Is Taiwan Ready to Kick the Generalissimo, Again?

Is Taiwan Ready to Kick the Generalissimo, Again?
REUTERS/Richard Chung

What you need to know

Students at a Taipei university think it is time Taiwan stops honoring an authoritarian dictator.

Founded in Nanjing, China, in 1927, National Chengchi University has long been associated with the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT). The university was established in part to train KMT officials in the art of diplomacy, and international relations. The university relocated to its current location in Muzha, Taipei, in 1954 to meet the needs of Taiwan’s newly formed civil service and the growing demands of higher education in post-war Taiwan. The school’s history and affiliation to the KMT make it synonymous with Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) - Taiwan’s former President who was president of the institution from its establishment in 1927 until 1947. More than 40 years after his death, his legacy in the institution lives on, but for how long?

Two statues of the former dictator rise high over students at two prominent locations in the university’s beautiful, sprawling campus. At the back entrance, near the student dormitories lies an imposing and towering statue of the Generalissimo in his army robes atop his favorite horse. The university’s main library - named the Chiang Kai Shek Library in Chinese - is also home to another statue of the former leader, this time in a seated position, adopting a more scholarly approach seemingly watching over students as they drift past into the library with barely a glance in his direction.

A recent movement by campus protesters, along with the defacing of the statues on an almost annual basis has led campus administrators and management to reconsider the very presence of the statues on campus. A committee consisting of 120 - students (10%), administrative staff (5%), and faculty members (85%) - has been formed to have the final say on the fate of the statues and is expected to vote in favor of removing them from campus.

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SOURCE: https://www.facebook.com/NCCUWildFire/photos
One of the statues of Chiang Kai-shek at NCCU after recieving the treatment from students.

Furthermore, according to National Chengchi University Graduate Student Association president Hsu Tze Wei (徐子為), the majority of students are firmly in favor of removing the statues, citing worries that affiliation with NCCU unfairly paints the student body politically blue. “[Amongst the student body]...more agree than oppose” he told The News Lens.

Even though the more conservative, deep-blue elements of the school’s faculty oppose removing the statues, there is growing sentiment on campus to dispel the statues once and for all. “It’s a symbol of authority and authoritarianism” added Hsu. Aside from seeking politically neutrality on campus, students have also pointed out that the statue must be removed in order promote the values of democracy, and transitional justice. Chiang’s role in the 228 Incident and the White Terror which followed, make the presence of the statues particularly uncomfortable for the families of the victims who study or work at the university. Only last year, the statue in the university’s main library was covered in leaflets naming all of the victims of the the 228 Incident in which thousands of Taiwanese were killed by government troops.

By 2000, there were thought to be 43,000 statues of Chiang scattered all over Taiwan. In contrast, a 2008 report by China’s Global Times estimated that there are thought to only be 180 outdoor statues of Chiang’s civil war nemesis, Mao Zedong. Throughout the 2000’s statues of Chiang started to topple due in part to a rise in Taiwanese nationalism and a decline in the KMT’s fortunes which culminated in the election of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who further watered-down Chiang’s legacy on Taiwan’s public space by renaming the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall; the decision was reversed by the next KMT-led government. Under Chen’s presidency a number of high-profile removals received considerable press coverage, however, thousands remained untouched in parks, military installations, airports, and schools.

Recent years have seen a series of protests aimed at Chiang Kai-shek statues across the country. In 2015, on the 68th anniversary of the 228 Incident a statue in Keelung was decapitated, and another in Taichung doused in red paint with the words “killer,” and “villain” spray-painted on it.

There is a feeling amongst students that if the statues at National Chengchi University were to be removed it could be the catalyst for more to follow in prominent places.

[The removal would be] “symbolic because NCCU is the party school, if NCCU is the one to remove the statues, it sends a message to others,” stated Hsu.

And if they were to remain?

“At least the debate surrounding the statues lets others understand we have walked through an authoritarian state to a democratic state.”

Attempts to seek comment from the KMT on this story were unsuccessful.

Editor: Edward White