At least ONE of them is lying. But is it Joe Hung, or is it...Joe Hung?
From today's Taipei Times:
A 76-year-old man yesterday filed a lawsuit against President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and other government officials, saying he was seriously beat up by police officers during a crackdown on the occupation of the Executive Yuan on Sunday night to Monday morning last week.
So yesterday I promised to conduct an informal survey of a few Westerners regarding their recognition of the following terms:
My hypothesis was that recognition of Term 1 would exceed that of Term 2, which in turn would greatly exceed that of Term 3.
This is in direct contrast with the editors of the China Post, who inexplicably maintain (not as a hypothesis, but as a cold, hard fact!) that Term 3 garners the greatest recognition.
As it turns out, both I and the China Post are incorrect, as the results indicate:
|Term||Number Of People Who Recognize The Term|
|"China's eternal first lady"||0|
|Madame Chiang Kai-shek||0|
The informal survey was conducted among 5 Westerners - three of whom were twentyish in age, and two who were fiftyish. My favorite response came from a fiftysomething, who upon hearing the name, May-ling Soong, asked with a completely straight face, "Is she Korean?"
Ha! Dennis, I love you, man!
So there you have it. In the West - apart from the geriatric wards and a few amateur history buffs like myself - May-ling Soong is an utter non-entity.
And what's more, this applies not only to her, but to her husband as well. For it was a genuine surprise to me that even the fifty-year-olds didn't recognize the name, "Chiang Kai-shek".
But how's that for cosmic justice? Chiang Kai-shek murdered Taiwanese in 1947, and what's history's reward?
(Image from A Hot Cup of Pleasure)
Which is entirely in keeping with the newspaper's slap-dash philosophy: "Why get the facts straight, when you can just make shit up?"
[Pretty graphic image in the postscript. Readers may not wish to be eating while they scroll down.]
Interesting study concluding that babies as young as 6 months old already have the rudiments of a conscience, and can tell the difference between right and wrong (in their own fashion). Not sure that I necessarily buy the method behind it, but intuitively the general concept seems valid -- that morality is hardwired in us at birth to some degree or another.
Of course there are always exceptions, whom we generally describe as being sociopaths. Take for example, when the subject of the revolutions taking place in the Middle East came up. Carl Natong, a frequent commenter at Taiwan's pro-Communist China Post, had this to say:
Just think of our own country and family. Never mind about DEMOCRACY, COMMUNIST or other's system of gov't. Never mind what Uncle Sam shouting about DEMOCRACY.
Translation: a pig is a dog is a boy. Mullah Omar = the Dalai Lama = Ayatollah Khomeini = Mahatma Gandhi. And oh yes, all political systems are created equal. Who are WE to judge?
(And when Chiang Kai-shek or the Chinese Communist Party give you the orders to kill unarmed civilian protesters -- be it February 28th or June 4th -- you'd better damn well shoot. You OBEY the bloody orders your Chinese Fuhrer gives you. And you do it for mom, pop and the Fatherland.)
Poor Carl. Now that Taiwan's a democracy, the poor dear must be ever so disappointed that he can't find that plum political prison kapo job he was born and bred to believe was his birthright.
As an antidote to Carl Natong's ravings, I offer a short quote from someone who has just a little more grey matter. Someone who IS able to distinguish the difference between dictatorship and democracy. Someone who was there at Tahrir Square when Egypt's dictator went into forced retirement. A blogger who goes by the nomme-de-guerre Sandmonkey:
Tonight will be the first night where I go to bed and don't have to worry about state security hunting me down, or about government goons sent to kidnap me; or about government sponsored hackers attacking my website. Tonight, for the first time ever, I feel free…and it is awesome!
Postscript: Lot of Sinofascist conspiracy-theorizing at that China Post link, speculating about who are the devious instigators behind the current Middle Eastern demonstrations. (America and the CIA of course being the perennial favorites. Although it is strange that none of the Post's resident whackjobs have yet to mention the Japanese the Nipponese, the Jooos, the Alien Saucer people or hallucinogens in the Nescafe. But just give 'em some time . . .)
Truth be told, the only instigators are the Arab leaders themselves. Hosni Mubarek was pressured for THIRTY FREAKIN' YEARS by FIVE different American administrations to democratize -- or at least liberalize -- and the stupid bastard didn't. (In that sense, he shares a lot in common with another stupid evil bastard, Chiang Kai-shek.)
So eventually the balloon goes up, because people have decided that they didn't want to put up with any of Mubarek's shit anymore. Exactly why this is so hard for the China Post and its tinfoil hat-wearing commenters, I really don't know.
(What's doubly tragic is that the Communist Party of China no doubt believes their own idiotic propaganda that democracy is a Western plot to destabilize their country, and will take all the wrong lessons from Egypt and Libya. So instead of liberalizing and aiming for a soft landing, they'll add to their apparatus of coercion and repression. "Oh, look at us, we are so damn clever." Thereby doing nothing more than postponing the Gotterdammerung that's certain to happen there someday when the population explodes in hateful rage. And when that day happens and Chinese blood is flowing through the streets like a river, it will be the C.C.P.'s own damn fault.)
Again, I quote Sandmonkey, who tells how the benevolent Egyptian regime treated a blogger who was documenting police corruption. It's eerily similar to some of the human rights abuses one hears about in China:
[Khaled Said was] a 28 year old Alexandrian man, who got killed on the hands of two policemen a few days ago [This was back in June of 2010 -- The Foreigner]. And the story is equally disturbing and terrifying in its simplicity: He simply was sitting in a Cyber Cafe, when two policemen walked inside and demanded the ID's of everyone who was sitting there. When he refused to give it to them, they grabbed him, tied him up, dragged him out of the Cafe, took him to a nearby building where for 20 minutes they beat him to death, smashing his head on the handrail of the staircase, while he screamed and begged for his life, and as people around watched helplessly, knowing that if they did something, they would be accused of assaulting a police officer, which would pretty much guarantee them a similar fate. This went on for 20 minutes. Think about that. You are beaten to death, by those who swore to protect you, while the people in your neighborhood watched silently, and as your pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears. 28. Not yet married. Still having the rest of your life ahead of you. No More.
After the police discovered he died, they took the dead body to the Police station, where the Police [Chief] ordered them to throw it back on the street and call an ambulance, in order not to be held responsible for him. When his brother- who had American citizenship- found out, he went and confronted the head of the Police in his neighborhood, who told him that the story isn't true, and that his brother was a known drug offender and that he died from asphyxiation, for swallowing a bag of drugs when the police caught him with it.
This is Khaled before the "Asphyxiation":
This is Khaled after his "Asphyxiation":
Sandmonkey sardonically remarks:
"Amazing what Asphyxiation does to you these days, no?"
It's worth noting that under the former military dictatorship of the Chinese Nationalist Party, Taiwan too had its own share of 'accidental' deaths. Which thankfully, are now mercifully rare -- since the advent of democracy. And oh, what a bitter pill that must be to Carl and the rest of his fellow KMT die-hards!
One thing I DO wonder though: did Khaled here take Carl Natong's Peter-Pan advice and "just think of his own family and country" while the cops of Mubarek's dictatorship were beating him into an unrecognizable pulp?
And if he DID follow Carl Natong's perfectly marvelous suggestion, did "just thinking of his own family and country" during his last few horrific minutes on this earth make his journey into the next world one iota easier?
The story does have an epilogue, though, which Sandmonkey doesn't elaborate on. Only 7 months after this atrocity, one of the chief communication centers for the opposition rallies was an Egyptian Facebook page. A page titled, coincidentally, "We are Khalid Said".
It's a page which currently has 464,000 friends.
Correction: Make that 464,000 -- and counting . . .
UPDATE: Way heavy post. For a little levity, see SatireWire's latest: Charlie Sheen to help Arabs take freedom to 'Next Level'
UPDATE #2: A generally positive LONG-TERM view, by Anne Applebaum.
I met one shopkeeper who opened right up when he and I found ourselves alone in his store.
“Do Americans know much about Libya?” he said.
“No,” I said. “Not really.”
He wanted to teach me something about his country, but he didn’t know where to start. So he recited encyclopedia factoids.
[ . . . ]
“And Qaddafi is our president,” he said. “About him, no comment.” He laughed, but I don’t think he thought it was funny.
“Oh, come on,” I said. “Comment away. I don’t live here.”
He thought about that. For a long drawn-out moment, he calculated the odds and weighed the consequences. Then the dam burst.
“We hate that fucking bastard, we have nothing to do with him. Nothing. We keep our heads down and our mouths shut. We do our jobs, we go home. If I talk, they will take me out of my house in the night and put me in prison.
“Qaddafi steals,” he told me. “He steals from us.” He spoke rapidly now, twice as fast as before, as though he had been holding back all his life. He wiped sweat off his forehead with trembling hands. “The oil money goes to his friends. Tunisians next door are richer and they don’t even have any oil.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“We get three or four hundred dinars each month to live on. Our families are huge, we have five or six children . . ."
Hmm. "Keep your heads down and your mouths shut." To a Sinofascist of Carl Natong's ilk, there's a rosy vision of Taiwan's Paradise Lost.
UPDATE #4: Very cool ABC news report yesterday about the subterfuge Libyans used to bypass Gaddafi's blocking of Facebook. Facebook gets blocked? No problemo. Just use dating sites to communicate with each other, instead!
When Mahmoudi created his pretend profile on Mawada, he figured 50,000 supporters would be enough to take to the streets. But using various aliases on the dating site, he said he ended up with 171,323 "admirers" by the time Libya's Internet crashed last Saturday.
Pity that I can't locate the video clip for y'all.
UPDATE #5: Never knew two thirds of the people living in oil-rich Libya only earn $2 a day. Might be someone's been skimmin' from the kitty.
Also some very hopeful stuff there on the emergence of civil society in Libya based on the tribes. Of course, tribalism is a dirty word at Taiwan's China Post -- but it should be remembered that it was the tribes of Iraq which prevented Al Qaeda from seizing power there.
