admitting one is wrong and is thus out of the question for such a conservative, aloof bunch.
Demos Chiang may be young, yet he has the wisdom to realize that circumstances change and a formal apology would be the best way for the KMT to draw a line between the party and its violent past.
And while it would never be enough to heal the scars many carry in Taiwan, an apology would certainly have more meaning than the current move to mention "Taiwan" in the KMT's party charter.
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