TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE is a term increasingly used among Taiwanese since the explosion of civic awareness after the Sunflower movement. In the new political scene after the January 16th elections, calls for transitional justice are ever louder and bolder, as the new legislature is thought to be more capable of exerting political force regarding the issue of transitional justice. Transitional justice includes calling for the recognition of the atrocities done by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the removal of lingering traces of past authoritarianism such as the portraits and statues of Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen across Taiwan, addressing the grievances and disenfranchisements of indigenous groups in Taiwan, and many other justice-related issues.
Today is February 28, the date chosen in memorial of the KMT’s massacre of thousands of Taiwanese and Chinese in a series of events which began on February 28th, 1947. KMT critics have, on the other hand, attempted to claim that the memorialization of the 228 Massacre sows the discord of ethnic tension deep within Taiwan.
But though the KMT had been forced to acknowledge the 228 Massacre and make token gestures of reluctantly apologizing since democratization, little has has been done to actually recognize the full extent of the atrocities committed by the KMT. This is unsurprising, that until 2016 elections there had never been a point in Taiwanese history in which the KMT did not have control of the legislature–even during the Chen Shui-Bian presidency. In 2016, however, expectations would be that victims of the 228 Massacre would be accounted for more appropriately and some form of redress taken to compensate 228 Massacre victims and their families after the shift in the legislature with the Democratic Progressive Party taking the majority in legislature. In theory, the Democratic Progressive Party should be more sympathetic to the issue of transitional justice than the KMT.
As we have seen several times since the end of the Sunflower Movement, to mark the 228 Massacre, students all over Taiwan are now collaborating through social media in an attempt to “shame” the statues of Chiang installed on college and high school campuses by defacing them, through what they joking refer to as “the exhibition of Chiang as installation art”.
Furthermore, across Taiwan, various student groups have on campuses have taken actions to raise awareness around campus on what happened on February 28 1947, 69 years ago, such as displaying historical facts about the 228 Massacre and biographies of the victims on campus public bulletin boards. Indeed, these students know all too well that having a symbol of authoritarianism within campus grounds only goes to show negligence to the pain and sorrow in the history of Taiwan. Yearly 228 memorial events such as the Gongsheng Music Festival, the largest 228 commemoration event in Taiwan which is held in cities across Taiwan, are mostly student organized.
However, certain politicians seem to be unaware of the purpose of calling for transitional justice. A recent proposal initated by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) to remove Sun Yat-sen’s portrait off every public building and to change Sun’s status as the person credited as the nation’s founding father seems to have drawn controversy. Again, pushing for such legislation is possible now given the DPP majority in the Legislative Yuan.
As is not surprising, the proposal has been criticized for sowing discord within ethnic factions in Taiwan by the KMT. Of course, the very act of installing Sun Yat-Sen’s portrait is already to stir up ethnic discord, seeing as Sun has little do with Taiwan and, if the KMT would like Sun to be acknowledged as Taiwan’s revolutionary founding father, his revolution had little to do with Taiwan. Rather, Sun is the founder of the political party whose authoritarian regime that subjugated the Taiwanese to dictatorship. As a result of KMT rule, it took Taiwan decades to change the Legislative Yuan into one which actually had a majority of Taiwanese in it to begin with. If the KMT is to claim such a proposal is stirring up ethnic tension, this is merely another example of KMT hypocrisy.
Yet indicative of Tsai Ing-Wen backstalling on the issue of transitional justice, on February 24th, Tsai made the statement that issues of high political sensitivity needs to be looked into further before coming to a decision about Gao’s proposal. Notably, stalling on the proposal comes from Tsai, even when other elements of the DPP are more willing to push the issue.
This hesitancy is justified on the basis of the need of the political need to tensions between the pan-Blues and pan-Greens. Tsai likely fears coming off as too partisan in adopting such a policy during her triumphant win. In line with this, some also claim that Tsai should focus on issues directly affecting the well-being of the people, instead of issues that appear to be only issues of political correctness on the surface.
But such thinking is simplistic. In large part, the current economic and social predicament are the results of the authoritarian, patriarchal, and colonialist regime of thought brought into Taiwan through the Republic of China (ROC) government. On the contrary, what needs to be of priority is to remove such traces of authoritarianism.
Moreover, it is not enough to claim that the portrait should simply not be hung prominently in public spaces. The notion of having a founding father should be removed from the education of the country. In fact, having the concept of a founding father and crediting the development of the nation to his great wisdom goes to show contempt and disrespect to the actual citizens that contributed to the development of Taiwan, as the nation was built from scratch by the hands of all living in Taiwan.
Nothing is more appropriate than removing the portrait of a figure whose portrait is hung in public places as a legacy of authoritarianism and as a symbol of authoritarian values. If the DPP is showing hesitation about the issue, that is only proof that the DPP under Tsai Ing-Wen will not be the party to bring the change to Taiwan that they promised during elections.