Fascinating story about a West German policeman who killed Benno Ohnesorg, a left-wing protester back in the '60s. That killing (and the policeman's subsequent acquittal) ended up becoming one of the primary catalysts for the creation of the terrorist Red Army Faction.
According to new documents uncovered by two German researchers, [the policeman] Karl-Heinz -Kurras was not the "fascist" cop of popular indignation, but a longtime agent of the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi) and a member of the East German Communist party. [emphasis added]
While there is no evidence that Kurras acted as an agent provocateur in shooting Ohnesorg, it is doubtless true that had his political sympathies--and his covert work for the Stasi--been known in 1967, the burgeoning radical student movement would have been deprived of its most effective recruiting tool. As Bettina Roehl, the journalist daughter of terrorist Ulrike Meinhof, argued in Die Welt, the glut of post-Ohnesorg propaganda helped establish "the legend of an evil and brutal West Germany," while simultaneously minimizing the very real brutality of Communist East Germany.
Something to keep in the back of one's mind for future cases of police brutality * towards democratic protesters in Taiwan. There are some (like myself) who are fairly quick to suspect KMT orders (or more insidiously, unspoken incentives) for such conduct. Like the West Germans though, we might sometimes be looking for answers on the wrong side of the Wall. Or the Strait, as the case may be.
With regards to Kurras, there are some unsettling questions. Was he acquitted fair-and-square? Or was he, in fact, the beneficiary of a police cover-up?
If the latter, then West German society certainly paid a heavy price for that single miscarriage of justice. **
* The two most egregious incidents within the last year have been the dislocation of a woman's finger in response to her carrying a Tibetan flag last November, and the running down of two elderly protesters at a democracy march last month. In the first case, no law enforcement officer has ever been held to account. While in the second, the driver of the police cruiser was slapped with ONE WHOLE DEMERIT on his work record.
One demerit. For driving twice the speed limit near an area in which a pre-scheduled political rally was taking place. For crashing into two senior citizens with enough force that one had to have his foot and lower leg amputated, and the other was hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage.
Maybe I'm being a bit harsh. After all, he DID have pretty good excuse: "Those 67 and 68 year-olds darted out into traffic like a coupla GAZELLES, I tells ya !"
Who wouldn't believe a story like that?
** Not that Taiwan hasn't paid its own high price for miscarriages of justice. In reading this account of the 2-28 Massacre, it's hard not to speculate that the entire bloody business in 1947 could have been avoided if the police (Tobacco Monopoly Agents, actually) had been willing to punish four of their own for maltreating a female cigarette peddler.
But then, sometimes it's easier to mow civilians down with machine guns, than admit that you're wrong.
Taiwan's Chinese Nationalist Party takes a historical monument -- a gate built during the Qing Dynasty -- and paints their own party symbol on it. Surprise, surprise.
Really though, if the KMT wasn't so single-mindedly obsessed with their own self-aggrandizement, they'd take the Qing-era site, and paint a Qing Dynasty flag on it.
That would be the rational thing to do. If The Party was even remotely concerned with the preservation of history.
(Image from Photoalbum.Davison.ca)
Of course, this would create the intriguing problem of what to do about historic Japanese-era buildings. Oh, what to do, what to do?
UPDATE #2: More at Arthur Dent's site.
Hard to figure out exactly what the author means by "China" here. First of all, if he means the Republic of China (Taiwan), then he's surely in error, because Taiwan was a colony of Japan a hundred years ago. Any "meddling" that might have taken place a hundred years ago would therefore have been in Japanese imperial affairs, not in China's domestic politics.
On the other hand, if by "China" the author is referring to the People's Republic of China, then again he's wrong, because Mao expelled all Western churches back in '49.
I'll assume then, that by "China" the writer means "Taiwan", and by "nearly a century", he means 60 years. That would suggest that the editorialist bears a grudge regarding the Presbyterians' opposition to human rights abuses by Taiwan's former dictators.
Such complaints by KMT apologists are a bit rich, however:
In 1975, after the KMT confiscated romanized Bibles and prohibited the printing of romanized texts, the [Presbyterian Church of Taiwan] issued "Our Appeal -- Concerning the Bible, the Church and the Nation" which asked that the government respect religious freedom and carry out political reform.
Talk about meddling! In the 1970s the KMT dictatorship in Taiwan OUTLAWED Bibles written in the Taiwanese vernacular. In doing so, it violated two fundamental principles held by all modern democratic states: that of religious freedom and that of separation of Church and State. (Which should come as no surprise, because Taiwan in the '70s was no democracy.)
As for any "wedge" that has been driven between the Taiwanese and the Chinese, the writer conveniently forgets to mention any possible role that decades of Chinese belligerence and threats of war might have played in fostering anti-Chinese sentiment -- or that KMT anti-communist propaganda might have played a role as well.
Technically, it's not plagiarism, since I believe Mr. Chu wrote the Post's editorial as well. But it's still quite a long passage to simply CUT-AND-PASTE, however:
As part of his election campaign, Chen Shui-bian ordered Chen Yu-hao, former chairman of the Tuntex Group and a fugitive exiled to the US, placed on Taiwan's "Ten Most Wanted" list. Chen Shui-bian was desperate to cast himself as a squeaky clean political reformer at Chen Yu-hao's expense.
A furious Chen Yu-hao responded by appearing on television and revealing the ugly truth. Chen Shui-bian had eagerly pocketed a fortune in political contributions from Chen Yu-hao over the past decade.
When Chen Shui-bian tried to deny the charges, Chen Yu-hao revealed that ROC legislator Shen Fu-hsiung, a DPP "elder" with a reputation for honesty within DPP circles was an eyewitness who saw Chen Yu-hao hand First Lady Wu Shu-chen a bag full of cash.
Considering Shen was also Chen Shui-bian's campaign manager, Chen Yu-hao's revelation put Shen in a somewhat awkward position. Rather than lie, Shen went into hiding for the following week.
What happened next was like a scene out of a black comedy by Stanley Kubrick.
A delegation of ministers from the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, a long time abettor of Taiwan independence, paid an emergency visit to Shen. What textual truth did these supposedly devout Christians share with him? They solemnly assured Shen that it was not a sin to lie as long as it was in a good cause. In other words, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, unless of course it advances Taiwan independence."
Be that as it may, I cannot find any corroboration for Chu's story about Taiwan's Presbyterian Church. I can only speculate that Church leaders may have said something about "forgiveness" at the time (as Christians often do), and that Chu has misinterpreted -- or, to be less kind, twisted -- their statements to suggest the Church advocates the telling of deliberate falsehoods.
UPDATE (Dec 13/08): Mr. Chu's account of the Chen Yu-hao story appears a bit one-sided. From AsiaTimes Online:
In early February [of 2004] Chen Yu-hao faxed three letters to opposition legislators claiming that he had made donations to the election campaign of President Chen Shui-bian. At first he tried to claim that Chen Shui-bian had simply pocketed the money, a claim that was refuted by officials from Chen Shui-bian's own DPP, who produced photocopies of the receipts.
The DPP also pointed out that Chen Yu-hao had given donations 10 times as large to
both the other rival candidates for the 2000 presidential election; Lien Chan of
the Kuomintang (KMT) and James Soong, then running as an independent candidate
got NT$100 million each.
On top of this Chen Yu-hao had given another NT$100 million to the KMT in the early 1990s, which somehow never made its way into party coffers but ended up in the private bank accounts of Soong's family members.
There is no doubt that Soong transferred NT$248 million of KMT funds into the bank accounts of his family members in the Chung Hsing Bills Finance Corp, of which NT$100 million came from Chen Yu-hao and another NT$80 million from construction company boss Liang Po-hsun. Liang is also a fugitive from Taiwanese justice, accused of embezzling money from the Overseas Chinese Bank. And while Soong claims the money was to be used for party purposes, there is no evidence that it was so used, and Soong never attempted to return the money - neither when he left the KMT secretary-general's post nor when he left the party itself in late 1999.
(Indirectly, of course!)
Finally started reading Forbidden Nation, Jonathan Manthorpe's book on Taiwan. The opening chapter is a little sad to read now, brimming as it is with statements like "[The Taiwanese] have only recently extricated themselves from the coils of the corrupt and dictatorial one-party Kuomingtang state, and see no reason to jump into the arms of another one..."
Well, we were ALL a bit more optimistic back in 2005. But getting back to the question: What's the Augustus-Taiwan connection that Manthorpe suggests? I'll just briefly summarize his argument (from pages 32-33).
In 30 B.C., Marc Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide, and Octavian conquers Egypt. Within the next 50 years, a lucrative trade between Rome and India apparently develops, via Egyptian ports on the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Merchants from India travel abroad, scouring Southeast Asia for ever more exotic goods to ship to the Roman market. Hindu missionaries follow those merchants, as do Indian colonists. Ethnic Malays wind up being displaced from their land, or leave when they find conditions in the new Hindu monarchies are not to their liking.
And where do these Malays go? Well, at least a few of them find their way to Taiwan. Where they end up founding some of the aboriginal tribes that continue to exist on the island to this very day.
Way cool stuff.
(Brian Blessed as Emperor Augustus from I, Claudius)
First off, I'll admit I know nothing about Indian imperialism two thousand years ago. But I'm somewhat sceptical of the notion that absent the Roman conquest of Egypt, India wouldn't still have been tempted to establish colonies abroad.
Now, if someone tells me increased Roman-Indian trade sweetened the pot, further fueling India's colonial ambitions, then sure. I'll buy that.
Correction (Feb 8/08): Egypt, of course, has ports on the Red Sea, not the actual Indian Ocean. The correction's been made to the post.
A further boost to Octavian's reputation came from his reception of envoys from India, seeking to negotiate a trade agreement for the spice route via the Red Sea and Egypt.
(from Richard Halloran's Augustus: Godfather of Europe, p 304)
What's with the China Post's soft spot for political murderers?
