Friday, December 17, 2010

Reaching a Consensus on Our Nation's History

Reaching a Consensus on Our Nation's History
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
December 17, 2010

Lin Man-hung was until recently, Curator of the Academia Historica. She suddenly resigned over an online voting controversy at the museum's official website. By resigning, she proudly displayed an historian's true colors. Lin Man-hung probably still doesn't understand what she did wrong. But apparently an historian who is unwilling to tell a lie, cannot remain on as Curator of the Academia Historica, Her resignation has brought the controversy to a close. Perhaps the incident will help ensure a correct understanding of the history of the Republic of China. Perhaps it will help establish a more meaningful national consensus.

The facts are irrefutable. The Republic of China has been in existence for a hundred years. Over a third of that the time its activities centered on the mainland. During the remaining 62 years, they centered on Taiwan. They changed with the political winds. Amidst controversy over reunification vs. independence, and conflict between Blue and Green, the "Republic of China on Taiwan" has become a rare point of agreement for the public on Taiwan. But from an historical perspective, the first 38 years of the Republic of China cannot be eradicated with the stroke of a pen. As historians record the events of the past one hundred years, can they ignore Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek? Can they ignore Mao Zedong, who nearly caused the Republic of China's downfall? Can they ignore Wang Jingwei, who established a pro-Japanese puppet government? For that matter, can they ignore Yuan Shi-kai, who crowned himself emperor? Can they ignore the warlords, Wu Pei-fu and Feng Yu-hsiang of the "八方風雨會中州?" They cannot, any more than German historians can ignore Adolf Hitler.

The Republic of China has endured for 100 years. As the authority entrusted with compiling the nation's history, the importance of the Academia Historica is self-evident. It could take on any number of tasks. It could write a history of Mao Zedong, warts and all. But the Academia Historica is not Wikipedia, It need not draw premature conclusions. It need not lay down the law. In the past, those in power wrote their predecessors' histories. They defined their predecessors' historical legacy. They also defined their own historical legacy, A century later, the history of the Qing Dynasty is still incomplete. Online voting is not what the Academia Historica should be doing.

The recent online poll provoked controversy because under "military affairs," Deng Xiaoping was ranked number one. Professionally speaking, this was not quite accurate. Deng is indeed a major historical figure. He was twice named Time Magazine's Person of the Year. But his legacy concerned the liberalization and reform of the People's Republic of China. It did not concern the Republic of China. He may have played a role in the famous Battle of the Dabie Mountains. But he was not yet one of the top ten marshals of the Red Army.

Lin Man-hung's original field was Taiwan's economic history. When former Vice President Annette Lu declared that Taiwan's status remained undetermined, Lin Man-hung forcefully articulated a comprehensive view of history. She made clear that the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty had clearly determined Taiwan's status. Her work was appreciated by President Ma Ying-jeou, and she assumed the curatorship of the Academia Historica. But apparently the "民國百人" online voting feature was handled a little too carelessly.

When she was questioned in the Legislative Yuan, she frankly declared that she "had no prior knowledge." Legislators unexpectedly pulled out official documents she had personally signed. They denounced her as a liar, and threatened to have the Control Yuan impeach her. Those who know Lin Man-hung know how difficult is for her to tell a lie. Lin Man-hung said she heard the personnel in charge of the online voting activity say that among the key figures listed were Teresa Teng and others. As a result, she approved it. This is probably the truth. Back in the days when the two sides of the Taiwan Strait were at loggerheads with each other, Teresa Teng's songs were the first to break through the Bamboo Curtain. That process is still ongoing. Who could possibly disagree?

History is a serious matter. It may be commemorated by the government or by private citizens. Either way, it can quietly see us through difficult times. The Republic of China is Asia's first democracy. Its glorious past includes all too much pain. Political interference on Taiwan remains rampant. Political leaders have paid scant attention to the significance of the Republic of China's centennial. Less than a year remains. Government agencies have promoted all sorts of activities. The Academia Historica came up with the idea of an online voting feature, perhaps out of expediency. It never realized it had taken on a burden weightier than any other governmental or private entity.

But expedient solutions require expedient techniques. Take for example the commemoration of historic dates and historic individuals. Choose an historic figure for each year. Ask 100 historians to compile a "民國百人" chronicle. For example, in the first year of the Republic of China, the historic figure would be Sun Yat-sen. In the 11th year of the Republic, it would be Hu Shi, who promoted the use of vernacular Chinese. In the 38th year of the Republic, it would be Mao Zedong, who ended Republic of China rule on the Mainland. In the 46th year of the Repubic, it would be Yang Cheng-ning and Lee Tseng-dao, the first ethnic Chinese to win the Nobel Prize, In the 62nd year of the Republic, it would be Lin Hwai-min, who founded the Cloud Gate dance theater. In the 68th year of the Republic, it would be Shih Ming-teh, who provoked the Formosa Incident. In the 77th year of the Republic, it would be Lee Teng-hui, who was the Republic of China's first directly elected president. In the 80th year of the Republic, it would be Master Cheng Yen, who received the Maigesesai Award for global disaster relief. In the 99th year of the Republic, it would be Chen Shui-bian, who became the first president of the Republic of China sentenced to prison. What need is there for online voting?

Lin Man-hung has resigned and returned to the study of history. She continues to tell the truth. Her efforts deserve recognition. Her successor should keep in mind the lessons of this incident. Chinese dynasties that have lasted longer than a century are rare. The public will vote according to its whims. But the Academia Historica is a guardian of history. When it promotes its "民國百人" activity, it must be clear about what it is doing. It must not be merely a fireworks display. It must carefully trace the path of history. It must draw lessons from history. It must spur future developments. It must concentrate a nation's will for the coming century.

2010-12-17 中國時報










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