High-class mainlander Comsymps over at Taiwan's China Post, working like stakhanovites to convince Taiwanese to surrender to the Communist Chinese.
Now suppose a dissenting voter objects to the outcome of [a hypothetical independence referendum]. Suppose she says, "I am a proud citizen of the Republic of China. I want my country to include the Chinese mainland. I refuse to be reclassified as a citizen of Taiwan! You are trampling over my right to determine my political status!" How will champions of Taiwan independence respond?
Actually, if that's the tack you want to take, then the right to determine one's political status is being trampled right now -- by the ROC constitution. And in the complete ABSENCE of any independence referendums! Because it takes all kinds to make a country -- Taiwan independence advocates, elderly Japanophiles . . . youthful America lovers:
I am a proud citizen of Taiwan / Japan / America. I want my country to include Taiwan / Japan / America. I refuse to be classified as a citizen of the Republic of China! The R.O.C. constitution is trampling over my right to determine my political status!
A reply to all of them might go something like this:
The classical liberals of the nineteenth century believed that individuals
should be free to determine their own lives. It is why they advocated private
property, voluntary exchange, and constitutionally limited government. They also
believed that people should be free to reside in any country they wish. In
general, therefore, they advocated freedom of movement. Governments should not
compel people to stay within their political boundaries, nor should any
government prohibit them from entering its territory for peaceful purposes.
An extension of this principle was that individuals should be free to
determine through plebiscite what state they would belong to. This is distinctly
different from the collectivists’ notion of “national self-determination,” the
alleged necessity for all members of an ethnic, racial, linguistic, or cultural
group to be incorporated within a single political entity, regardless of their
wishes. Thus, for instance, the Nazis demanded that all members of the “Aryan
race” be forcefully united within a Greater Germany under National Socialist
[Similar demands made by Chinese nationalists, be they KMT or CCP -- The Foreigner]
Classical liberalism is closer to “individual self-determination.” Austrian
economist Ludwig von Mises argued in Liberalism (1927) that the liberal ideal
allows individuals within towns, districts, and regions to vote on which state
they would belong to; they could remain part of the existing state, join another
state, or form a new one.
Mises stated that in principle this choice should be left to each individual,
not majorities, since a minority (including a minority of one) might find itself
within the jurisdiction of a government not of its own choosing. But because it
was difficult to imagine how competing police and judicial systems could
function on the same street corner, Mises viewed the majoritarian solution to be
a workable second best. [emphasis added]
Communist Party fellow-traveller (and faux-individualist) Bevin Chu is a big fan of the the majoritarian solution -- not for the honorable intention of empowering self-determination but for crushing it. The Post usually endorses this scheme of Chu's, but on this one occasion feigns mild disapproval:
Suppose Beijing were to argue that "The political status of China must be determined by the 1.3 billion people of China. The political status of the 1.3 billion people of the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau must be collectively determined by the 1.3 billion people of the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau by popular referendum."
Polls have revealed that 95% of the public [in the Communist People's Republic of China] opposes Taiwan independence. Does anyone doubt what the outcome of a referendum on Taiwan independence would be?
Good one, Bev. And while we're at it, let's keep those rebellious Danes in the Reich by means of a referendum among all true-blooded Germanic Aryans!
Always a hoot when the Confucian collectivists at Taiwan's China Post invoke individualism (!) to rationalize Taiwan's annexation by the Chinese Empire. On Wednesday, the paper even tried to get away with the dishonest suggestion that Ayn Rand would have been cool with that.
The "right to self-determination" is routinely defined as the collective right of the people of a given geographical region to determine their own political status.
But this conventional definition, considered utterly non-controversial by mainstream political scientists, is in fact conceptually defective at its very core, and gets us into all sorts of trouble. One might say that the politically-correct "national right to self-determination" is one of those things that we know for sure that "just ain't so".
Really? Try telling that to the freed peoples of the Austro-Hungarian, British, Turkish and Soviet Empires. "Hey -- ya'll have no national right to self-determination. Howdya like them apples?"