A well-known retired [Taiwanese] Mafioso, Chen Chi-li died in Hong Kong not long ago. He was the head of the Bamboo Alliance, one of the largest mob families in Taiwan. He was arrested; indicted for assassinating Jiang Nan, the author of [a biography critical of former dictator Chiang Ching-kuo]; convicted of murder; sentenced to life imprisonment; and paroled after serving seven years in jail. He then exiled himself to the former British colony. The assassination caused a sensation in the United States, where the author lived and was considered a martyr who had fought for freedom of speech. The godfather claimed at his trial in Taipei that he did it for the good of his beloved Republic of China by order of Wang Hsi-ling, director of [Taiwan's] Military Intelligence Bureau.
...there's no dearth of busybodies in Taiwan. Our ubiquitous police turned out in droves to watch the procession from Taoyuan International Airport to a huge vacant lot in Neihu where funeral services would be held for the deceased mobster. An estimated 800 cops checked and double-checked hearst escorts and those who wanted to get into the Neihu lot where Chen Chi-li would lie "in state."
Why wouldn't our busybodies let the now harmless godfather rest in peace?
When Don Corleone's daughter gets married, the Feds show up to take pictures of the attendees. And that's just the way it works. A person chooses to lead a certain kind of life when they join the mob, and being tailed by law enforcement is part of it. While it's understandable that Chen Chi-li's family pays its last respects, it's a little more puzzling why anyone else would. Government has a compelling interest in this case to ask, "Who, exactly, kisses the ring of this former political assassin?"
Monday's Taipei Times reports on the reception the former mafia leader's corpse received once returned to Taiwan:
Fellow gangsters said that [Chen Chi-li] did not understand why the government would treat a patriot like him as a criminal.
Wu Dun (吳敦), a former Bamboo Union member who was arrested with [Chen Chi-li] for the Liu murder, told reporters last week that "The government had treated [Chen Chi-li] very unfairly."
"It is very disappointing that a man who sacrificed himself for the county was forced into exile overseas," Wu said.
Following [Chi-li's] death and the return of his body to Taiwan, fellow gangsters, some celebrities and media have begun portraying him as a patriot and a hero.
Chang An-le (張安樂), the former leader of the Bamboo Union gang, said [Chen Chi-li] was not a normal gangster, but an idealist who had made money doing the right thing.
Such praise forced President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to complain that the media should not turn the gangster into a hero.
The China Post is a publication largely aimed at a foreign readership, so not even it can go that far. Instead, it frames the issue in humanitarian terms. Lost somewhere in the debate however, is why the KMT-controlled Taipei city government seems friendlier to public displays of fealty and devotion to deceased mafia bosses than it is to rallies in favor of Taiwan obtaining U.N. membership.
UPDATE (Nov 15/07): Part 2 of this post can be found here.
Incidentally, my position on police monitoring of Chen Chi-li's funeral is quite independent of Chen's character. Had this been the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi himself, I would STILL want police to be present if a thousand mobsters showed up.
Another review of a Taiwan-related book from David Frum at the National Review:
It all started in China. It was here in the 1930s and 1940s that the United States was first presented with a dilemma that has recurred again and again over the decades since: a strategically important country; a tradition-minded authoritarian ruler, at the head of a corrupt and incompetent government; a violent insurgency led by a totalitarian and anti-western movement. What to do?
This question, so haunting and difficult, is well illuminated by Jonathan Fenby's fine Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-Shek and the China He Lost.
In China, the US never could quite make up its mind, and Fenby helps us to understand why.
Understandably, the Chiang problem flummoxed the Americans who had to deal with him. While a few Americans (Edgar Snow, John S Service, John K Fairbank) disgraced themselves either as apologists for Mao or as easy dupes, most of the US government and military badly wanted to defeat Mao - but were absolutely baffled by the problem of how to do it. Arm and aid Chiang? And when Chiang allowed his family and friends to steal the arms and aid and then begged for more - what then?
Fenby raises one interesting historical might have been. The US never seriously considered intervening against Mao on the ground: US military forces were fully committed to the defense of Europe. But as late as May 1949, the Chinese Nationalists securely held the territory south of the Yangtze, including the cities of Shanghai and Canton. What if the US had used air and naval power to prevent the Communists from crossing the river? The richest parts of China might have joined South Korea, South Vietnam, and West Germany as one of the divided nations of the Cold War.
Interesting counterfactual there. Discuss amongst yourselves.
UPDATE (Aug 5/07): It just occurred to me that I spent this entire post talking about "transitional justice" without actually explaining what that even means. David on Formosa begins his post on the subject the smart way - by defining the term. Stealing from his source:
Transitional justice refers to a range of approaches that societies undertake to reckon with legacies of widespread or systematic human rights abuse as they move from a period of violent conflict or oppression towards peace, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for individual and collective rights.
There. NOW this post should make sense, especially to the uninitiated.
Over at Jerome Keating's website, Dr. Keating believes transitional justice needs to be a campaign issue in Taiwan in 2008 (Hat tip to Tim Maddog at Taiwan Matters!). In an earlier post, Dr. Keating describes the structural advantage the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has over other parties:
...we had seen how the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has gone on record to admit it has over [NT$ 25 billion] in assets [US$ 757 million]. Its closest rival, the ruling party Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has barely about one per cent of that, it has approximately [NT$ 25 million] in assets, or US$ 7.5 million.
A great deal of this 100:1 advantage can be explained by the forced sales and outright confiscations that the KMT was the beneficiary of during 38 years of martial law. He notes one irony: communist parties from former Soviet Bloc nations, ideologically dedicated to confiscation, were eventually forced to return assets they had confiscated. Meanwhile, the KMT, ideologically opposed to confiscation, not only confiscated vast amounts of property, but has STILL never returned it!
That this might be an issue of vulnerability for the KMT was highlighted a week ago, in a column by Dr. Joe Hung. Towards the end of the piece, Dr. Hung began casting out wildly, looking for other transitional justice issues that the country should attend to besides this one:
Why not help the former patients of Hansen's disease segregated by the Japanese? President Chen Shui-bian has apologized for their continued segregation after 1945, but his government wants to remove them from the sanatorium they now call home and raze it to make way for a mass transit system.
Why not help Taiwan's dwindling number of "comfort women"? They were forced to work as sex slaves, serving troops of the Japanese imperial army in the Pacific War. All they want is an apology from the Japanese government. Has Taipei done anything to get Tokyo to offer it?
Why not reckon with the slaughter of ten times more than the victims of the 2/28 Incident the Japanese committed in the first decade of their colonization of Taiwan. For a mere five years, from 1898 to 1902, at least 11,950 people were slain as rebels. How about the Wushe Incident of 1930? The Atayal village of Wushe, with 270 inhabitants and 60 families, was totally destroyed. Nearly all of the men, women and children in the village were massacred by Japanese troops. Japanese army warplanes bombed the Atayal reservation. Gas bombs were dropped to smoke out those "rebels" who refused to surrender.
Why not seek transitional assistance for all the indigenous people whose forebears the ethnic Chinese killed on Taiwan, to grab their land and go into their forests to fell camphor trees? In 1662, when Koxinga took Taiwan from the Dutch their population was estimated at 200,000. That population remained almost the same in 1945. It may not be genocide, but the fact is that countless thousands of Austronesians were slaughtered by the ethnic Chinese, as well as the Japanese colonizers. James Davidson, the first American-born U.S. consul in Taipei at the turn of the twentieth century, reported that aborigines were killed and their flesh sold to ethnic Chinese, who ate it. Why not reckon with these horrible legacies?
I'm not necessarily opposed to action on any of these issues, but I think Dr. Hung overstates the urgency of his cases:
1) The Lo-Sheng Sanatorium. What this is is a classic case of competition for a finite resource. At least 10,000 residents of the town of Hsin-juang want the sanatorium leveled so that they can get an MRT station. You know - reduce traffic on the streets, clean up the air a bit, and all those other nice things that mass transit is good for. Meanwhile, the project is being held up by a mere 75 former lepers who want the sanatorium to stay.
Now, Hung would have his readers believe that cruel President Chen Shui-bian stroked his Snidely Whiplash moustache one day and decided on a whim to throw all those poor, disfigured old lepers into the gutter. But the truth is, it was the former KMT government that sold Lo-Sheng for use as an MRT depot, all the way back in 1994.
The KMT wants to run on THIS issue of transitional justice? Fine. Maybe they can start by explaining why they sold Lo-Sheng WITHOUT EVER CONSULTING THE BLOODY RESIDENTS. Forget consultation - the KMT never bothered to NOTIFY the poor bastards even AFTER the sale. The first the lepers ever heard of the deal was TEN YEARS LATER when the BULLDOZERS arrived, Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy-style.
The reality is that 150 former Hansen's disease patients have already moved into the brand-new hospital just next door, while the 75 that remain prefer the open air and gardens of the sanatorium they live in now. Can't say I blame the ones that want to stay. But surely, the solution is obvious. Just build 'em another sanatorium SOMEWHERE ELSE. And make sure it's bigger. And nicer.
Oh, and don't forget to put it all on the KMT's tab. Because as far as I can make out, they're the idiots responsible for the whole mess in the first place.
2) The "comfort women". An apology from Japan would be nice. And future help from Japan against a Chinese attack would also be nice. If Taiwan can get both through amiable diplomatic means, then great. But if aggressive pursuit of the former alienates Japan from providing the later, then prefer the latter instead. I don't see allies America and Britain demanding apologies from each other for old wounds.
National survival trumps apologies to a tiny minority. Welcome to realpolitik.
3) Other, earlier Japanese atrocities. Um, at this point, exactly how many first generation descendants of these victims are still alive to benefit from the transitional justice Dr. Hung proposes? Moreover, the KMT had 55 years to deal with this (and the "comfort women" issue as well). If their efforts were half-hearted, perhaps they can be forgiven because of the realpolitik mentioned in Case #2.
