As the ancients often said, when the time is right, earth and heaven move as one toward the same goal, but when luck turns sour, even heroes cannot control the situation. This saying aptly describes president Chiang Ching-kuo's (蔣經國) fortunes.
After the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) fled to Taiwan in the late 1940s, a sense of national demise and international abandonment enveloped Taiwan. The face-off between East and West Germany in Berlin was a symbol of the Cold War, and as the Soviet Union closed the Bering Strait, the need for alternate international shipping routes resulted in unprecedented strategic status for the Suez Canal, the Strait of Malacca and the Taiwan Strait.
In addition, the post-war boom in freight shipping and international trade among liberated nations caused unparalleled economic prosperity for the countries along these transport routes and their ports. The Korean and Vietnam wars also brought political, military and economic benefits to nearby countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Singapore.
Without these international factors, the authoritarian dictators of Taiwan and Singapore would probably have had no option but to lament the inopportune times, no matter how great their abilities. In other words, these external conditions directly contributed to the foundation of their autocratic rule.
Hence I feel deep contempt whenever the current pan-blue media publishes opinion polls and boasts of how grateful the Taiwanese public is for Chiang's benevolence. I am not contemptuous of Chiang himself: He had his historical limitations and particular background. What I am contemptuous of is the pan-blue media's slavish devotion and surveys based on manipulated sample groups with specific targets in relation to particular individuals -- all the more proof of their stupidity.
Chiang was not an incompetent leader and had some achievements. Yet these achieve-ments were the results of the international environment, and the situation within Taiwan.
For instance, the movement to promote young Taiwanese, which promoted young politicians such as Hsieh Tung-min (
Then there were the Ten Major Construction Projects and the by-elections to replace dying members of the legislature. The former was the result of the utter destruction of any hopes of retaking China. This forced Chiang to choose a more pragmatic path, where the main consideration was the extension of the alien government, while the needs of Taiwan's public were only an ancillary concern.
Chiang said that not carrying out those construction projects at that time would lead to regrets tomorrow. However, his remark was aimed at the ears of the KMT's top leadership who were in control of the political media, not the people.
As for the legislative by-elections, that move was forced by the dangwai ("outside the party") opposition activists who demanded reform, as well as the natural elimination of old legislators who had fled to Taiwan with the government and were beginning to die off. It was thus another compromise forced on the KMT as it sought to extend its legitimacy.
Thus to gain a better understanding of Chiang and his accomplishments, what the Taiwanese need is not a singing of his praises, but a perspective that takes into account the whole international historical context.
Kao Chih-pin is a scholar of history.
Translated by Angela Hong
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