Proposal to remove Chiang Kai-shek statue from Taiwan sparks controversy

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A cabinet-level commission in Taiwan has proposed removing a giant statue of its former president Chiang Kai-shek – the centerpiece of a memorial hall in Taipei dedicated to the military leader, who served as the island’s president from 1949 until ‘upon his death in 1975.

But the proposal, which is part of the commission’s larger plan to convert the memorial into a reflection of Taiwan’s authoritarian past, has met with mixed reactions.

Chiang’s legacy

Chen Yu-fan, commissioner at Taiwan’s Cabinet-level Transitional Justice Commission, said his commission viewed the removal of the statue as an effort to erase Chiang’s legacy and lose opportunities to learn from him. history of the country. Taiwan has gone from a dictatorship to one of Asia’s most dynamic democracies in seven decades, Chen told VOA.

Chiang’s supporters see him as a strong leader who led Taiwan to repel invading Communist forces and initiate land reforms in Taiwan during his reign.

Critics, however, disagree. They point out that Chiang was accused of ordering the execution of over 18,000 civilians in 1947 during what is known as the island’s “white terror” period. The commission was created in 2018 to right the wrongs of the island’s authoritarian era. He aims to submit his transformation plan, including the removal of the statue, to the cabinet for approval in May next year, according to Chen.

“Chiang was recognized as an authoritarian leader, who built a one-party state and committed numerous human rights violations, including his act of judicial interventions to persecute political dissidents,” Chen said.

“We do not believe that the government should continue to devote national resources on such a large scale to worshiping such an autocrat – a gesture unprecedented in any modern democracy,” she added.

The 6.3-meter-tall bronze statue is the island’s largest symbol of authoritarianism, according to the commission.

Taiwan Tchang Kaï-shek

Compared to the Taliban

But the Chinese Nationalist Party, an opposition party commonly known as Kuomintang (KMT), rejected the initiative, saying it would destroy cultural heritage. The plan to remove the statue, they said, is similar to the time when the Taliban blew up giant Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan in 2001.

Angel Hung, a spokesperson for the KMT, said the proposal widens a wedge between members of Taiwanese society.

“Removing the statue will simply not bring reconciliation. And preserving the statue doesn’t actually imply recognition of the past, ”Hung told VOA. “So dividing society again is what the removal would mean.”

Chiang was viewed by many KMT supporters as a strong leader who led as Taiwan defended itself against invading Communists. After losing a civil war against the Communists in mainland China in 1949, Chiang led his troops to Taiwan and established a rival government where he imposed decades of martial law.

“Derision of democracy”

Chilly Chen, the president of the Republic of Taiwan, an independence group in Taiwan, however rejected the glorification of Chiang by the KMT. He said Chiang was responsible for the atrocities.

“Chiang Kai-shek was a murderer. He was a killer. He was also a butcher, ”Chen said, describing the military leader. “Tens of thousands of people [were] killed by him, including Chinese and Taiwanese. And this huge statue here makes [a] mockery of Taiwan’s democracy, which claims to honor freedoms, human rights and the rule of law.

Over the past few years, Chen had repeatedly thrown eggs at Chiang’s statue or splashed paint on the statues to express the group’s point of view.

Chen is not the only one demanding the removal of the statue. The families of more than 18,000 victims of a 1947 massacre led by Chiang see the statue as a painful reminder.

“Some victims remain alive, but they are very old. I hope they will live to see that our society is finally ready to right injustice. Let’s not wait until it’s too late for them to pass away with regret, ”Taipei City Council member Yvon Lin told Reuters.

Loss of tourism

Despite growing calls for transitional justice, the general Taiwanese public seems indifferent to the commission’s transformation proposal.

Others fear that the removal of the statue could lead to a loss of tourism income. An online poll conducted by a local media further revealed a high disapproval rate of 92%.

“For me, this is not a symbol of authoritarianism. I see him [Chiang Kai-shek] as the first leader who brought the [Chinese] culture completed. It is not about worshiping authority, but our collective memory, ”Mr. Liu, a visitor to the memorial, told VOA.

“I think [tourism] will be negatively impacted. Many tourists have come here to see the statue, ”Ms. Chang, another visitor to the memorial, also told VOA.

‘Good thing to do’

But some historians say the pullout will show how firmly established democratic values ​​are in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s move parallels the removal of authoritarian symbols in modern democracies, including Confederate statues in the United States, said Lee Hsiao-feng, honorary professor at Taipei National University of Education in Taipei.

“This is absolutely the right thing to do. But I suggest not to abandon the statue. Move it to Chiang’s Statues Park in Cihu (near his mausoleum in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan) because this statue is historical evidence that speaks to the days of a dictator, ”Lee told VOA by telephone.

More than 200 Chiang statues have been moved to this park by Lake Cihu, which has become a major tourist draw, especially for Chinese visitors.

But official statistics show that there are more than 1,100 Chiang statues left in public places around Taiwan.

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