4) The aborigines. Dr. Hung discusses the injustices done to Taiwanese aborigines that date back to the year 1662. 1662? FOUR HUNDRED years ago? By now, I get the distinct impression Hung isn't just asking for TRANSITIONAL justice - he's asking for something Thomas Sowell calls COSMIC justice. He's asking that every injustice that was EVER DONE IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE be attended to.
And it can't. It simply can't.
And Dr. Hung knows that. So what in effect he's saying is that the KMT shouldn't give back ANY of the $757 million it plundered until ALL THE WRONGS IN THE WORLD are made right. Which of course, might just be a while.
Hung closes on this note:
Of course, President Chen and his government are not going to do anything to get transitional justice done for all these people, for the very simple reason that any help rendered won't be translated into votes at the ballot boxes in December's legislative elections, and the presidential race in March next year.
But while he sees cynicism, I see democracy. Let the Taiwanese talk about the relative merits of Joe Hung's cases, as well as that of the KMT's looted assets. Let the jurors decide which cases are more urgent, and which are more marginal. Then, let the members of the jury vote.
All 13 million of them.
I'm hoping to get at least a couple of posts out of Joe Hung's Monday column in Taiwan's China Post, because I think it's got a lot of interesting stuff to chew on. Here I'll discuss responsibility of political leaders. Dr. Hung admits that Chiang Kai-shek bears some responsibility for the 2/28 Massacre, but it's unfair to have him shoulder the lion's share of the blame:
Generalissimo Chiang — he was not elected president yet in 1947 — certainly was responsible for the 2/28 Incident, for he was then head of state and head of government at the same time. But he wasn't either the chief culprit or the murderer, as some government-provided historians painted him to be. The Gimo didn't order the slaughter. It was carried out by troops so ordered by their commanders. One example suffices. Innocent people were summarily executed under martial law. At least one city in Taiwan saw no such execution[s], because the commander who had to enforce martial law didn't order his troops to arrest people and shoot them to death. He was Maj. Gen. Su Shao-wen, who set up his command in the city of Hsinchu. Under no orders to shoot and kill, General Su did not even impose a curfew. In fact, the people of Hsinchu lived totally unperturbed for two weeks, while soldiers were on a killing spree in some other parts of Taiwan.
If I understand this correctly, ONE of Chiang's commanders behaved honorably during the affair, ergo Chiang was innocent. By that logic then, Erwin Rommel's boss wasn't a "chief culprit" during the Second World War. Because after all, even those who fought Rommel spoke admiringly of him.
(Furthermore, if I'm not mistaken, there is no paper trail showing that Hitler ever explicitly gave orders for the Holocaust. So in that respect, he was like the Gimo, in that he didn't order the slaughter. Therefore, Hitler was innocent too, Q.E.D.)
With that reductio ad absurdum out of the way, I do think that Hung raises an interesting question here. Evil leaders can have subordinates that behave honorably, and decent leaders can have subordinates that behave less than honorably. When a subordinate commits crimes in an official capacity, how are we to judge the relative responsibility of their superiors? Is it a case of an unscrupulous subordinate betraying the intentions of a decent leader, or of an unscrupulous subordinate faithfully executing the policies of an immoral one?
Obviously, the case is trivial if explicit orders are issued from on high. Absent those, judgment becomes trickier. What of implicit orders? Plenty of mob bosses make "suggestions" that their underlings hasten to fulfill; a godfather's guilt is none the lesser because his orders weren't spelled out in black and white. But on the other hand, vague statements, or ones made in moments of anger, are sometimes misinterpreted. Henry II didn't want St. Thomas Becket assassinated, but his exclamation, "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?" led some of his knights to that unfortunate conclusion.
Doubtless someone schooled in law could think about this more systematically, but for me, judgment should be based on at least two factors: information and incentives.
First, information. As the now-cliched statement goes, "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" As I wrote in an update to a March 13th post:
[Johnny Neihu] expresses astonishment that Chiang could not have known what his subordinates were doing in Taiwan around the time of the 2/28 Massacre:
Unaware! Chiang was a control freak who distrusted his subordinates so deeply that he countermanded his generals mid-battle. At one point he held 82 government posts simultaneously, including chief of the government, army and party, plus -- rather bizarrely, the presidencies of the Boy Scouts and National Glider Association. To believe that he could have been "unaware of conditions on Taiwan" is pushing it just a little.
...Neihu's list DID jog my memory about something else - that Chiang's army was based on Leninist lines, with each unit having both a military and a POLITICAL officer. The job of the latter was to spy on the former, to make certain he was loyal. If it looked like the military officer might be mutinous, the political officer was authorized to put a bullet in his head.
It's therefore hard to imagine Chiang not being aware of the situation in Taiwan with all of those political officers floating around, each one of them regularly reporting back home.
If someone wants to make Chiang's case, then I think the onus is upon them to explain how he was unaware of his subordinates' misconduct despite the existence of the pervasive intelligence apparatus that he instituted in the first place.
Secondly, whether a leader is responsible for a subordinate's malfeasance depends upon the incentives the leader presents his people with. What incentives did the leader give for ethical conduct, and what disincentives did the leader give for unethical behavior? It might be instructive here to see how similar uprisings due to KMT misgovernance were handled in China prior to 2/28, and how the people responsible for restoring order were rewarded or punished. That is something beyond my own purview. However, it is my understanding that some of the most brutal commanders of the 2/28 Massacre were later promoted. That, of course, is particularly damning. To reward a subordinate is generally taken as a sign that one approves, not disapproves, of their actions.
Although this discussion was mostly about political leaders, the thinking here is more generally applicable to leaders in other areas as well. CEOs of major corporations, and owners of small businesses. For the sake of illustration, suppose a pizza deliveryman runs down a pedestrian while driving unsafely. What would a jury want to know before pronouncing judgment on the owner of the pizza parlor?
Many things - mostly related to information and incentives. Was the restaurant owner aware of the deliveryman's driving record? Did he make an effort to learn about that record? Did the owner make unreasonable promises to customers about the speed of delivery? Did the owner explicitly tell his deliverymen to break speed limits, or observe them? And regardless of those explicit instructions, did the owner have a policy of punishing or rewarding deliverymen who drove unsafely?
Notice that they probably wouldn't be too interested in whether the owner could produce some OTHER deliveryman who HADN'T hit anyone.
Imagine this for a second. A jury would want all of this information, about a PIZZA PARLOR OWNER whose employee had killed or injured a SINGLE pedestrian. Yet lower standards apply in the case of Chiang Kai-shek, accused of being responsible for the deaths of 28,000 during the 2/28 Massacre. According to Dr. Hung, we're not supposed to use our own minds and consciences to even THINK on the matter:
But history demands understanding, not judgment. History is a dialogue between the past and present.
Regarding that - history and judgment - Theodore Dalrymple had this to say in a recent critique of Tony Blair's record:
Strictly speaking, history doesn't absolve, or for that matter, vindicate, anybody; only people absolve or vindicate, and except in the most obvious cases of villainy or sainthood, they come to different conclusions, using basically the same evidence.
From a story in Monday's Taiwan News entitled, "Scholars point out martial law mentality lingers long after era":
"The former regime has made many Taiwanese live like walking corpses, living without passion. The 38 years of authoritative rule has also made them stop thinking, with many focusing only on how to make money," [a local professor of sociology] added.
I don't know if I would go QUITE so far. "Walking corpses," and all that. However, I do have an observation - an anecdotal one - about my chats in English with middle-aged Taiwanese. Every now and then, in the course of a conversation, I will ask them an idle question: What do they think the penalty or punishment should be for some infraction or another?
What I will hear from such people - almost invariably - is what the punishment for such-and-such a crime IS.
At that point, I often scowl a bit and look at the person somewhat suspiciously. Because I didn't ask them what the punishment IS - I asked them THEIR OPINION about what the punishment OUGHT TO BE. I scowl because I can't help wondering whether my interlocutor has deliberately evaded answering my question.
I catch myself then, and try to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, there's a language barrier, so perhaps the person honestly misunderstood me. So I politely follow up by saying that I understand what the punishment IS, but what I would really like to know is what they think the punishment SHOULD BE.
The usual reply: "The punishment for such-and-such a crime is THIS. And I AGREE with that."
So I'm faced with two possible conclusions here. Either Taiwan is a society with a preternatural level of conformity, where all it's middle-aged citizens agree WITH EVERY JUDGMENT meted out by the criminal justice system...or the middle-aged here have simply learned not to express their honest opinions about such matters.
After all, an openly-expressed opinion about how things SHOULD BE that differs in any way from the way things actually ARE is itself a criticism of the rulers that made things the way they are in the first place. And criticism of the country's rulers was the sort of thing that could get someone in heap big trouble in the bad old days of martial law.
Well, that's my own observation about "lingering martial law mentality" in Taiwan. Anecdotal? Absolutely. Try it yourself, and let me know the results. Try it with groups of Taiwanese, and try it with individuals. Taiwanese you know well, and those you don't. The middle-aged, and the young.
I'm very interested in knowing if I'm onto something here, or whether I'm completely off base.
POSTSCRIPT: Along similar lines, I could relate a story about a place of employment in Taiwan that is known to me. In this workplace, certain Taiwanese employees freely talk about their support for Chinese nationalism.
Now it so happens that one of the employees there was once a political officer in the ROC armed forces. And apparently, nary a word is EVER spoken by his co-workers in favor of Taiwanese nationalism.
A brief explanation is in order here. Up until a few years ago, units in the Republic of China's armed forces were organized along Leninist lines, headed by both military and political officers. Political officers were tasked with observing the military officers for signs of disloyalty towards the Party (KMT). They carried pistols, and were authorized to SHOOT military officers, in extreme cases.
Let me hasten to add that I've met this former political officer, and he seems like a very pleasant guy on a personal level. A great guy, in fact. But I still can't escape the fact that none of his colleagues ever speaks in favor of Taiwanese nationalism. And I don't think that's by accident, either.
