Chi­ang stat­ues be­come tar­gets as Tai­wan con­fronts history

The China Post - - LOCAL - BY BEN­JAMIN YEH

One has been be­headed, oth­ers de­faced. Some are dressed in cos­tumes by pranksters. Stat­ues of Tai­wan’s for­mer ruler Chi­ang Kai-shek have been in­creas­ingly tar­geted as the is­land con­fronts its au­thor­i­tar­ian past.

Though still seen as a hero by some in Tai­wan for wag­ing war against com­mu­nist China un­der the ban­ner of the na­tion­al­ist Kuom­intang (KMT), Chi­ang has long been a di­vi­sive fig­ure.

His role in Tai­wan’s “White Terror” — a purge of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents — and his im­po­si­tion of mar­tial law have led many to brand him a dic­ta­tor syn­ony­mous with the au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism that wary Tai­wanese now equate with main­land rule.

De­spite split­ting af­ter a civil war, China con­sid­ers the is­land as a part of its ter­ri­tory await­ing re­uni­fi­ca­tion, by force if nec­es­sary. Fears over in­creased Chi­nese in­flu­ence have grown since 2008 un­der Pres­i­dent Ma Ying- jeou’s KMT gov­ern­ment, which has forged a rap­proche­ment with Bei­jing.

Chi­ang’s au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism has out­weighed his Na­tion­al­ist cre­den­tials and his im­age is wrapped up in that con­cern, with young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar feel­ing strongly that his mem­ory should not be cel­e­brated.

“Chi­ang was a dic­ta­tor. For a long time, free­dom of speech in Tai­wan was sup­pressed,” said Peter Chu, 23, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Na­tional Tai­wan Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy.

“Why should his stat­ues be al­lowed to re­main on any cam­pus?”

“There have been calls for re­mov­ing the statue (at my school), but the school author­i­ties have done noth­ing about it,” says stu­dent ac­tivist Chu Chen, 18, who at­tends the pres­ti­gious Taipei Mu­nic­i­pal Jian­guo High School.

“Ev­ery year, grad­u­ates dec­o­rate the statue mock­ing it.”

Stu­dents most re­cently decked it out the fig­ure in an E.T. cos­tume, with a hel­met and wings.

The an­i­mos­ity is not aveng­ing the past.

Chu is part of a cam­paign against what protesters call “China-cen­tric” changes to the school cur­ricu­lum by the rul­ing Bei­jing-friendly KMT gov­ern­ment.

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He says young­sters’ anti-Chi­ang sen­ti­ment stems from the same drive: to take con­trol of their own des­tinies.

“Chi­ang Kai-shek was a sym­bol of Tai­wan’s past au­thor­i­tar­ian rule. So is the new cur­ricu­lum, which has forced us into obey­ing some­thing we think is not right. The ob­jec­tion shares the same rea­son,” he told AFP.

Stu­dents last week stormed the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry com­pound af­ter a young ac­tivist com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Some re­main camped out there, de­mand­ing the re­trac­tion of the cur­ricu­lum changes and the res­ig­na­tion of the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter.

Au­thor­i­tar­ian Icon

As leader of the KMT, Chi­ang fought a civil war on the main­land with the Chi­nese com­mu­nists be­fore be­ing de­feated and flee­ing to Tai­wan in 1949, where he im­posed mar­tial law.

The is­land had pre­vi­ously been un­der Ja­panese rule un­til 1945, when it was given to China. Chi­ang re­mained its leader un­til his death in 1975.

Po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion was banned and news­pa­pers barred un­til mar­tial law was even­tu­ally lifted in 1987.

But it was an in­ci­dent 50 years pre­vi­ously that first sparked Tai- wanese re­sent­ment.

The mas­sacre on Feb. 28, 1947 — known as the 228 In­ci­dent — saw troops bru­tally quell an antigov­ern­ment upris­ing trig­gered when an in­spec­tor beat a woman selling un­taxed cig­a­rettes in Taipei.

Thou­sands of peo­ple were tor­tured and killed dur­ing the sub­se­quent “White Terror” crack­down.

Though Chi­ang was not on the is­land for the 228 in­ci­dent he has been held re­spon­si­ble for or­der­ing the army to step in, and it has be­come an easy sym­bol for the an­i­mos­ity against him, which be­comes par­tic­u­larly pro­nounced on the an­niver­sary.

There were a record 30 at­tacks on stat­ues of Chi­ang on Feb. 28 this year, with one be­headed and oth­ers smeared with red paint.

“Many of the at­tacks (on stat­ues) were done by stu­dents, who be­lieve Chi­ang is the icon not only of the Kuom­intang’s au­thor­i­tar­ian rule of Tai­wan but also of a regime from China,” said Shih Cheng-feng of Na­tional Dong Hwa Univer­sity in the eastern Hualien county.

“As Chi­ang’s stat­ues are on ev­ery cor­ner, they have easily be­come the tar­gets of grow­ing anti-China sen­ti­ment,” he said.

Statue Grave­yard

Chi­ang’s

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pro­file was steadily eroded un­der the rule of the Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party (DPP) from 2000-2008, with stat­ues re­moved and street names changed.

Tra­di­tion­ally Bei­jing-scep­tic and pro-in­de­pen­dence, the DPP changed the name of the is­land’s main air­port from Chi­ang Kai-shek to Taoyuan, dropped his me­mo­rial day as an of­fi­cial hol­i­day, and scrapped his im­age from bank notes.

Schools were asked to stop singing songs por­tray­ing him as a “na­tional saviour” and “great world leader.” But some iconog­ra­phy sur­vived. In March this year, the DPP mayor of the south­ern city of Tainan, Wil­liam Lai, or­dered the re­moval of Chi­ang stat­ues from 16 schools.

“Chi­ang’s stat­ues have po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions and are very con­tro­ver­sial. They should be re­moved,” Lai said.

They were sent to a mu­seum in the north­ern city of Taoyuan which also houses Chi­ang’s mau­soleum.

In re­cent years it has be­come a grave­yard of un­wanted Chi­ang icons, with 218 stat­ues cur­rently on dis­play. Of­fi­cials there ex­pect num­bers to rise as more are dis­carded.

Three pres­i­dents, in­clud­ing cur­rent leader Ma, have apol­o­gised to the fam­i­lies of the 1947 mas­sacre vic­tims. They were given com­pen­sa­tion af­ter a gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion said that Chi­ang “should bear the big­gest re­spon­si­bil­ity” for the in­ci­dent. Yet bit­ter­ness re­mains. “The tran­si­tion of jus­tice has not been com­pleted,” Taipei-based rights lawyer Lai Chung-chi­ang told AFP.

“De­spite a democ­racy, the rem­nants of the au­thor­i­tar­ian rul­ing, like Chi­ang’s stat­ues, still stand.”

(Right) This pic­ture taken on Au­gust 27, 2014 shows a man film­ing a statue of the late na­tion­al­ist leader Chi­ang Kai-shek which has been vandalized with paint and reads “go to hell” in the north­ern city of Keelung.

AFP

(Above) This pic­ture taken on May 29, shows a tourist vis­it­ing the late na­tion­al­ist leader Chi­ang Kai-shek park in north­ern Taoyuan.

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