by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Chiang Wan-an/Facebook
TAIPEI MAYOR Chiang Wan-an has come under fire ahead of the anniversary of the 228 Massacre from groups commemorating the incident, such as the Taiwan 228 Care Association.
In particular, Chiang is the self-proclaimed descendant of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo, who ruled Taiwan as father and son dictators during the authoritarian period. Chiang Kai-shek was the leader of the ROC and KMT during the period that the 228 Massacre took place and, as a result, he is often seen as directly responsible for the events that took place.
Chiang has been called on by individuals such as Taiwan 228 Care Association head Wang Wen-hong to apologize for the incident and to take action to remove the statue of Chiang Kai-shek in the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, also known as Liberty Plaza.
Removing the 6.3-meter statue of Chiang Kai-shek from the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and turning the site of the memorial into a park was one of the last recommendations of the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) before its dissolution last May. The commission pointed out that the design of the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial is clearly that of a temple and so called for structural changes to the layout of the outdoor spaces surrounding it so that it is no longer a temple.
The TJC likely issued its recommendation because of the fact that the statue of Chiang Kai-shek in the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial is the most prominent statue of Chiang Kai-shek in the nation. More broadly, the TJC stated that it had identified 1,533 locations with statues of Chiang Kai-shek or Chiang Ching-kuo, or otherwise commemorating the two dictators. However, 55% of those locations have refused to discuss plans for removing such commemorations. Yet taking aim at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial could draw a line in the sand for the nation as a whole, when it comes to advancing beyond symbols of the authoritarian past.
Chiang, along with former president Ma Ying-jeou in recent comments, has been criticized for failing to acknowledge the KMT’s authoritarian past. Although both have made token gestures towards truth and reconciliation, this is often framed as the KMT as having inadvertently committed some accidental imprisonments or killings, as part of broader actions still justified as necessary to preserve social order in Taiwan after its withdrawal from China or to crack down on Communist infiltrators. As such, groups that usually hold 228 commemoration events in collaboration with the Taipei city government have refused to do so this year.
Some, such as media commentator Huang Wei-han, have criticized the notion of calling on Chiang to apologize for crimes committed by his ancestors. But that being said, Chiang and his father, former KMT legislator John Chiang, were originally surnamed Chang due to being illegitimate. The two changed their last name to “Chiang” in order to capitalize off of Taiwan’s authoritarian past as part of their political ambitions when they decided to pursue public office.
To this extent, at one point while campaigning during election season, when asked about his recommended tourist attraction in Taipei for foreign visitors to Taiwan, Chiang Wan-an responded that he recommended the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. This response was lambasted not only for Chiang’s praise of a monument to his apparent ancestor, but because of its unoriginality as an answer.
Although Chiang has come under fire because of his claimed heritage, one notes that elected officials with checkered histories during the martial law period, in fact, continue to have no issue being elected to office. New Taipei mayor Hou You-yi was the police officer that oversaw the series of events leading to free speech martyr “Nylon” Deng Nan-jung’s self-immolation, yet that has not prevented his being elected mayor of New Taipei. In fact, Hou is currently one of the most popular politicians in Taiwan, and is raised as a prospective frontrunner for the KMT’s 2024 presidential candidate–though his past did not prevent the DPP from trying to recruit him in the past, during the Chen Shui-bian administration.
It is not only KMT politicians such as Chiang Wan-an, Ma Ying-jeou, or Hou You-yi that have come under fire. Tainan mayor Huang Wei-che was criticized at the launch event for a book on 228 by members of the Remove Zhongzheng Road Action Alliance over failing to take action over 38 roads named Zhongzheng Road in Tainan. Zhongzheng is the courtesy name of Chiang Kai-shek and the many roads named Zhongzheng Road across Taiwan have been criticized as another legacy of Taiwan’s authoritarian past.
Nevertheless, it is not surprising that it is more often pan-Blue politicians that have refused to reckon with the past of the KMT. It continues to be the case that there is a lack of official clarity about crimes committed by the KMT during the period, such as the killing of Lin Yi-hsiung’s family. The Control Yuan recently asserted that records show sections of government colluding to cover up the murder, calling for the declassification of records about the murder.