Chiang Kai-shek Statue Removal Proposal In Taiwan Sparks Controversy

A cabinet-level commission in Taiwan has proposed removing a giant statue of its former president, Chiang Kai-shek. This statue adorns a monument building dedicated to the military leader, who was Taiwan’s president from 1949 until his death in 1975.

But the proposal, which is part of the commission’s larger plan to turn the monument into a memorial to Taiwan’s authoritarian past, has drawn mixed reactions.

Chen Yu-fan, a commissioner at Taiwan’s Transitional Justice Commission, said his commission views the removal of the statue as an attempt to erase Chiang’s legacy and miss an opportunity to learn from history. Taiwan has gone from being a dictatorship to one of Asia’s most dynamic democracies for more than seven decades, Chen told FLY

Chiang’s supporters regard him as a powerful figure who led Taiwan to face the invasion of Communist forces and initiated agrarian reform in Taiwan during his reign.

But critics disagree. They allege that Chiang was accused of ordering the execution of more than 18,000 civilians in 1947, a period of what has been called the island’s “white terror”. The commission was created in 2018 to correct mistakes in the authoritarian era on the island. The commission’s target is to submit its transformation plan to the cabinet, including the removal of the statue, for approval by May next year, Chen said.

“Chiang is known as an authoritarian leader, who built a one -party state and committed many human rights violations, including interfering with the judicial system to prosecute political dissidents,” Chen said.

“In our opinion, the government should not continue to devote national resources on a large scale to glorifying such a dictator – a move that has never occurred in any modern democracy,” he continued.

The 6.3-meter-tall bronze statue is the largest symbol of the dictatorship in Taiwan, according to the commission.

Taiwanese perform during the Buddha's Birthday celebration in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, Sunday, May 12, 2019. (Photo: AP)

Taiwanese perform during the Buddha’s Birthday celebration in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, Sunday, May 12, 2019. (Photo: AP)

But the Chinese Nationalist Party, the opposition party known as the Kuomintang (KMT), rejected the initiative on the grounds that it would destroy cultural heritage. According to them, the plan to move the statue is similar to the time when the Taliban blew up giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in 2001.

Angel Hung, a spokesman for the KMT, said the proposal created divisions among members of the Taiwanese community. “Removing the statue will not bring about reconciliation. And preserving the statue doesn’t actually mean acknowledging the past,” Hung told FLY “So, getting rid of the statue will again divide society,” he continued.

Chiang is considered by many KMT supporters to be Taiwan’s strong leader when it came to defending itself against the Chinese Communist invasion. After losing a civil war to the Communists in mainland China in 1949, Chiang led his troops into Taiwan and formed a rival government under which he imposed martial law for decades.

Chen is not alone in demanding the removal of the Chiang statue. The families of more than 18,000 victims of the 1947 massacre led by Chiang regard the statue as a painful reminder of the past. [uh/lt]

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