Human beings do indeed have the inalienable right to determine their own political status. But only individual human beings have this right, not "the people of a given geographical region." As novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand explained, the term "individual rights" is a redundancy. There is no other kind of rights and no one else to possess them.
OK, now that Rand has been injected into the whole Taiwan independence debate, let's see what her actual thoughts on secession were:
Some people ask whether local groups or provinces have the right to secede from the
country of which they are a part. The answer is: on [purely] ethnic grounds, no.
Ethnicity is not a valid consideration, morally or politically, and does not
endow anyone with any special rights. As to other than ethnic grounds, remember
that rights belong only to individuals and that there is no such thing as “group
Sounds like the lady was dead-set against it. But there's a catch . . .
If a province wants to secede from a dictatorship [We're looking at you, China !], or even from a mixed
economy, in order to establish a free country—it has the right to do so. [emphasis added]
Now, that part about the "mixed economy" is actually a huge caveat. After all, even the most capitalist countries in the world possess at least SOME elements of socialism. . .
a local gang, ethnic or otherwise, wants to secede in order to establish its own
government controls, it does not have that right. No group has the right to
violate the rights of the individuals who happen to live in the same locality. A
wish—individual or collective—is not a right.
We can clearly see that Rand whole-heartedly approved of the right to national self-determination -- for free peoples.
"Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat
it; those who fail to learn history correctly --
why, they are simply doomed."
- Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
Taiwanese have NOTHING to be ashamed of if they surrender their sovereignty in tough economic times, said the China Post's Joe Hung a week ago, because even the never-say-die Texans of the Nineteenth Century did THAT:
Texas is an example of the economic woes compelling an independent, sovereign
state to give up sovereignty. It declared independence in 1836 during a
revolution against Mexico. The Republic of Texas had a very difficult 10-year
life. Financing proved critical, and efforts to secure loans from foreign
countries were unsuccessful. Protection against the raids from Mexico and
occasional attacks by Indians required a mobile armed force, which further
drained the meager coffer. As a consequence, the Texans voted for annexation by
the United States; and the proposition, rejected twice by Washington was finally
accepted in 1845. Texas ceased to be an independent, sovereign state in 1846
when the transfer of authority from the republic to the state of Texas took
Hung brings up the subject in the context of his dreams for a commonwealth with China, the bellicose nation that threatens Taiwan. Though perhaps it escaped his notice that Texas didn't vote for annexation TO the country that threatened it militarily; it voted for annexation to a country that would PROTECT it from same.
And so I have a counter-proposal for Hung and the editors of the China Post. If Taiwan's economy really IS that bad (which is to say, worse than in the immediate years following World War II when the KMT managed to drive it into the ground), then perhaps Taiwan should emulate the Texas of two centuries ago by forming a commonwealth (or even a confederation) with a nearby country that will protect it from China's designs.
(Of course, using the Texas analogy, the only logical choice for that role would have to be . . . Japan.)
"The Commonwealth of Asian Democracies." Has kind of a nice ring, doesn't it?
Lien Chan, honorary chairman of the Kuomintang . . . is an advocate of a Chinese confederation,* an idea
similar to the Chinese commonwealth which alone may be endorsed by the United
States, Japan and other world powers. All of them want the status quo between
Taiwan and China. Their national interests will be hurt if Chinese reunification
takes place as Beijing now wants. Neither do they want Taiwan to get too closely
associated with China. If Taiwan remains a dominion within the Chinese
commonwealth, they will be able to best safeguard their respective national
Peaceful unification or reunification is not impossible, if the example of the
British Commonwealth of Nations is followed. Just as Great Britain made Canada a
dominion in 1867, the People's Republic of China can give Taiwan dominion status
now in preparation for a full-fledged Chinese commonwealth. The People's
Republic and the Republic of China in Taiwan may be united in the name of the
Chinese nation. They will be equal in status and in no way subordinate to the
other, albeit the People's Republic may be the ex-officio head of the
commonwealth. A dominion is recognized as a separate state entitled to have
separate representation in the United Nations and other world organizations, to
appoint its own ambassadors and to conclude its own treaties. At the same time,
it is not considered to stand in the same relation to the People's Republic as
How ironic that Hung should make these arguments as the terrible events of 8/8/08 unfold before the world's eyes. And by 8/8/08 I speak not of the Genocide Games, but of the war between Russia and Georgia. For you see, the Georgians followed Hung's advice to the letter: fifteen years ago they humbled themselves, humbled themselves before a giant neighbor and joined the Commonwealth of Independent States.
