For young Chang Wan-an (章萬安), the 228 Incident of 1947 might be something that happened in the distant past, but for Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安), whose family changed their surname from Chang to Chiang in 2005, it is a present-day political issue. Just two months after being sworn as mayor, he is confronting 228 again.
The Taiwan Nation Alliance has always co-organized the Taipei City Government’s annual memorial event, but last week it announced that it would not take part in activities organized by the city government. The Taipei City 228 Incident Care Association said that Chiang needs to understand the history of the incident and the suffering of its victims, and work on healing the wounds.
Given that Chiang is a descendant of former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), many people are willing to give him a chance to face history. A few years ago, when there was strong support for then-Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Chiang Wan-an had forgotten to switch off his microphone, and was heard saying that Han’s supporters were irrational and could not explain why they supported him. This made some people think that he is relatively rational and could do something worthwhile, regardless of what else they think of him.
When former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came face to face with the legacy of the 228 Incident, first as mayor of Taipei and then as president, he was basically putting on a political performance, and he did not feel compelled to deal with the core issues. His way of demonstrating his magnanimity was to invite the relatives of 228 victims who supported him to take part in memorial events.
For those who really care about the 228 Incident, it does not really matter whether Ma was putting on a show, because he is an outsider to 228, but he did not contribute to reconciliation.
Chiang Wan-an is a different matter. After his father, former KMT legislator John Chang (章孝嚴), recognized his ancestry, Chang Wan-an’s name was changed to Chiang Wan-an. This means that he has to bear the burden of the Chiang family history. The surname Chiang might have made it easy for him to be elected as mayor, but it also means that he cannot treat the 228 anniversary as a routine item on his agenda like Ma did.
Unfortunately, when the Taipei City Government arranged for Chiang Wan-an to meet with relatives of four 228 victims, his initial performance was no better than Ma’s. Even if 228 is not “mission impossible” for Chiang Wan-an, it is still a difficult issue for him to deal with. Given his different background, he needs to say and do a lot more than Ma.
The first issue he needs to tackle is transitional justice. The deeds and misdeeds of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo in Taiwan look different when seen from different perspectives.
However, historical archives prove that the two had dark sides. The 228 Incident and the ensuing White Terror era affected Taiwanese and Chinese, so the victims that Chiang Wan-an needs to face are not everyday Taiwanese. He needs to gain insight into the wounds that his forebears caused across different communities.
The emotions of political confrontation lead some people to think that transitional justice means a day of reckoning for one community against another.
However, if one goes back to the scene of history, “you” and “we” were all victims, and the perpetrators were Chiang Wan-an’s great-grandfather Chiang Kai-shek and grandfather Chiang Ching-kuo. Chiang Wan-an should therefore embark on a mission of cross-community reconciliation on behalf of his ancestors — it is not enough to find a few Taiwanese relatives of 228 victims to have an emotional conversation. The first step of “truth and reconciliation” is to find the truth, and only then can there be reconciliation.
The 228 Incident is historical and contemporary. The dialectic arises from Taiwan having entered an era of democracy, while the KMT still thinks it can align itself with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The KMT, of which Chiang Wan-an is a member, is ushering in another foreign regime. The CCP might achieve its goal of “unification” through a “united front” strategy or through force, but either way would rekindle Taiwan’s nightmare. Another foreign regime, also originating from China, could once again arrive on the nation’s shores and set the stage for a contemporary 228 Incident and White Terror era.
On Aug. 3 last year, Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye (盧沙野) said that when the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are “reunified,” Taiwanese should be “re-educated” to turn them back into “patriots.” Like the victims of the 228 Incident and the White Terror era, the “Taiwanese” Lu had in mind do not belong to only one community.
Chiang Wan-an’s main task is to reflect on the 228 Incident and ensure there is no repeat of the tragic mistakes and misdeeds of the past. Does he agree with the KMT working hand in glove with the CCP to control Taiwan?
Taiwan has taken its own path from authoritarianism to democracy. Every citizen has the same rights and obligations, and that also applies to people associated with the authoritarian era. Hence Ma, as a former secretary of Chiang Ching-kuo, could run for president, and Chiang Wan-an, as a descendant of two authoritarian presidents, could run for mayor, even though Chiang Ching-kuo said that “the descendants of the Chiang family cannot and will not take part in politics.”
This is an example of democracy’s forgiveness of authoritarianism.
However, some people associated with the authoritarian era see it as an opportunity for restoration, and have not changed their authoritarian mentality.
When Ma was talking about last year’s 33rd anniversary of the CCP’s suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, he criticized Taiwan for declining into an “illiberal democracy” and an “elected dictatorship,” while yearning for China’s one-party rule. What a slap in the face for Taiwan’s magnanimous democracy.
Chiang Wan-an has another option, and it might be decided for him. His uncle, Winston Chang (章孝慈), did not take on the “restored” Chiang family name, using it as a stepping stone to engage in politics and travel across the Taiwan Strait.
In 1992, as president of Soochow University, Winston Chang invited dissident writer Li Ao (李敖), who had been a harsh critic of the two Chiang former presidents, to give a lecture. He also held a 228 Incident memorial concert and invited relatives of the victims. This was his way of quietly bearing the responsibility of the Chiang family history.
One way is not better than the other, but the different directions taken by the two sons of Chiang Ching-kuo’s mistress, Chang Ya-juo (章亞若), give rise to different perspectives. Given his father’s choice of surname, Chiang Wan-an cannot assume the halo associated with that name without the historical debt that it also carries.
In a democracy, no one should be arbitrarily deprived of civil rights, but people who carry authoritarian remnants — and who are tolerated in a democracy — should make an extra effort to demonstrate their values to the victims of authoritarianism and those who fought for democracy.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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