Late last week and early this week, local media had a number of stories about the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law in Taiwan. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lauded former dictator Chiang Ching-kuo for putting Taiwan onto the path to democracy, while Taiwanese nationalists denied Chiang's role entirely, crediting the pressure exerted by the Taiwanese people instead.
For my part, I'm willing to grant Chiang Ching-kuo a certain amount of credit, because he COULD have resorted to some sort of Tiananmen-style crackdown, or even fought to the bloody end, like Nicolae Ceausescu. I'm not willing to go overboard and beatify the man though, because the repeal may have been intended to merely be cosmetic; apparently many martial law provisions were quietly re-enacted soon after the "official" lifting of martial law.
Be that as it may, I thought it was interesting that both Chinese and Taiwanese nationalists spoke of the repeal as though the decision process was entirely indigenous - neither group mentioned outside pressure as being at all influential on the final decision. Perhaps that's not surprising, but I suppose it is SOME kind of common ground.
Now, I know that Michael Turton has at various times written about the pressure the American government exerted on Chiang to institute democratic reforms (links?), but I think one thing missing from the discussion (in the English language papers, at least) was the influence that the "People Power" revolution in the Philippines may have had here. You see, I honestly DON'T remember the lifting of martial law in Taiwan in 1987, but I DO recall that sometime thereabouts Ferdinand Marcos was forced to flee Manila. A quick check of Wikipedia refreshed my memory:
By 1984, [Ferdinand Marcos'] close personal ally, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, started distancing himself from the Marcos regime that he and previous American presidents had strongly supported even after Marcos declared martial law. The United States, which had provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, was crucial in buttressing Marcos' rule over the years.
Wikipedia recounts the penultimate day of the EDSA Revolution:
[On February 25, 1986 Marcos] talked to US Senator Paul Laxalt, asking for advice from the White House. Laxalt advised him to "cut and cut cleanly", to which Marcos expressed his disappointment after a short pause. In the afternoon, Marcos talked to [General] Enrile, asking for safe passage for him and his family. Finally, at 9:00 p.m., the Marcos family was transported by four American helicopters to Clark Air Base in Pampanga, before heading on to Guam, and finally to Hawaii.
While I'm not privy to the deliberations of Chiang Ching-kuo and his inner circle prior to July 15, 1987, it's fair to say that the fall of a fellow dictator just 17 months previously and only a few hundred miles away must have weighed heavily in favor of democratizing in order to avoid a similar fate.
I picked up a copy of this book about Taiwanese nationalism, as well as I, Claudius, a few weeks ago from PageOne in Taipei 101. I, Claudius I will read in August - I have no idea when I'll get to Forbidden Nation.
For those interested, David Frum reviews Forbidden Nation at the National Review:
Jonathan Manthorpe, a journalist who has covered China and Taiwan for the Vancouver Sun and other newspapers, has written the supremely useful single volume history of Taiwan, from its pre-Chinese Malay-Polynesian origins to the present day. The book is titled Forbidden Nation, and as the name suggests Manthorpe devotes most attention to the interaction between Taiwanese nationalism and the dynasts and colonialists who have suppressed it: mainland emperors, Japanese imperialists, the Chiang Kai-Shek regime, and now the Communist rulers of Beijing.
Manthorpe does not conceal his sympathies for the Taiwanese underdogs in these struggles, but he works his way through the story fair-mindedly and accessibly. The book is mercifully short, but powerfully lucid.
Frum proceeds with a brief summary of Taiwanese history, and closes with a few thoughts on idealism vs. realism in American foreign policy.
Guess I'm going to have to stop the self-deprecating humor I occasionally use in Taiwan about my past life as a "professional student." Because it turns out that the phrase has a rather more ominous connotation here than it does in the West:
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) office filed a defamation lawsuit [on July 3rd] against Cabinet Spokesman Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉) implying Ma served as a "professional student" for the party when he was at Harvard University.
In Taiwan, the term "professional student" usually refers to those who studied abroad on KMT scholarships and worked as campus spies for the party, reporting on pro-independence Taiwanese students. [emphasis added]
The story's a bit old*, though I bring it up because I ran across this story about China sending its own "professional students" to America:
In a manner similar to Chinese espionage efforts, Chinese students are encouraged to gather seemingly innocuous data for the Chinese government. For example, who has been saying anti-Chinese government things on campus? Which Americans, especially Chinese-Americans, appear most likely to support the Chinese government?
As the article says, this too, is nothing new. Relatively new however, are proposals by the KMT to allow Chinese students to study in Taiwan. Left unaddressed in these proposals is the
possibility probability that many of these Chinese students will be tasked with identifying future collaborators, and marking other Taiwanese students for blacklists, re-education camps - or worse.
It would indeed be a black joke - one translatable into any language - if the Taiwanese, having recently been freed of "professional students," were to elect an alleged one to the PRESIDENCY, and as a result, had their centers of higher education once more filled with that particular sub-set of humanity.
* The story may be old, but as the The View from Taiwan notes, it's one that isn't dying, and it may have significant ramifications on the Taiwanese presidential elections in 2008.
UPDATE (Aug 4/07): Fixed the Strategy Page link.
Last week, Costa Rica switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, leaving Taiwan with only 24 diplomatic allies. As a result, Chinese Nationalist Party presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou took the current government to task:
"We had as many as 30 allies when the KMT was in power ... It was clear that we made some progress diplomatically when we had a consensus with China ... Chen's foreign policy has lead Taiwan to a dead end," Ma said during a visit to Taipei Port in Bali Township (八里).
Chen's foreign policy has led Taiwan to a dead end? An invitation if ever there was to take a closer look at where KMT foreign policy has led the beautiful isle:
During the time the KMT ruled Taiwan, how many net diplomatic allies did it lose? 80? 100? 130? On top of that, how many new U.N. member states were given the opportunity of recognizing Taiwan, and chose China instead? I can think of at least 15 - the old Soviet Union used to consist of 15 republics - and NONE of them recognized Taiwan when they gained their freedom. Come to think of it, neither did any of the newly-freed Eastern-bloc countries, either. All those potential allies up for grabs on the KMT's watch - and the KMT let them slip right through their fingers.
So, back to the question: how many diplomatic allies, real and potential, did the KMT lose for Taiwan? I'll guess 100 (and be grateful to anyone who can provide a more accurate number). That means that over 50 years, the KMT lost 2 diplomatic allies per year, on average. Does this record compare favorably to that of the Taiwanese nationalists?
I'm afraid it doesn't. Under a Taiwanese nationalist president, Taiwan suffered a net loss of 6 diplomatic allies within a period of 7 years. Unless I'm mistaken, that works out to an average loss of 0.86 diplomatic allies per year. Nothing to brag about, to be sure, but it sure beats the KMT's loss of 2 per year.* Which is to say nothing of the KMT's loss of Taiwan's security council seat, and their idiotic refusal to accept the consolation prize of a general assembly seat instead.
* In reply, supporters of the Chinese Nationalist Party might offer two defenses. The first, Ma Ying-jeou has already mentioned:
"It was clear that we made some progress diplomatically when we had a consensus with China."
OK, I'll bite. Just how many new diplomatic allies did Taiwan pick up after it reached the mythical "One China, two interpretations" consensus in 1992? I wasn't here, so I don't know. Was it two? Three? Four? Undoubtedly, Ma would insist this was a result of goodwill from Beijing. But could he be suffering from a bad case of post hoc ergo propter hoc? In other words, might there be some OTHER possible explanation for the increase, besides some sort of imagined "goodwill" on the part of revanchist communists?
Well, let's see...1992...That would be, what, THREE years after the Tienanmen Massacre? That was a time at which horrified American and European investors had ceased, or significantly slowed, their investment into the Middle Kingdom.
Wealthy Taiwanese industrialists had fewer scruples, however. They saw untapped opportunities in China that Americans and Europeans weren't taking advantage of, and they jumped in. Fortunately for the Butchers of Beijing, the slack in foreign investment was picked up by the Taiwanese, who pumped money into China big time.
Under this unique set of circumstances, what would China have had to gain by wholesale thievery of Taiwan's diplomatic allies? Only an angry government in Taipei, which might have gotten serious about staunching the flow of capital to China, that's what. Better to let Taiwan have its two, three, four, new allies. A few diplomatic gains for Taiwan weren't going to change the big picture anyways, and would have ensured those NT dollars kept a-comin'. It might even have convinced a few fools in Taipei to think some sort of detente had been achieved. Later, when American and European investors returned to the market, the relative importance of the Taiwanese contribution diminished. China could then afford to put the screws to Taiwan, secure in the knowledge that a cessation of Taiwanese investment would have limited impact, with Americans and Europeans on the scene willing to pick up the slack.
Now for that second objection. A supporter of the Chinese Nationalist Party might dismiss all of this, pointing out that THEY weren't responsible for the loss of Taiwan's allies. The People's Republic of China was to blame. The communists were the ones who twisted arms, or bought governments off. Against them, tiny Taiwan just couldn't compete in the diplomatic game.
Funny how that's an excuse Chinese nationalists aren't gracious enough to grant in turn to others. From Taiwan's China Post:
The ROC government need not fault Costa Rica for leaving it. Nor should the DPP administration accuse Beijing of trying to deprive Taiwan of international space. The DPP should instead look at its own attitude and behavior. [emphasis added]
There we have it. When Chinese nationalists lose allies to the PRC, it's the PRC's fault. And when Taiwanese nationalists lose allies to the PRC? Well, in THAT case, the PRC is entirely blameless. The fault can ONLY lie with Taiwanese nationalists, naturally.
If I didn't know better, I might think someone was arguing in bad faith!
But...let's pursue this all the way to the end:
Jeez. RETALIATORY strikes hardly rate up there with the KMT's old "Retake the motherland" tomfoolery on the ol' warmonger-ometer, but we're not supposed to notice that. We're only supposed to feel disgust that the victim of Chinese aggression would ever dare defend itself.