No. It got them Russian land grabs in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that's where.** Apparently the wisdom of Lao Tzu ain't all that it's cracked up to be.***
And so the question I pose is threefold: Which nation does autocratic China more closely resemble, democratic Britain or autocratic Russia? And, given that resemblance, can we expect the character of a Chinese Commonwealth to be more like Britain's . . . or Russia's? And finally, can we all agree that the fate of Georgia within Russia's Commonwealth of "Independent" States is a fate that Taiwan would do well to avoid?
I've tried to debunk Hung's dangerous dreams of a Chinese Commonwealth on previous occasions (here and here). But I must admit that the War of 8/8/08 discredits them far more persuasively than my own humble efforts ever could.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- * About the only thing I know about confederations is how remarkably unstable they tend to be. Within short order, confederations tend to either dissolve into their component states or centralize into federations instead. Indeed, the lifetime of most confederacies appears to consist of a span of less than ten years.
Given the inequalities of power within Lien's proposed confederation, the smart money would be on future centralization, however. Once Taiwan raises the hopes of Chinese unificationists by joining a Chinese Confederacy it would be well nigh impossible for a Taiwanese president to approach Beijing and say, "Hey, we gave it our best, but this just isn't working out. We'd like to negotiate a peaceful separation."
And so we see that the KMT's Lien Chan advocates little more than a face-saving Taiwanese surrender, followed by progressive involuntary absorption into the Chinese Empire.
** Some background explaining Russian provocations prior to 8/8/08 can be found here and here. Could a similar scenario play out someday in Taiwan? If a breakaway Kinmen Island attempted to reunify with China, would Beijing be all that reluctant in sending PLA "peacekeepers"? In issuing the island's inhabitants Chinese passports? In escalating military attacks on Taiwanese waters or even Taiwan proper from Kinmen, all the while denying those attacks or perhaps insisting that the Kinmenese were the ones responsible?
And lastly, how severe would Chinese attacks have to be before Taiwan was goaded into a military response of its own?
*** Hung quotes Lao Tzu as follows:
"And if a small kingdom humbles itself before a great kingdom, it shall win over
that great kingdom," he teaches. "Thus," he concludes, "the one humbles itself
in order to attain, the other attains because it is humble. If the great kingdom
has no further desire than to bring men together and to nourish them, the small
kingdom will have no further desire than to enter the service of the other. But
in order that both may have their desire, the great one must learn humility."
Hung's message to Taiwan is that Beijing is generous and humble. And therefore, Taiwan must capitulate.
UPDATE: Oh, THIS just keeps getting better. Russia demands that Georgia be demilitarized.
UPDATE #2:Take this Commonwealth and shove it -- President Saakashvili announces his intentions to take Georgia out of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and suggests other former Soviet Republics follow his lead. Hey, I'm sure Russia will be cool with that . . .
UPDATE #3: Why couldn't the Georgians have just let South Ossetia pass into Russian hands, if that was what the local population wanted? Certainly a question I've asked myself lately. Kat from Missouri explains how South Ossetia is sort of the Golan Heights of Georgia.
UPDATE #7: "China’s Communist rulers, while basking in the glow of their Olympics
bash, are surely checking the tea leaves for what this might presage
about U.S. support for another U.S. ally: the democratic Republic of
China on Taiwan. If the U.S. will not stand up to North Korea, will not
stand up to Iran, will not stand up to Russia, then where will the U.S.
stand up? What are the real rules of this New World Order?" Yeah, that's gonna make me sleep better at night.
