by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 陳威廷/WikiCommons/CC

A WAVE OF backlash has ensued against the KMT after comments by a party representative at the party’s recent national congress arguing that the contents of the National Palace Museum’s collection belong to the party and can be considered a party asset. In particular, the comments are seen as reflective of the authoritarian views of the KMT, in that despite Taiwan’s democratization, some members of the party still view the KMT as synonymous with the state.

The collection of the National Palace Museum originally consisted of the most valuable possessions of the Qing imperial family from the Forbidden City. The KMT originally removed these valuables from the Forbidden City to prevent them from falling into Japanese hands during the Sino-Japanese War, then brought them to Taiwan after its defeat by the CCP in the Chinese Civil War, in the process of retreating to Taiwan.

The National Palace Museum. Photo credit: Smiley.toerist/WikiCommons/CC

The question of what should be done with the National Palace Museum’s collection has become a contested question in past decades, as linked with questions regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty and national identity. Many advocates of Taiwanese independence view the contents of the National Palace Museum as KMT plunder from China, though independence advocates are divided as to whether the collection should be returned to China, or whether Taiwan might as well keep the collection.

It proves surprising, then, that it would be suggested at the KMT’s National Congress that the contents of the National Palace Museum belong to the KMT. The suggestion was made by Chen Li-hsu, a delegate to the KMT’s National Congress from Tainan—proving to be an outlandish view even among the pan-Blue camp. Chen’s remarks were likely meant to hit back at the DPP’s ongoing probe into illicit assets of the KMT retained by the party into democratization, dating back to property seizures conducted during the authoritarian period. However, they have been interpreted as reflecting the belief among members of the KMT that assets of the ROC state belong outright to the KMT.

Among those to criticize Chen’s remarks have been Premier Su Tseng-chang, who hit back by stating that the collection of the National Palace Museum belongs to the people, not the KMT. The Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee also expressed disappointment with the KMT for continuing to evidence authoritarian views. Chen Po-wei of the pro-independence TSP commented that, given that former National Security Council secretary-general King Pu-tsung is supposedly a descendent of Henry Puyi, the last Qing emperor, he could perhaps have a claim to the National Palace Museum’s collection. Chen’s comments were likely joking in nature and may have been a reference to the popularity of the release of the digitally remastered version of Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor at box offices.

On the other hand, senior KMT politicians have been divided in their reactions to Chen’s remarks. Party chair Johnny Chiang declined from commenting, while former New Taipei mayor Eric Chu claimed to interpret the comments in a beneficial light, as a call for stronger identification between the KMT and ROC. Indeed, the KMT settled on identification with and defense of ROC institutions as a central traditional value of the party during the National Congress.

Current KMT party chair Johnny Chiang. Photo credit: Johnny Chiang/Facebook

Either way, the KMT has sought to point to its historical influence in Taiwan in order to bolster claims that it is the only legitimate ruling party in Taiwan. In essence, the KMT continues to struggle with navigating its identification with China but current status in Taiwan, unable to abandon its pro-unification views, but realizing that this hurts the party’s long-term viability.

But one way of expressing a form of identification with Taiwan while maintaining the party’s core identity is to claim that without the KMT, there would be no present-day Taiwan, and that the KMT is responsible for Taiwan’s historical survival up to the present. As such, Taiwan is framed as having been “created” by the KMT, with credit for Taiwan’s successes attributed to the far-thinking actions of party leaders as Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo. Consequently, the claim is something like the belief that the KMT “owns” Taiwan, and that ownership of Taiwan should rightly be returned to the KMT if Taiwan is to have any hopes of prosperity. One sees this view in microcosm with the debate regarding the National Palace Museum.

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