Let me paraphrase Charles Krauthammer here: When under attack, no nation is obligated to collect permission slips to strike back. But the Chinese nationalists at the China Post think otherwise. Clearly, in the event of a Chinese attack, Taiwanese ought to bend over and ask, "Please sir, can I have some more?"
(Come to think of it, that's EXACTLY the way the Taiwan News felt America should have handled Afghanistan after the attack on 9-11. But it's late now, and that's a whole 'nother topic.)
From Tuesday's editorial in Taiwan's China Post:
Chiang Kai-Shek fought for democracy.
Ah. Just for the record, Chiang was re-elected president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) by the National Assembly in 1954, 1960, 1966 and 1972.
So...exactly who were his opponents in these elections? What independent political parties did they belong to? Were the people of Taiwan ever consulted on these votes? And what was the fate of unfriendly media figures during these election cycles?
If there are serious answers to those questions, then I'll admit Chiang fought for democracy. Otherwise, I'll keep in mind the example of Julius Caesar, who claimed to be savior of the republic, yet quickly accepted the post of dictator-for-life.
Here's something else I didn't know:
Chiang was supreme commander of the victorious Allied forces during WWII.
Critics and supporters alike can all agree that Chiang's conception and execution of Operation Overlord was masterful. Simply masterful.
(Cartoon from the Apr 2/07 ed of the Taipei Times.)
Pitiful, really. From last Saturday's pro-Chiang march:
The main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) staged a march in Taipei near the Presidential Office yesterday afternoon to protest a government campaign attacking the legacy of late President Chiang Kai-shek, 32 years after he died in 1975.
During the rally, former KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou, who is considered the frontrunner in the 2008 presidential race, conceded Chiang had made errors, but told the protesters that historical figures must not be unfairly judged.
"No historical figures were perfect, and we could reassess Chiang's legacy but must not deny all of his accomplishments," Ma said.
"He wasn't a saint, he was like you and me and [could] make mistakes, which we will review," he said. "But don't write him off completely because of them," Ma continued.
Now, I done some bad things in my time. Never sentenced men that I knew were innocent to political prisons or death, though. So in that sense, Chiang wasn't EXACTLY like me. And in all likelihood, he wasn't like any of you, either.
A Taiwanese independence group held a less flattering protest at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial a day later, performing mock funeral rituals:
Traditionally, sealing the coffin -- when family members hammer nails into the lid to seal it -- is the last part of a funeral before burial.
Wang presented a sharp metal stake with a sign that read "Site for future Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall" and asked all participants to hammer it into the ground. [Taiwan's president is trying to rededicate the Chiang memorial as a Democracy hall - The Foreigner]
As he hammered, a member of the crowd shouted: "Let's seal it so the evil spirit of Chiang Kai-shek will never be able to get out again!"
Undeterred, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) held yet another pro-Chiang rally a few days later, on the anniversary of the former dictator's death. "Destroy Taiwan independence" was one of their slogans. (Given the party's obstruction of the special arms bill, I'd say they're doing a bang-up job at that.)
After the initial rally, the Taiwan News had some food for thought about one of Chiang's reputed accomplishments:
The common myth that the [KMT] takeover saved the Taiwan people from "the Chinese Communist bandit regime" [after World War 2] is merely a historical "what if" that excludes numerous other possibilities, such as United Nations trusteeship or the granting of independence to a government formed by the Taiwan people.
Precisely. Though there is another, more depressing, possibility. Had the KMT not come to Taiwan, the Taiwanese might have foolishly welcomed re-unification, even with the communists. They did, after all, cheer during the early days of post-war re-unification, prior to the KMT's depredations. What really would have happened is unknowable, by both Chiang defenders and detractors.
The Taiwan News also described the KMT's unhealthy nostalgia:
...the event's real aim was to "review the good fortune and prosperity brought to Taiwan in the era of the two Chiangs [Chiang Kai-shek and his son, Chiang Ching-guo - The Foreigner]," according to KMT Acting Chairman Chiang Pin-kin. Another KMT spokesman openly expressed the hope of restoring the "golden age" allegedly experienced by Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to the "two Chiangs."
Chiang surely did SOME good for Taiwan, but in the final analysis, it doesn't matter. No democratic country ought to glorify former tyrants, build statues in their name, or speak of "golden ages" of dictatorship. That's bad - no, DANGEROUS - for that country's democratic soul. When certain parties in Taiwan make a fetish out of the "oneness of purpose" that existed prior to democracy, they shouldn't be surprised when the youth of Taiwan subsequently begin forming Hitler fan clubs out of admiration for the even greater unity that existed in Nazi Germany. For it is their example which leads the way.
The story of Keith Richards snorting his dad's ashes with coke made the papers here, and just in time for Tomb-Sweeping Day. Lordy-be. I can only imagine what Taiwanese make of us Westerners after THAT little show of filial piety.
For those who don't live in Taiwan, Tomb-Sweeping Day is a holiday set aside to pay obeisance at the tombs of one's ancestors. People typically trim away vegetation that has grown over family graves over the course of the year; in subtropical Taiwan this can entail quite a bit of work, particularly for children from urban centers who may've never handled a pruner or hedge-trimmer in their entire lives. A good piece on Tomb-Sweeping Day holiday can be found here.
Joe Hung also wrote an interesting column on modern observances of this holiday. I was unaware that the holiday used to be unfixed (the 15th Day of the Spring Equinox, so it fell on either Apr 5th or 6th). It was fixed on Apr 5th by late Taiwanese dictator Chiang Ching-guo in order to honor his father, Chiang Kai-shek, who died on that day. As part of a recent de-Chiangification campaign, it has been suggested that the holiday become unfixed again.
I don't know if Tomb-Sweeping Day will be returned to its TRUE Chinese roots and become unfixed again, but I beg to differ with Dr. Hung on one point. De-Chiangification is NOT de-Sinicization - unless one starts with the proposition that dictatorship is an inherent and essential part of Chinese-ness.
UPDATE: The Taiwan News reports that Richards was joking about his dad's ashes.
UPDATE (Apr 7/07): Good pic of the day's observances from Friday's Taipei Times:
Frankly, I'm a little surprised to see this picture at all. Last time I showed some Taiwanese friends a couple pictures I'd taken of local tombs (mixed in with other photos - I'm not THAT morbid), they were horrified. Said the ghosts were going to follow me now.
Last week a Taiwanese nationalist found Chiang Kai-shek in a book listing the 100 most evil dictators of all time, and said something a bit foolish:
"[Since Chiang is on this list,] from the perspective of foreign academics, Chiang, Mussolini and Hitler were equally cruel."
Um, no. I could come up with a list of my 100 most favorite foods, and would probably like numbers 79 and 84 equally well. But I'm reasonably certain that I'd prefer #1 to #84.
Sorry, Chiang may have been bad, but he wasn't Hitler. It's not even close.
Thursday's Taipei Times displayed a front-page photo of the Presidential Office, with a potted plant set in a place formerly reserved for a portrait of Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Republic of China.
(Photo from the March 15th edition of the Taipei Times)
A day later, an editorial in the China Post read, "DPP's attempt to cut ties with China will backfire."
Much as I'd like to say they're all wrong, I can't. Yes, I know why President Chen, a TAIWANESE nationalist, would wish to remove a symbol of CHINESE nationalism. But replacing a picture of Sun with a PLANT?
That's a slap in the face. It needlessly mobilizes his political enemies, while antagonizing voters who straddle the fence. When you're engaged in a struggle with the Chinese Nationalists over the name of the Post Office and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, why open another front? Removing the "China" from the titles of the Taiwan's Post Office and other state institutions is a worthy cause necessary for distinguishing this "China" from the REAL one. And dismantling the cult of Chiang isn't de-sinification; it's democratization.
But near as I can tell, Sun Yat-sen, unlike Chiang, never hurt Taiwan. In politics, you have to pick your battles, and I'm sorry to say, I have agree with the China Post when it says that Chen is over-reaching here.
Hope I'm wrong.
UPDATE (MAR 19/07): A few townships controlled by the Taiwan's Chinese Nationalist Party removed portraits of SITTING President Chen Shui-bian during the height of the anti-Chen protests in September / October 2006.
That was the question the China Post's Joe Hung posed in his column on Monday. Let me begin by stating that it's entirely fair for Hung to enumerate the beneficial things Chiang did for Taiwan (though at the same time, some of the things he lists are debatable, even refutable).* And I certainly take his point that historians should endeavor to tell all the facts, not just cherry-pick the ones they happen to like.
But when he says that history isn't judgment, I confess to being a bit baffled.** Can we now expect the China Post will stop slamming President Chen Shui-bian's record? Because by definition, Chen's record IS history, isn't it? And didn't Dr. Huang just finish telling us that that's something we're not ALLOWED to judge?
By strange coincidence, I ran into a quote during my vacation arguing rather the opposite, by Yale Classics professor Donald Kagan:
Finally, I must explain and defend my use of what has been called "counterfactual history". Some readers may be troubled by my practice of comparing what happened with what might have happened had individuals or groups of people made different decisions or taken different actions. I believe that anyone who tries to write history rather than merely chronicle events must consider what might have happened; the only question is how explicitly he reveals what he is doing. Historians interpret what they recount, which is to say they judge it. They cannot say that an action was wise or foolish without also saying or implying that it was better or worse than some other action that might have been taken - that, after all, is "counter-factual history". [emphasis added] All true historians engage in the practice, with greater or less self-consciousness. Thucydides, perhaps the greatest of historians, does this on many occasions, as when he makes a judgment of Pericles' strategy in the Peloponnesian War: "such abundant grounds had Pericles at the time for his forecast that Athens might quite easily have triumphed in this war over the Peloponnesians alone." (2.65.13; emphasis added [by Kagan])
I think there are important advantages in being so explicit. A clear statement puts the reader on notice that the assertion in question is a judgment, an interpretation rather than a fact. It also helps to avoid the excessive power of the fait accompli, making clear that what really occurred was not the inevitable outcome of superhuman forces or of equally determined and equally mysterious forces within the historical actors. Instead, what happened was the result of decisions made by human beings acting in a world they [did] not fully control. It suggests that both the decisions and their outcomes could well have been different. I continue this practice in examining the life of Pericles.