UPDATE (Aug 14/08): Where the Kosovo analogy breaks down.
Agreeing to the One-China policy isn't enough; Taiwan has to agree to eventual "reunification" with the PRC. That's Joe Hung from his column, Ma said he would sign peace accord:
Ma Ying-jeou's "three-no" stance on relations between Taiwan and China cannot
meet the fundamental requirement of Beijing "one China" principle as set forth
in the consensus of 1992. Ma wants "no" independence for Taiwan, "no" force of
arms used across the Strait and "no" change in the status quo. He has to add
"eventual unification" to the trinity to dispel Beijing's suspicion.
Just how would the KMT president sell surrender to the Taiwanese?
As a non-Hoklo president, Ma may feel it difficult to make that
pronouncement. He does not want to expose himself to independence activists who
will charge him with selling out Taiwan to China. But he can easily neutralize
any venomous attack by telling the Hoklo-Hakka majority that he visualizes
relations between Taiwan and China in the future as those between Great Britain
and Canada, or Australia or New Zealand.
These former British colonies, in the words of the Pronouncement of the
Imperial Conference of 1926, are "autonomous communities within the British
Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of
their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the
Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations."
Internationally, these communities were recognized as separate states, entitled
to have separate representation in the League of Nations and other world
organizations, to appoint their own ambassadors, and to conclude their own
treaties. [emphasis added]
A similar arrangement can be made for Taiwan to be unified with China in the
name of the Chinese nation. That commits Taiwan to Beijing's fundamental "one
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's take a look at the part I've underlined, and put that into a "Chinese Commonwealth" context: These Chinese polities...are autonomous communities within the Chinese nation, equal in status, in no way subordinate to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to One China and freely associated...
1) Taiwan and China would be equal in status in this hypothetical Commonwealth? Really now.
2) Taiwan would NOT be subordinate in Hung's wonderful fantasy land? Uh-huh.
3) The Chinese Commonwealth would be a FREE association? Joe, put down that opium pipe!
Because the British Commonwealth is a free association, Australia has the liberty to LEAVE it. Likewise, Canada can withdraw any damn time it wants to. And New Zealand? Why, tiny New Zealand can pack its bags TOMORROW, and not a single missile will be fired upon it in anger by a vengeful Great Britain.
Taiwan free to exit a Chinese Commonwealth? Ehhh, not so much - and no amount of "visualization" on Ma Ying-jeou's part will ever change that. The plain facts are that while the British Commonwealth is a voluntary organization, Joe Hung's Chinese Commonwealth would be a prison with no escape. To suggest otherwise is to grossly misrepresent the world in which we live.
(One other hitch: The British Commonwealth can EXPEL members for human rights violations. Does Hung imply that mighty Taiwan will have the power to cast China out of his Commonwealth for, I dunno let's say, another Tiananmen massacre or further barbarism in Tibet?)
New readers might want to take a look at a post about this I wrote a couple of years ago. A bit wordy perhaps, but it still holds up. You can read it - or you can skip it. That's FREEDOM. Quite a different thing from being handed a Little Red Book at gunpoint and being ordered to memorize it in a Chinese re-education camp.
Freedom and compulsion. Voluntary association and involuntary servitude. Sadly, Joe Hung seems to believe these things are all one and the same.
"Why is it that Chen's election as president by the expression of the will and volition of the people is called democracy, and the same expression over unification with China condemned as surrender?" Tsao questioned.
Well, that's an easy one. Tsao proposes to sign away the power Taiwan currently enjoys, in theory at least, of being able to call unification referendums. Not only would he renounce that power, but he would cede that power in perpetuity to an foreign government. In doing so, he would take a power currently invested not only in Taiwan's executive and legislative branches, but in the people of Taiwan itself (via referendum petitions), and hand that power over to an enemy government - without a shot ever being fired in anger. He would strip political power away from elected and accountable local politicians, and present it on a silver platter to the unelected, unaccountable commissars of a hostile communist nation.
