A group calling itself the “Shot for Democracy” (公民攝影守護民主陣線) has claimed responsibility for vandalism of a statue of Taiwan’s former President and authoritarian ruler Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) on the campus of National Chengchi University in Taipei in the early morning hours of Feb. 22.

The equestrian statue of Chiang, which proclaims Chiang Kai-shek the university’s eternal leader, was defaced with red paint and one of Chiang’s horse’s legs was removed with a saw. One student who asked to remain anonymous for this report heard the act from his dormitory: “I heard noises from the dorm at around 1 a.m. … Sounds of machine and things fall down.”

Police on site ushered onlookers away.


Credit: James X. Morris

Police responded to the scene in the early morning of Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.

The incident marks the latest act of vandalism by activists across Taiwan who, in recent years, have sought to take transitional justice into their own hands, expressing displeasure at the government’s slow-rolling process of laws passed to address the issue.

The group, in a Facebook post, have expressed their actions are an effort to bring about greater action on transitional justice issues which they feel have been stalled and obstructed in the central government. To this end, they have sought to remove what they see as a symbol of Taiwan’s authoritarian dictatorship and appeal to the general public.

Included in their their list of objectives, the group seeks to remove all symbols of Taiwan’s dictatorship from the university’s campus, generate greater public review of the dictatorship period, and emphasize the unsustainability of the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, citing shifting attitudes towards independence by the island’s youth and young adults.


Credit: James X. Morris

One of the legs from Chiang's horse was removed with a saw.

Credit: James X. Morris

The statue was defaced with red paint, visible on the horse's right leg.

In its statement, the group believes greater transitional justice and democratic processes are the key to securing Taiwan’s democracy, autonomy, and economic success.

Keeping history in mind, the act is highly symbolic: it targets the last remaining statue of Chiang at one of Taiwan’s most prominent universities six days before the 72nd anniversary of the February 28 Incident.

Also known as the 228 Incident, Feb. 28 marks a solemn date in 1947 when nationalist soldiers in Taiwan put down island-wide riots against the nationalist mismanagement of the island and the heavy-handed policies implemented by Republic of China under the authority of Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) Governor-General Chen Yi.

The 228 Incident left an estimated 20,000 civilians dead, although figures vary, and is generally considered as the opening salvo of the nationalist period of Martial Law and White Terror on the island.

The group also states their aim is to address justice for the victims and families who have survived injustice committed under the White Terror and Martial Law: “We also understand that transformational justice is not just a sawing of bronze statues. The target of review is not only Chiang Kai-shek, but also the authoritarians at that time.”


Credit: James X. Morris

The statue seen hours after the incident on Friday, Feb. 22.

National Chengchi University was established by Chiang Kai-shek as an institution for the education of Kuomintang officers in Nanjing in 1927. The university evacuated to Taiwan following the Kuomintang retreat to Taiwan in 1949 and was reestablished in Taipei.

Symbols of Chiang Kai-shek remaining at public institutions have drawn greater criticism following the end of Taiwan’s 38 years of Martial Law (1949-1987) and democratization (1996). A statue of Chiang Kai-shek was removed from National Chengchi University’s Library two years ago following student protests.

Read Next: OPINION: In Praise of Defacing the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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