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FEATURE/77 years after 228, quest for transitional justice goes on

02/26/2024 03:51 PM
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Members of civic groups march on the streets of Taipei to demand that the government step up its efforts to push for transitional justice on Feb. 24. CNA photo Feb. 26, 2024
Members of civic groups march on the streets of Taipei to demand that the government step up its efforts to push for transitional justice on Feb. 24. CNA photo Feb. 26, 2024

By Sean Lin, CNA staff reporter

Members of civic groups took to the streets to call on the government to step up its efforts to bring transitional justice days before the 77th anniversary of the 228 Incident.

Among their appeals, none resonated more powerfully with families of victims than a call to remove a towering statue of Chiang Kai-shek that has sat in downtown Taipei for over four decades.

In an interview with CNA, Peter Pan (潘信行), whose father was executed by the then-Kuomintang (KMT) government during the incident, said efforts to achieve transitional justice by Taiwan's current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government are still lacking.

The 228 Incident was an anti-KMT government uprising in 1947 that resulted in a brutal crackdown, which left tens of thousands of people, many of them Taiwanese intellectuals and elites, dead or imprisoned.

Pan's father, Pan Mu-chih (潘木枝), conducted negotiations with KMT troops on behalf of Chiayi's 228 Settlement Committee.

However, the city councilor was detained during the talks and executed in front of Chiayi Railway Station on March 25, 1947.

Peter Pan, son of 228 victim Pan Mu-chih. CNA photo Feb. 26, 2024
Peter Pan, son of 228 victim Pan Mu-chih. CNA photo Feb. 26, 2024

"All evidence indicates that Chiang Kai-shek was responsible for 228, but his giant statue is still housed in a memorial hall - that's just rubbing it in for us family members," said Pan.

According to Pan, allowing the statue and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall to remain means that the DPP has "only done half a good deed."

Citing Spain's exhumation of dictator Francisco Franco's remains from the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) state mausoleum in 2019 following a vote by the country's Congress of Deputies, Pan said Taiwan should approach the matter of Chiang's statue through legislation.

As for the memorial hall, Pan said it should be renamed and given back to the people, who funded its construction with their tax payments.

Lin Li-tsai (林黎彩), whose father Lin Chieh (林界) was also executed during the 228 incident, said that as long as Chiang's statue remains, "there will never be transitional justice."

Lin Li-tsai, daughter of 228 victim Lin Chieh
Lin Li-tsai, daughter of 228 victim Lin Chieh

Lin said removing the Chiang statue at the memorial hall would be the "most meaningful thing" the government could do for the families of 228 victims.

"That, to me, would redress 228," she said.

A delicate matter

Wu Rwei-ren (吳叡人), an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica, however, emphasized that transitional justice was a delicate matter that must be handled carefully.

"Transitional justice has often played out as one part of society harming another no matter which society you are looking at," he said.

People are divided over Chiang's legacy, and people who hold favorable opinions about it should also be respected, Wu said.

When the KMT fled to Taiwan from China, it brought with it many Chinese, who later came to be known as "waishengren" or "mainlanders," he said.

"So, there are different groups involved in transitional justice, meaning conflict, friction, and differences are bound to arise," he said.

As with many historical figures, Chiang had his contributions and faults and therefore showed duality, he said.

"Did Chiang send troops, impose martial law, and implement a reign of terror? Of course, these are generally accepted facts," he said.

"But at the same time, some credit him with safeguarding Taiwan during the Cold War and, with the help of the United States, managing to keep Chinese Communist Party forces at bay," he said.

"If you still count those who hold different views from you as your compatriots, then you have to accept or at least understand their sentiments and try to patiently engage in dialogue with them," he said.

Academic Sinica Associate Research Fellow Wu Rwei-ren. CNA photo Feb. 26, 2024
Academic Sinica Associate Research Fellow Wu Rwei-ren. CNA photo Feb. 26, 2024

Wu noted that dialogue between the families of perpetrators and victims would enable the public to be better informed of the facts about 228.

Wu said that the more people know about the incident, the less likely misunderstanding and conflict will arise.

Citing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, he said nationwide broadcasts of discussions between perpetrators and victims, in addition to efforts to establish facts, sparked more discussion.

The weakest link

Wu said more work should be done to expose perpetrators, adding that this was an area that had been the "weakest link" since Taiwan began its quest for transitional justice in the 1990s.

Ordinarily, he said, work to pursue transitional justice is initiated by presidents of pro-democracy camps, as are the cases with South Africa, Germany, and Latin America.

However, in Taiwan, when former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), a member of the "old forces," began taking steps toward transitional justice, he was leading an administration riddled with perpetrators, he said.

"Obviously, he couldn't purge his own troops and special agents, so he went for a compromise measure, to only address the victims by identifying them," Wu said.

As to why after being in power for eight years, the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration has not named more perpetrators or removed the Chiang statue, Wu said many perpetrators of violence during the 228 Incident and the ensuing White Terror have died and cannot be held legally responsible for their actions.

Even so, Wu said, the government should still disclose their names and their wrongdoing, so at the very least there would be "historical justice."

The Chiang statue, meanwhile, is a thorny issue few politicians would tackle, he said.

The statue of Chiang Kai-shek at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is pictured on Feb. 26, 2024. CNA photo Feb. 26, 2024
The statue of Chiang Kai-shek at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is pictured on Feb. 26, 2024. CNA photo Feb. 26, 2024

Progress

After then-Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) approved the dissolution of the Transitional Justice Commission in May 2022, work to promote transitional justice continues at six Cabinet-level agencies under the Transitional Justice Board convened by Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), which meets every six months.

According to the Cabinet, the board is charged with taking appropriate actions against perpetrators, declassifying political files, dealing with authoritarian symbols, as well as redressing injustices by the government or the judiciary against the people and restoring the rights of victims.

On Feb. 28 of this year, more than half of the 4,500 political files held by the government that were listed as permanently classified are set to be released, said Tseng Chien-chun (曾建鈞), a section chief at the Cabinet's Department of Human Rights and Transitional Justice Office.

Legislative amendments passed in December 2023 revoked agencies' right to permanently classify files, with permanently classified files to be released after 30 or 40 years in most circumstances.

DPP lawmakers hailed the amendments as being able to aid efforts to identify perpetrators of injustices from the country's authoritarian past.

Meanwhile, work is being carried out to draw up bills to identify perpetrators in the country's authoritarian era and to ensure the preservation of "historical sites of injustice" - sites where incidents involving mass violations of human rights took place - designated by the Transitional Justice Commission, Tseng told CNA.

As for work to "transform" Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Tseng said that a task force for this task had been created under the board, but that it had only met once, in 2023, since it was launched.

Meanwhile, Tseng said that the Ministry of Culture, tasked with the transformation of the hall, could adopt "interim measures" in the absence of legislative changes.

These include canceling the nine daily "changing of the guards" ceremonies inside the building and ridding the site of symbols idolizing Chiang so that it could be redesigned with concepts of transitional justice, Tseng said.

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