And Robert Tsao still can't figure out WHY this would be an act of surrender? *
By definition, Taiwan's government and people under Tsao's plan would be SUBORDINATE to the Chinese government with regards to this issue. Taiwan would be announcing, for all the world to hear, that it was now recognizing Beijing's authority over it. China proposes, the Taiwanese electorate disposes.
We can all debate the significance of surrendering this one, particular political power to Beijing. Is it an inconsequential surrender for a greater good, a catastrophic one, or something in-between? We can even discuss its merits and pitfalls. But at the end of the day, even a minor surrender is still a surrender. And even an inconsequential initial surrender can lead to greater surrenders further down the line. Has Tsao even bothered to spend a minute to think all this through?
Once the People's Republic of China is granted this power, is it likely to be satisfied? Will its government say, "Well, we got what we wanted, now we can have peace in our time"? Or will it decide, quite rationally, that Taiwanese are nothing but paltroons, and demand ever more control over Taiwan's government?
I'm willing to give Tsao the benefit of the doubt here, and assume he DOESN'T want to hand Beijing the driver's seat. All he is is a well-intentioned, "reasonable" man with a "reasonable" compromise - who hasn't the foggiest notion of the consequences of letting the camel's nose under the tent. Having made this one compromise though, what other compromises is he willing to make, further down the line? Robert Tsao is offended by the surrender charge, and asks, "What sort of a man do you think I am?" The answer can be found in George Bernard Shaw's famous quip to the lady born and bred into high-society:
"We've already established what you are. Now we're merely haggling over the price."
* Not surprisingly, one of Taiwan's leading capitulationist newspapers, the China Post, attempts to blur the issue:
...analysts say the referendum on unification Tsao proposed is a means by which the people of Taiwan can freely express their will and volition...
Obviously, the Post's unnamed analysts are using some definition of the word "freely" that I wasn't previously aware of. These great Solomons aver that Tsao's plan allows Taiwanese to "freely" express their will and volition...but only when Beijing in its infinite benevolence deigns to LET THEM.
Postscript: It's interesting that I haven't heard anybody discuss the
constitutional issues involved here. I'm no expert on the Republic of China's
constitution, but I would very much like to see Mr. Tsao point out the
relevant articles in it that state it's OK for Beijing to become, in essence, a sixth
branch of the R.O.C. government.
P.P.S.: Tsao makes a nice analogy about Taiwan's position, which I think is nonetheless flawed:
If [Taiwan] wants de jure independence, Taiwan has to be just as well-prepared as people desiring to climb the Matterhorn...Addressing hard-core independence activists, he pointed out:
"[President] Chen, your tourist guide...got elected president thanks to you... You'll have to ask him carefully what preparations he has made (for your Matterhorn climb) and how much.
I would argue that Taiwan's position is a little more akin to that of someone who has lost a lot of pieces in chess. Under Tsao's analogy, demanding a roadmap to the goal makes a lot of sense; under mine, the act of telling your opponent your strategy is just about the worst thing you can do.
Sometimes when things look bleak for you in chess, the only strategy available is to try to simply keep your options open. An opportunity may present itself later down the line, but you'll only be able to take advantage of it if you haven't allowed yourself to get pinned down.
Under that analogy, it seems to me Tsao's policy is undesirable, because it closes a lot more strategic doors than it happens to open.
P.P.P.S.: It must be admitted that one of President Chen's objections to Tsao's proposals was exceedingly odd:
...Chen fired a Parthian shot by saying Tsao spent "a lot of money" on ads and yet people who "are striving to make a living" don't have the time to read them.
Um, why is Chen singing verses from the KMT hymnal? It's the OPPOSITION'S job to talk down the economy, not the President's!
(The View from Taiwan has good news about the national economy here.)
