Taiwan acts to purge authoritarian past

Statues of late nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek at a park in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan. Tributes to him will be removed after lawmakers voted for the mandatory axing of symbols of its authoritarian past.
Statues of late nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek at a park in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan. Tributes to him will be removed after lawmakers voted for the mandatory axing of symbols of its authoritarian past.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Under new law, signs and symbols related to Chiang Kai-shek era to be removed, renamed

TAIPEI • Tributes to Taiwan's former dictator Chiang Kai-shek will be removed across the island after lawmakers voted in favour of the mandatory axing of symbols of its authoritarian past.

The so-called "transitional justice" Bill, which was passed late Tuesday , means that streets and schools will be renamed and statues taken down. It also paves the way for a full investigation into Chiang's White Terror - a purge of his political opponents between 1947 and his death in 1975.

Campaigners have long called for the names of unjustly jailed or executed victims to be cleared and perpetrators exposed. The Bill said that authoritarian rule should be "stripped of legitimacy" as it violated freedom and democracy.

"For this purpose, institutions, schools, public buildings and spaces should be prohibited from displaying any commemorative symbols of authoritarian rule," it said. "Related symbols and signs should also be removed, renamed, or otherwise disposed of."

President Tsai Ing-wen is expected to ratify the Bill within the next two weeks.

Public statues of Chiang are regularly attacked and hundreds now lie discarded in the grounds of his mausoleum outside Taipei.

Since Ms Tsai's opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took the leadership and a majority in parliament from the Kuomintang (KMT) in elections last year, it has targeted Chiang's legacy.

Earlier this year, it announced a hall in memory of the dictator - one of Taipei's most recognisable landmarks - would stop selling souvenirs depicting him, while references to him would be removed from its galleries.

That move came on the 70th anniversary of a 1947 massacre which is estimated to have killed 28,000 people and was the prelude to the White Terror crackdown.

Chiang's public profile was also steadily eroded when the DPP first ruled the island from 2000 to 2008, including the renaming of the island's main airport and his image being scrapped from bank notes.

The new Bill is the first time removal of authoritarian symbols has been made compulsory.

Chiang fled to Taiwan and ruled the island under martial law after his nationalist KMT troops lost a civil war in 1949 to the Communists on the mainland.

Although still revered by some as a hero for taking on Communist forces and fighting the Japanese during World War II, others see him as a stain on the history of the now fully fledged democracy.

As part of the Bill, parties must declare all political files they have dating between 1945 and 1992 and could be ordered to hand them over to national archives.

The DPP described the Bill as a "bridge of reconciliation". But the KMT blasted the Bill as unconstitutional, saying it gave the DPP an excuse to meddle in the judicial system.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan acts to purge authoritarian past'. Print Edition | Subscribe