Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Underneath the Cheesy Grin

By David G. Young

Bangkok, October 19, 2017 --  

Taiwan's struggle to come to terms with Chiang Kai Shek has a long way to go.

Focus on the cheesy grin that looks down upon visitors from an immense seated bronze statue, and you'd see no hint of the dominance and brutality wielded of the man it honors.  But walk further and hints quickly emerge: the chrome-helmeted honor guard, the cavernous "memorial hall" underneath the statue, the artifacts of his life including his stylish 1970s limousine and portraits with world leaders, the thousands of gawking pilgrims and tourists in the immense formal gardens that surround.

He sure looks friendly
Photo © 2017 David G. Young

If you learned everything you knew  about  China's Nationalist Government from the Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, you'd come away with a pretty warped view of the Chinese Civil War and it's aftermath.

Exhibits give a  glowing recollection of Generalissimo Chian Kai Shek as a heroic wartime leader and ally of America that saved China from the invading Japanese.  This mostly matches the Western narrative.  But then things take an ugly turn.

One exhibit blames America's General George Marshall for refusing to let the Generalissimo finish off Mao Tse Tung's communists when he still could.  (Apparently it's really America's fault, not Chiang's, that China fell to the communists.) Then the telling of Chiang's arrival on Taiwan is made to sound like a welcome heroic homecoming rather than a humiliating retreat.  There is no mention of the uprising against his military rule, the brutal crackdown killing thousands of opponents, and the decades of one party Kuomintang rule that followed.  

Instead visitors are treated to portraits of the Generalissimo with leaders of dozens of world nations  in the mid-20th century.  Captions do not mention that one by one, each of these countries abandoned the Kuomintang (KMT) and recognized the communist government in Beijing as China's legitimate government.

The KMT no longer runs Taiwan. A decade after the Generalissimo died in 1975, the country began democratic reforms and  the opposition democrats first one the presidency in 2000, then again in 2016 after a interim period of KMT leadership. 

During the first period of opposition rule, statues of the Generalissimo were removed from public squares, much like statues of Lenin were from towns in the Soviet Union after the end of communism.   But just as in Russia, not all of the relics were discarded.  In Moscow's Red Square, Lenin's tomb continues to display the pickled body of Lenin as if communism never fell.  

The Chang-Kai Shek memorial hall may not have a pickled body of the Generalissimo, but is has a  trove of disinformation about the latter years of China's wartime hero.  Chang Kai Shek failed to protect China from a communist takeover then further fouled his reputation through brutal rule over his Taiwanese fiefdom.

History and moments must remember him as a major figure of the 20th century.  But that doesn't mean keeping a huge bronze statue look down on his former subjects with a cheesy grin, while spreading disinformation to visitors about his years in power.

Taiwan's new government must find a way to renovate the memorial hall so it describes the historical man, and not the ridiculous caricature currently depicted.