EVEN as Jonas Kronkaitis, now retired as Lithuania's top general, admires the
transformation of this once drab Soviet city into a proud member of the New
Europe, a worry eats at him: Russian power is rapidly returning to the Baltics,
only this time the weapons are oil and money, not tanks.
What we are afraid of is the very huge money that comes from Russia that can be
used to corrupt our officials," Kronkaitis said in an interview. "And I'm
talking about very large money. Money can then be used to control our
government. Then Lithuania, in a very subtle way, over many years perhaps,
becomes dominated and loses its independence."
"Over many years" may be an understatement, Baltic nationalists say. In 2004,
Lithuania's president was impeached for alleged connections to Russia's secret
service and big business. [emphasis added]
It all seems part of a strategy by President Vladimir Putin to revive Russian
power in much of Eastern Europe.
For the Balts, any move that angers Russia runs huge risks. Last month, for
example, the Estonian state prosecutor charged four ethnic Russians with
organizing riots in April to protest the government's move of a statue of a
Soviet soldier from the capital to a suburb as the anniversary of victory in
World War II neared. The Russian-language press had egged on the protesters.
"There is reason to believe that financial support and advice to organize
mass disorders was also received from the Russian Federation," the prosecutor
said. After the riots, hackers briefly paralyzed Estonia's government and banks,
and Estonia said the cyberattacks were traced to Kremlin addresses.
Meanwhile, the Dragon reawakens, and eyes Taiwan. And how eager are Taiwanese businessmen to surrender! Taiwan's China Post heartily approves in its editorial, Robert Tsao has a point:
Robert Tsao, the honorary chairman of United Microelectronics Corp., the world's second-largest wafer foundry, has some refreshing ideas about breaking the current impasse in Taiwan-China relations.
In a 3,000-word article, Tsao...rules out independence referendums for Taiwan... Whenvever Beijing feels ready, [Tsao proposes that] it can ask Taiwan to hold a referendum on unification that is enshined in the DPP charter. If Taiwan's people vote against it, then unification must wait and a new vote should be scheduled for ten years later. [emphasis added throughout]
Wow. I'm just trying to imagine a Frenchman suggesting Berlin should have the right to determine the subject and timing of French referenda. Or an American arguing that Mexico should have that right. Inconceivable, really. Inconceivable, because Frenchmen or Americans view their country's sovereignty as something of VALUE; and something of value isn't something to be given away on the cheap.
What Tsao's proposal lacks is reciprocity. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, isn't it, Mr. Tsao? You believe a foreign government should be able to call unification referendums in Taiwan? Very well - but as a necessary condition, Taiwan must have the reciprocal right to call Taiwanese independence referendums in China. And to test China's good faith, Taiwan would be well advised to call that referendum immediately. And ten years later. And ten years after that.
Sure, it'd get voted down again and again, but that wouldn't matter. As I argued in Why Referendums are a Good Thing, the experience of free and fair elections alone might do the Chinese people a world of good.
It goes without saying however, that ANY unfree or unfair electoral conduct on the part of the Chinese would IMMEDIATELY nullify the entire ridiculous arrangement.
Postscript: Alternatively, it might be useful for Taipei to demand Beijing hold a Chinese democratization referendum. Now there's a pie-in-the-sky "refreshing" idea on how to break the current impasse in Taiwan-China relations!
...President Chen's own relatives have taken ancestry research experts to his ancestral hometown in mainland China in an effort to seek out the roots of Chen's family heritage.
If DPP leaders really want to stress our separateness from the Chinese mainland, we suggest they cease all contacts with relatives on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
For that matter, our leaders should truly put their money where their mouth is by changing their surnames and "starting" their own "new" family traditions.
Why not rap Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton for visiting THEIR European relatives, too? Poor fools never realized how deeply their little family reunions were undercutting the argument for American sovereignty!
(Not to mention that Washington fellow. If he'd REALLY been committed to American independence, wouldn't he have changed his name to cut all ties to the mother country?)
