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Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall to face 'transitional justice'

2017/02/25 18:11:34

Taipei, Feb. 25 (CNA) Culture Minister Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) on Saturday announced a series of measures to push for transitional justice, including transforming the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, as Taiwan prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the 228 Incident.

Cheng said the previous practice of playing a song in memory of the late president at the opening and closing of the hall was stopped on Feb. 23.

The ministry also stopped the sale of commodities such as figurines and stationery associated with the authoritarian ruler on Feb. 10.

Many believe Chiang was behind the government's crackdown on the local population related to the 228 Incident that, according to a previous investigation commissioned by the Cabinet, left 18,000 to 28,000 people dead.

The incident was triggered by a bloody clash between government officials and an illegal cigarette vendor in Taipei on Feb. 27, 1947.

The event quickly turned into an anti-government uprising and was put down by the Kuomintang (KMT) government, which at the time was still based in China.

Chiang also had thousands of Taiwanese arrested or killed for political reasons during the "White Terror" era in the decades after he took power in Taiwan in 1949, when the KMT fell to defeat in China's civil war and retreated to the island.

Cheng argued that the hall was built during a period of authoritarian rule to commemorate an authoritarian ruler and that it needed to be transformed in the pursuit of historical truths.

To that end, the ministry has invited scholars and experts to form a panel to guide the transition of the hall that opened to the public in 1980 and occupies a 250,000-square-meter area in Taipei's affluent Zhongzheng District, she said.

Cheng hoped proposed revisions of the hall's organic law can be drafted within six months, and said a possible name change, the hall's honor guards and public displays and whether or not to remove the statues of the late president "could all be discussed."

Before the law is revised, the hall will be returned to a more or less a neutral state, Cheng said, with the gallery, the exhibition rooms and performing hall giving priority to artistic and literary activities.

The items on display that do not belong to the memorial hall will be returned to Academia Historica (國史館) and other agencies, she said.

Cheng noted that many people perished during the 228 Incident and the ensuing white terror era, and in the past, the government focused on "apologies and compensation."

But she said the pursuit of transitional justice will "push for reconciliation and regaining public trust," which she said should shed light on the perpetrators of the 228 Incident and rehabilitate the victims' names and reputations.

Cheng's announcement drew criticism from the opposition Kuomintang.

KMT Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) said to stop playing the song in memory of the late president was "unwise" and could incite social rivalries, hatreds and division.

KMT Vice Chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) described the move as ideologically driven and "very inappropriate."

Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安), a KMT legislator and great grandson of the late president, said he supported presenting both the late president's merits and faults.

"If the current government only dwells on his faults, what's the difference between this government and the authoritarian one," Chiang asked.

Faced with the criticism, Cheng said that pushing for transitional justice was not a bid to "remove the last vestiges of Chiang."

"On the contrary, we want to face up to his legacy," Cheng said.

Cheng said the push for transitional justice should not be oversimplified, because it is a historical fact that Chiang was the president of the Republic of China (1948-1949 and 1950-1975).

Promoting changes to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall should also not be seen as simply "removing vestiges of Chiang" and or as being related to national identity, she said, describing the move instead as "facing history, addressing the wounds and respecting human rights."

Each year as Feb. 28 approaches, there are reports of vandalism of statues of the late president, and this year was no exception.

Apple Daily, a local tabloid, reported that cases of vandalism have occurred since Free Taiwan Party Chairman Tsai Ting-kuey (蔡丁貴) launched a drive for people to rally at the hall's Liberty Square on Feb. 28 to take part in an activity to oppose authoritarian symbols and topple Chiang statues.

A Chiang statue at the entrance of Academia Sinica, Taiwan's leading research institution, was vandalized Saturday morning.

The cement pedestal of the statue was sprayed in red paint with the words, "Culprit of the 228 Incident. Go to hell."

Similar acts of vandalism were reported at a park in Taipei's Daan District and at National Chengchi University early this week.

(By Sabine Cheng, Hsieh Chia-chen and Lilian Wu)
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