- p xiii-xiv of Donald Kagan's Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy
I perhaps should have underlined Kagan's claim that all true historians judge history, whether they're conscious of it or not. Because after making a point of admonishing his readers not to judge history, Hung goes on to do exactly that:
The fact, however, is that despite [the 2-28 Massacre and the White Terror], Chiang was a good autocrat...But for [Chiang's] defense force and American intervention, Taiwan would have been a province of the People's Republic of China before the end of 1950.
Now, I happen to agree it was A GOOD THING that Chiang helped prevent Taiwan from falling to the communists, but I also recognize that that sentiment is a JUDGMENT. A judgment with which most Marxists, and more than a few leftists, are liable to disagree.
I'll close with a story about a friend of mine, a semi-professional videographer. Fellow went down to 2-28 Memorial Park with an interpreter on February 28th to conduct a few interviews with family members of 2-28 Massacre victims. He's hoping to do a documentary on 2-28 sometime, though he apparently has other projects on the front burner right now. Anyways, instead of a FEW interviews, he was surprised to find that a long line of Taiwanese old-timers began to form, each wanting to tell the wai-guo-ren*** with the camera their story.
Their stories were depressingly similar. "The KMT army came to my house one night and took my father away, and we never saw him again. I just want to know the truth of what happened to him." This my friend heard, over and over.
I wasn't there, so I don't know what questions my friend asked of the interviewees. For that reason, I don't know if it even occurred to him to ask them whether they thought Chiang Kai-shek was "all that bad".
I'll venture to say though, that they would have scoffed at the notion that that's something they shouldn't be allowed to judge for themselves.
* Particularly amusing is Hung's statement that Chiang's KMT controlled runaway inflation. While it is true that there was high inflation in Taiwan at the end of World War II, inflation increased - not decreased - during the first few years of KMT administration of the island. The uprising that occurred on February 28, 1947 was in part a reaction against the KMT's gross economic mismanagement, if not outright thievery.
It takes a bit of nerve for Dr. Hung to praise the KMT for controlling hyperinflation, when in fact it was something they were largely responsible for.
** It should be clear what Hung's Georgetown professors were driving at. It is indeed a tricky thing to judge those who have gone before us by our own moral standards. The ancient Greeks and Romans lived in a different moral universe from our own, and I don't see much use in spending a lot of time denouncing them for keeping slaves. The question then, I think, is whether the KMT of Chiang's time also dwelt in a different moral universe, or whether it was one which more closely resembled our own.
I would argue the latter. I suspect that if one looked carefully enough, one could still find original records of slave sales in ancient Rome. Why would anyone conceal such records, when they were a normal part of the world in which they lived? Contrast that to the KMT's behavior after 2-28; they concealed evidence, and even attempted to justify their conduct by inventing a cockamamie story about there being 100,000 Japanese troops hiding in the Taiwanese mountains waiting - waiting! - to join forces with the Taiwanese rebels. [note to self: find the link for this later]
100,000 Japanese troops hiding out in the Taiwanese mountains. In 1947. Riiight.
In the world of law, people who commit crimes sometimes try to plea criminal insanity. "I didn't know what I was doing - I didn't know what I was doing was WRONG." But such a plea is usually not taken very seriously if it can be proven that the suspect tried to lie or conceal evidence after the fact.
Maybe that's because the act of hiding evidence is not usually associated with men who are innocent.
*** Mandarin for "foreigner"
UPDATE (Mar 27/07): A good Johnny Neihu piece mostly devoted to this topic. He expresses astonishment that Chiang could not have known what his subordinates were doing in Taiwan around the time of the 2/28 Massacre:
Unaware! Chiang was a control freak who distrusted his subordinates so deeply that he countermanded his generals mid-battle. At one point he held 82 government posts simultaneously, including chief of the government, army and party, plus -- rather bizarrely, the presidencies of the Boy Scouts and National Glider Association. To believe that he could have been "unaware of conditions on Taiwan" is pushing it just a little.
I didn't know that. Though Neihu's list DID jog my memory about something else - that Chiang's army was based on Leninist lines, with each unit having both a military and a POLITICAL officer. The job of the latter was to spy on the former, to make certain he was loyal. If it looked like the military officer might be mutinous, the political officer was authorized to put a bullet in his head.
It's therefore hard to imagine Chiang not being aware of the situation in Taiwan with all of those political officers floating around, each one of them regularly reporting back home.
Well, there goes THAT promise. The one where I was going to wait a few days before commenting on current events here in Taiwan. Let's just say the devil made me do it.
Actually, it was the China Post, and its claim yesterday that changing the airport's name from Chiang Kai-Shek to Taiwan Taoyuan International was "a show of brutal power".
Somebody call the International Criminal Court. President "Snidely Whiplash" Chen just renamed an airport. Why, this is the greatest injustice in the history of the world!
The China Post's first objection was the expense. Twenty one million NT dollars ($640,000 US), give or take. That, and the move did nothing to improve the economy.
Which isn't bad as arguments go. It's just that I wonder if someone could produce for me an editorial by that paper denouncing the KMT's renaming of Taiwanese streets, neighborhoods and mountains back in the late '40s. A great many of THOSE had Japanese names prior to retrocession, and all of them were given Chinese names afterwards.
In the process, I daresay the KMT spent a whole lot more than $21 million NT. And on top of that, post-war Taiwan was in a far poorer position to afford that kind of money than it is today.
So I ask you: Did any of the KMT's more expensive name changes do anything to improve Taiwan's economy back then? If they didn't, where was the China Post's outrage?
Cutting the cord
Even more absurd was this statement:
"The name change of Chiang Kai-shek International Airport is but the latest example of [President] Chen's...all out efforts to cut the umbilical cord between China and Taiwan."
Maybe there are some linguists out there who could help me out a little here. Isn't the word "Taoyuan" Chinese, or does it originate from some other language, like Swahili or something? Pray tell, how does an airport name change from Chiang Kai-shek (a Chinese PERSON) to Taiwan Taoyuan (a Chinese PLACE*) move Taiwan any further from China? They're still both Chinese names, or am I missing something?
It's a bloody Cultural Revolution, is what it is!**
Next, the China Post makes mountains out of molehills. Renaming airports is just like the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and will end up just as badly. President Chen and Chairman Mao are the same, both denouncing and destroying people.
It seems more than a little ironic that on the same page as this bit of hysterical hyperbole was a column about the REAL Cultural Revolution. You know, the one where 11 year-old kids had to denounce their parents after the Red Guards killed them. Re-education camps, that sort of thing.
Try as I might, I found nothing in that column about the survivors objecting to any airport name changes Mao might have made at the time. Though I'm sure the ones he actually DID make must have increased their sufferings immeasurably.
Actually, when you think about it, Chiang's wholesale renaming of Taiwanese place names and his White Terror period resembles Mao's Cultural Revolution far more than anything that Chen's done. Despite that however, the China Post continues to hail Chiang as a "symbol of the Chinese nation and a towering figure in contemporary Chinese history".
As for Chen? Why, six years in office, and he STILL hasn't killed or imprisoned anyone yet.
A Rose by any other Name, yada yada
The paper closes with philosophical food for thought, asking us, "What's in a name? A rose smells as sweet if called by any other name."
Which of course, is a testable claim if ever I saw one. Perhaps instead of "Taiwan Taoyuan", the airport should have been named in honor of another "towering figure" in contemporary Taiwanese and Chinese history:
Now picture the editors of the China Post landing at Taiwan's Hideki Tojo International Airport after a long overseas flight. That rose still smellin' just as sweet NOW, fellas?
* Please, no objections that Taoyuan is Taiwanese and not Chinese. There's at least one "Taoyuan" township in northeast China.
** This heading sounds a lot better when read aloud in a Cockney accent.
A day after writing my post February 28, it dawned on me that there was another way of thinking about The China Post's editorial on Taiwan's infamous February 28 Massacre which was was a bit more sympathetic. My earlier post was predicated on the assumption that The China Post is a KMT newspaper. However, if one supposes that it's actually a mainlander paper, then one can view what they wrote in rather different terms.
To start with, a quick background:
The population of Taiwan is composed of four major groups: Hoklos, Hakkas, mainlanders and aborigines. About 70% of the population are Hoklo - descendants of southern Chinese who migrated to Taiwan four or five hundred years ago. The feelings that this group has towards China are ambivalent, sometimes hostile. Another 10% are Hakkas, who arrived from the mainland about three or four hundred years ago. Roughly 20% are "mainlanders" - immigrants from China (or their descendants) who arrived in Taiwan after the KMT was defeated on the mainland. And finally, about 2% are aborigines related to Pacific Islanders. Numerically, economically and politically, aborigines are the least influential of the four groups.
With that explained, it is now possible to view the February 28 Massacre through two different lenses. On the one hand, it can be seen as a political conflict between the KMT party and the native Taiwanese. But on the other, it can be interpreted as an ethnic conflict between Hoklos and mainlanders.
The dangerous thing about thinking about 228 as an ethnic conflict is that doing so threatens to create rancor among ethnic groups, and may make future inter-ethnic conflict more likely. That of course is in no ones interest, least of all minority mainlanders. Wide-scale bitterness towards a political party can always be remedied by closing up shop or by the party renaming itself, which is what communist parties in the Eastern Bloc did after 1989. But your ethnicity is your ethnicity until the day you die. Hence The China Post's perfectly valid desire, as a mainlander paper, to ease hostility towards mainlanders.