I know that the China Post bills itself as "bridging the gap between East and West," but this is definitely one argument that's not likely to impress too many of its Western readers. Give it a try sometime. Next time you talk to the folks back home, inform them that the bones of your ancestors are interred in the Old Country, and for that reason, you owe your allegiance to the Principality of Liechtenstein.
So, no issue, no post, right? Move along folks, there's nothing to see here...
Except that the issue really ISN'T dead. In response to the KMT's statue victory, President Chen on March 25th renamed Taipei's version of the White House from the clunky "Long Live Kai-Shek Hall" to the terse "Presidential Office". In doing so, he was obviously of the belief that a building should named after the function it serves, rather than after the dictator who once happened to work there. At any rate, more marginalization of Chiang-era monuments is almost certain to happen in the future if Taiwan's democracy is allowed to mature. Actually, I'll go even further to suggest that that Chiang statues will someday be discarded, REGARDLESS of democracy's fate in Taiwan. More on this though, later in the post.
(Presidential Office image by The Foreigner)
One of the main objections that the KMT have to Chiang iconoclasm is that they say it smacks of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Mao's Red Guards wanted to eliminate traces of a past they didn't like, and those who would remove the Chiang statues want to do exactly the same thing. President Chen is therefore a modern Maoist madman, QED.
The fundamental difference that they overlook however, is that the Taiwanese State is behaving entirely within constitutional limits. There are no coercive extra-legal groups entering institutions and private homes to destroy Chiang relics. Children are not being encouraged to inform on their parents. There is no violence being used to achieve the goal. Members of the independence party spent time in the Chiang's political prisons for advocating democracy, and asking them to be grateful to the generalissimo and his son at this stage is asking a little much. Free men do not typically glorify those responsible for freedom's suppression.
The other thing that they overlook is that Chen's actions, unlike Mao's, have democratic legitimacy. I'm unaware of any polls on the issue, so I don't know the level of public support for removing Chiang statues. But I DO know that Chen was democratically elected, so he at least has the CONSENT of the people. Surely the Taiwanese people knew after electing the head of an independence party TWICE to the presidency that he would carry out at least some of the more symbolic aspects of the party platform. If a member of a reunification party is someday elected, I fully expect him to undertake opposing measures. That's the way democracy works.
I will agree with the KMT that iconoclasm can be taken too far, and sometimes, it is. Great are the efforts being taken today in certain quarters to transform America's Columbus Day into a day of sackcloth and ashes. Feminist preoccupation with gender neutral language can border on self-parody. And reversing the L.A. county commissioners' decision to remove the tiny cross from the Spanish mission on the county seal has become something of a conservative cause celebre. The argument that we shouldn't erase our past just because we aren't entirely happy about it is one that I do take seriously. Up to a point, anyways.
Sometimes however, iconoclasm is entirely appropriate. I can recall years ago a communist, er, columnist from my hometown's daily newspaper lamenting the changes in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Her protests then were similar to the KMT's today. You Russians were Bolsheviks, she said, and you ought to be proud of your wonderful history. You fought and beat the Nazis. Your collectivist system has given you wonderful social programs. Leave all of your communist-era statuary standing so that future generations can be inspired by the marvelous accomplishments of your magnificent Revolution.
And so on.
I had no blog back in those days, so I'll respond to that columnist now. Madam, your line of thinking, and the KMT's, concedes entirely too much to tyrants; it allows them to rename St. Petersberg to Leningrad, but in the name of preserving history, doesn't permit democrats to do the reverse. It's not cricket that a megalomaniacal caudillo can plaster every spare wall in a country with portraits of his ugly mug, while his democratic successors are left responsible for their care and upkeep.
Even if you believe that SOME statues of the generalissimo should remain as a matter of giving history its due, the question should be: How many are really needed to perform this function? The China Post last week had a picture of a courtyard containing at least six busts of Chiang Kai-Shek that I could count. There may well have been more outside the camera's field-of-view. Having six busts of one man in a single place isn't an example of a decent nod in history's direction - it's deification. It's allowing the dead hand of a dictator to continue ruling from beyond the grave.
It should be stated that Chiang Kai-Shek was no Hitler or Stalin, and that Taiwan was much better off under him than it would have been under Mao T'se Tung. Still, to say that Taiwan's deceased president wasn't a Mao or a Stalin is hardly anything to brag about, and it's not a particularly compelling argument to make in favor of retaining his monuments. To pull down statues of a man like Thomas Jefferson because he had feet of clay would be an act of historical vandalism. Pulling down statues of a strongman who sent Taiwanese to political prisons doesn't quite fall into the same category.
Ultimately, the Chiang memorials will probably meet with the fate of monuments to another generalissimo: Francisco Franco.** Most of Franco's statues have been removed slowly over time, but a few still stand here and there throughout Spain. I hope they aren't destroying the ones they take down, and put them instead into museums. The Russians had a great idea where they crammed all of the communist statues from the entire Soviet Union into one park in a Moscow suburb. To me, that would be poetic justice - leaders so devoted to their own self-aggrandizement should have a single park devoted solely to their egotism, as a sort of cautionary example.
There are a few other arguments I've heard in favor of keeping the statues, but I'll have to discuss them in some other post some other time. What we CAN expect is that the KMT will to fight to the last to protect its symbols from Taiwan's independence parties. As I've outlined, I think they'll lose the historical battle as democracy entrenches itself further in Taiwan. But what if democracy doesn't grow stronger? What if the KMT embraces the Chinese Communists, and they manage to pull the country into Beijing's orbit? What would happen to the statues in Chinese Vichy?
I suspect that their fate would be EXACTLY THE SAME. Communists can be relied upon to twist arms to remove images of men who are symbols of resistance to their rule. Statues of such men might someday inspire men to rebel, and that cannot be permitted. Americans may tolerate Confederate monuments on Southern soil, but the Communist Party of China is not nearly so magnanimous.
Given the recent crop of KMT leaders, I don't see the modern KMT offering anything more than token resistance, either. The KMT's recent behavior suggests that they're perfectly willing to sell their souls and jettison their most beloved symbols in order to curry favor with the Communist Party of China. I offer this as but one example.
Ironic, isn't it? When the independence parties want Chiang Kai-Shek statues removed, the KMT deride it as an act of historical vandalism. But should the Communist party of China ever call for their removal, watch how swiftly the KMT hail the move as a pragmatic act of reconciliation!***
If you're still unconvinced, then consider the additional pressure that will come when large numbers of Chinese tourists begin visiting Taiwan. Reflect for a moment upon the grief that Taiwanese businessmen routinely get from pushy Chinese delegations when they try to display ROC flags at product conventions around the globe. Now, just imagine a MILLION Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan each year - a good portion of them stamping their feet and whining about Chiang statues and ROC flags and God knows what else. I'll bet that a lot of those complainers are going to loudly announce to their tour guides that they'll never come back, and they'll threaten not to recommend Taiwan as a travel destination to the folks back home unless "provocative symbols" are removed from sight.
At that point, the KMT will face a choice between principle and pragmatism. Is it the Generalissimo...or the customer, who is always right?
* Or was it "suspended"? "Abolished"? Or has it just "ceased to apply"...
** "Despite Franco's death and an expected burial tomorrow, doctors say the dictator's health has taken a turn for the worse." - Chevy Chase
*** If the KMT eventually abandons Chiang Kai-Shek because he serves as an anti-communist symbol, I wonder if Taiwan's independence parties might not someday adopt him for that very same reason? I don't think it's probable, but people with a cause sometimes pick the unlikeliest of people to be their heroes...
Taiwan has received cultural influences from Japan and SE Asia which makes it different from China.
Taiwanese culture was unaffected by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which completely changed mainland Chinese culture.
Taiwan has more of a First World mentality than China. China is much more a 'dog-eat-dog' society. As one contributor to the story said, "If you put a Taiwanese child down in a China, he'll be eaten alive."