Of course, The China Post is both a KMT AND a mainlander paper, so the analyses in BOTH this post and the previous post are partly true. My chief objection to The China Post's editorial was its suggestion that the Taiwanese should not only bury the hatchet, but sweep all their questions under the rug as well. It seems to me that if I were a mainlander, I wouldn't want people to stop asking questions about the 228 Massacre. Instead, I would want to do all that I could to direct the blame away from mainlanders per se and onto the KMT of old, along with its former leader, now long dead.
But because The China Post is also a KMT newspaper, this is something we will never see.
It's not just a date in Taiwan, but a national holiday. The day commemorates the 1947 massacre of 27,000 Taiwanese by KMT troops from China, which followed a failed revolt instigated by the KMT's rapacious occupational policies. It's always an uncomfortable time for the capitulationist KMT party, which still wields considerable influence in Taiwan and indeed holds a majority in the Taiwanese legislature.
Interesting then, how the English-language pro-KMT China Post tries to paper over the massacre:
As a matter of fact, it is not important to find out the chief culprit. He may be Gen. Chen Yi, the administrator-general of Taiwan from 1945 to 1947. He may be Keh Ching-en, Chen's chief of staff. He may be Maj. Gen. Liu Yu-ching, the commander of an infantry division sent to Taiwan from China to "suppress" what was considered a rebellion. He may be Chiang Kai-shek, the head of state, as [a new] special report charges. The fact is that they are all dead, and it's of no practical use to blame any of them, unless the writers of the [latest] report and the man who commissioned it had some ulterior motive.
Just who exactly does the China Post think they're kidding? Of course it matters whether Chiang Kai Shek, former dictator of Taiwan, was responsible for the February 28 Massacre. It matters a great deal whether Chiang Kai Shek was a decent leader who simply made an error in judgement in appointing a bad governor to administer Taiwan, or whether he was chief architect of an atrocity. If the former is true, then he deserves our sympathy. If the latter, his portrait should immediately be removed from Taiwan's currency, public schools and government offices. Mass murderers do not merit statues in public places, nor should roads or buildings be named in their honor. There is no Adolf Hitler International Airport in Germany, for obvious reasons. (And let me be clear: Chiang Kai Shek was no Hitler, but 27,000 people winding up murdered isn't small potatoes, either.) If the Generalissimo was behind the massacre, then I can't for the life of me see why there should still be a Chiang Kai Shek International Airport.
The China Post's editorial goes on:
The [new] report is supposed to be a result of historical research. The writers are all historians, one of whom heads the Academia Historica. It seems that they forget what history is. History is understanding. History is a dialogue between the past and the present. History does not pass judgment. History is what notable events historians record just as Leopold von Ranke says "wie eigentlich gewesen (as is truly seen)."
What blather is this? "History does not pass judgement"? Of course it does! It's history's job to tell us who's responsible for what. What did Nixon know, and when did he know it? Some historian somewhere positively SALIVATES over the possibility that he'll be the one who finds the memo that definitively answers that question. Regarding the matter of World War I, historians initially assigned the lion's share of the blame to the Central Powers. Twenty or thirty years later, revisionist historians found evidence that the war wasn't caused by evil intent, but by a series of misunderstandings and tragic blunders. And about twenty years after that, the counter-revisionists found new evidence that once more pointed to prior German militarism as the war's prime motivator.
And so it goes. Future evidence will be found to strengthen the claims of one side or another, for the study of history never ends. But the China Post's point that history is "a dialogue between past and present" eludes me. Yes, history can speak to me, at least in a metaphorical sense. And yes, people of today can ask questions about the past that perhaps never occurred to those who came before us. But precisely how does claiming that history is a dialogue between past and present invalidate the latest study regarding Chiang Kai Shek's culpability?
If anything, this claim is an unintended DEFENSE of the motives of the authors of the study. For it is THEY who are engaged in dialogue with the past, asking tough questions - questions that were forbidden during the dark days under dictatorship.
There is then the obligatory attack on Taiwanese President Chen Shway-bian:
President Chen Shui-bian spoke at a meeting to mark the publication of the special report. He cited Chiang Kai-shek as the chief culprit. Is he one of those few people wishing to know who masterminded the massacre? Is it part of his hate-China campaign?
First, the China Post implies that few Taiwanese are interested in knowing the truth regarding the massacre. I have no reason to know whether this is true or not. But even if it is, how does it invalidate the question? Discovery of the truth, like discovery in general, is always pioneered by the few. Galileo was one of "those few wishing to know" about the heliocentric solar system. Why should scorn be heaped upon Galileo for wanting to know what most others were too busy or uninterested in learning?
The statement about Chen hating China is one of the reasons why I've avoided using the term, "pro-China" to describe the KMT and its political allies. For if one faction is pro-, then it's natural for most to assume that the other side must be anti-. At that point, it's too easy to characterize the "anti-China" parties as haters.
But seekers of Taiwanese independence are not necessarily China haters, any more so than young adults moving away from home are haters of their parents. It's possible to like China (or ones parents) without wanting to live under the same roof as them.
The China Post feels that the next point is important, for it's mentioned in Joe Hung's column as well:
The people of Taiwan are not hateful people. Nor are they vengeful people. They know hatred makes everybody unhappy.
It's indeed proper to point out that the Taiwanese people have not been hateful or vengeful, and have not visited revenge upon Chiang Kai Shek's descendants. For Taiwan's former dictator has been dead many years, and whatever his responsibility for the 228 Massacre was, his grandchildren are blameless of the crime.*
But the implication here is not that the Taiwanese should be congratulated for the extraordinary decency they've shown to the Chiang family, but that those asking questions should be condemned for bringing up painful periods of history. Let sleeping dogs lie; don't threaten the peace of Taiwan. Murderers of 27,000 people mustn't be blamed, for blame is something to be reserved for those who ENQUIRE about the guilt or innocence of historical figures.
Finally, the China Post closes with a plea for forgiveness:
In fact, they believe the feud between islanders and mainlanders that the February 28 Incident begot was disarmed when President Lee Teng-hui proclaimed Peace Memorial Day in 1998. He apologized for the massacre on behalf of his Kuomintang government.
The massacre should not be condoned, but what is needed is forgiveness, which does not seem to be included in the dictionary of President Chen and those who wanted to publish the special report.
A few points here. As a pro-KMT paper, it's in the China Post's interest to argue in favor of forgiveness for the KMT. Let's face it: it's a tough job politically to get people's votes after you've massacred their grandparents. People don't usually forget little things like that.
This doesn't mean that the China Post is necessarily wrong in asking people to move on; it just means that they're not a disinterested party in the discussion. At the same time though, one should note that the China Post has no trouble demanding additional Japanese apologies for World War II, yet reflexively shrinks from calling for KMT apologies for the 228 Massacre. Former KMT leader Lee Teng-hui (whom the China Post openly despises) apologized ONCE they say, and that ought to be good enough for everybody**.
One last point, a point about forgiveness. Christians might read and be sympathetic to the China Post's calls for forgiveness, because it's what their religion instructs them to do. Sometimes I get the sense that in America this is given a bit too freely, as illustrated by the parents of a school shooting victim I once saw on TV, who tearfully stated in front of the camera that they didn't hate the perpetrator, and that they forgave him.
That interview was conducted on the same day their son was murdered.
The same freakin' day. I'm sorry, that's not godly; that's downright creepy.
I've since become slightly familiar with the Jewish attitude towards forgiveness, which is a little more grudging than that of Christians. Jews too, believe that forgiveness is an imperative, but that the perpetrator must first apologize, and then promise not to repeat the transgression. Only then, can they ask forgiveness from the victim. At that point, only the victim - not his friends, not his family, not even God Himself - can grant that forgiveness.
It logically follows from this that murder is perhaps the one truly unforgivable sin.
It is unforgivable because only the victim can grant forgiveness. But once murdered, the victim is NO LONGER ALIVE to offer that forgiveness.
Agree with that approach or not, it's something to think about the next time some huckster comes by opportunistically demanding from you forgiveness on the cheap.
* The Chiang family may be blameless for the crimes of Chiang Kai Shek, but they are not above using the force of the law to bludgeon those who would learn the truth. The editorial also states that John Chiang has mounted a lawsuit against academics who would dare to look at the historical record and suggest that his grandfather may have fallen somewhere short of sainthood. Perhaps Mr. Chiang should be reminded that the study of history should be conducted using reason, research and argumentation, rather than bailiffs, judges and 154 million dollar libel suits.
** This brings to mind a Finnish joke I once read in Ann Landers or Dear Abby. A woman asks her husband of twenty years why he never says, "I love you." The man replies, "I told you that the day we were married. Why should I have to repeat myself?"
UPDATE (Mar 4/06): The Taipei Times had an account the February 28 commemmoration, along with KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou's appearance at same:
Ma, who spoke in broken Hoklo, was heckled by the audience...
He spoke in Hoklo (the native Taiwanese language), rather than Mandarin? Wonder how his Hoklo compares to the pandas?
OK, cheap shot. Anyways, the hecklers called the capitulationist chairman a "slave of China", and shouted, "Long live the Republic of Taiwan."
As Rodney Dangerfield used to say, "Tough crowd, tough crowd."
Anyone out there interested in the political wrangling over a flood prevention bill here in Taiwan?
No, didn't think so.
Since it's such a slow news day, I thought I would feature kind of a sad story about a missed opportunity that was outlined in Sunday's Taipei Times. Back in the early '70s, the Republic of China (Taiwan) still held the seat reserved for "China" on the UN Security Council. It became clear to everyone except the Taiwanese government that the ROC would lose its seat to the People's Republic of China. While there were many who wanted dual UN recognition for the PRC and the ROC, Chiang Kai-Shek was set against it. He was certain that the ROC would be able to cling to its seat.
The rest is history. Taiwan lost that security council seat, and because of the obstinancy of an aged dictator, wasn't even given the consolation prize of a General Assembly seat. For the last 15 years or so, newly-democratic Taiwan has gone to the UN, cap-in-hand, asking for the seat that it could have had in 1971.
Each time, its request is rebuffed. And the chance that it was once given may never come again.