Without Chiang Kai-shek, Wither Lai Ching-teh?
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 26, 2015
Executive Summary: Tainan City Mayor Lai Ching-teh has ordered the demolition of 14 bronze statues of Chiang Kai-shek currently standing in Tainan elementary schools. He has rubbed salt into historic wounds. He has shown that some politicians and members of the public are incapable of viewing historical figures with perspective, tolerance, and reason. Lai Ching-teh would do well to listen to the words of Taipei Mayor Wen-Je Ko. Ko said he would not dismantle the statues of Chiang Kai-shek in Taipei City. He said "Leaving the statues in place does not mean one has surrendered to history, It means one has transcended history. It means one has become one's own master."
Full Text Below:
Tainan City Mayor Lai Ching-teh has ordered the demolition of 14 bronze statues of Chiang Kai-shek currently standing in Tainan elementary schools. He has rubbed salt into historic wounds. He has shown that some politicians and members of the public are incapable of viewing historical figures with perspective, tolerance, and reason.
What were Chiang Kai-shek's merits and demerits? This question involves three levels: the world, China, and Taiwan. At any of these levels, Chiang Kai-shek's merits outweighed his demerits. We would like to ask Lai Ching-teh three questions about these three levels.
First consider the world as a whole. During World War II Chinese troops led by Chiang Kai-shek waged an eight-year long struggle against Japanese invaders. They forced Japan to dispatch and keep nearly one million troops to China. This prevented the Soviet Union from being simultaneously attacked from both east and west. It reduced Japanese pressure on the US in the Pacific Theater. This produced yet another "force multiplier" effect, by enhancing the United States' ability to reinforce Europe. Without Chiang Kai-shek's anti-Japanese leadership, world history might have been rewritten. The winners might well have been the Axis powers, rather than the Allies.
Even at the global level, Chiang Kai-shek has no shortage of detractors. But Chiang Kai-shek's contribution to the Allied victory in World War II has been affirmed by major political figures and historians, not just in Europe and America, but even defeated Japan. All of them recognize Chiang Kai-shek as one of the world's outstanding political leaders. Chiang Kai-shek's diary covered over 40 years of history. Ever since it was made public, his contribution has become even clearer. His contribution in the Chinese Theater during World War II has been widely acknowledged by US scholars. This is the basis for Chiang Kai-shek's historic stature. Is Lai Ching-teh capable of seeing the larger picture?
Now consider China as a whole. Chiang Kai-shek's sworn enemy, Mao Zedong, blasted Chiang Kai-shek as an "autocrat and traitor". But even he acknowledged his historical contribution. In 1971 Mao addressed the Ministry of Information. He said "Chiang Kai-shek had a number of virtues. That is objective fact. We must be careful to acknowledge historical facts. One, he unified China with the Northern Expedition. Two, he won the second Sino-Japanese War. Three, he recovered Taiwan and Penghu. Four, he expanded our territorial waters."
The KMT and the CCP were political rivals. As a result, the Mainland authorities once characterized the KMT as the "Jiang Gang", and "lackeys of US imperialism" in their domestic propaganda and educational material. Following cross-Strait reconciliation and exchanges, the Mainland authorities were more willing to concede the facts of history. In 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the war, General Secretary Hu Jintao told the General Assembly that, "The anti-Japanese forces led by the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party were responsible for frontline and behind the lines battles against Japan". He affirmed Chiang Kai-shek's leadership of the nation's military during the war. In 2011, the Mainland published a "History of China", and praised Chiang, saying that he "did not hesitate to fight a war of resistance against Japan." Many Chiang biographies that chronicle Chiang Kai-shek's achievements have been published on the Mainland and become best-sellers. As we can see, the Mainland has granted Chiang Kai-shek an objective re-evaluation.
Chiang's sworn enemies, Mao Zedong and the Mainland authorities, did their utmost to demonize Chiang Kai-shek. But even they could keeo an open mind and affirm Chiang Kai-shek's historic contributions. Lai Ching-teh grew up under Taiwan's vaunted democracy. Yet witness the reactionary attitude he has adopted toward history. Look at his narrow-mindedness. Look at how reluctant he is to render an objective re-evaluation of Chiang Kai-shek's merits.
Now consider Taiwan. President Ma Ying-jeou recently offered an evaluation of Chiang Kai-shek's three major contributions to Taiwan: Taiwan's retrocession, Taiwan's defense, and Taiwan's development. Let us not list Chiang Kai-shek's high profile, macro level achievements. Let us instead examine one of his micro level "people stories", and see how a single individual would have fared without Chiang Kai-shek. This inspirational story concerns Lai Ching-teh, a miner's son, who became the mayor of a directly administered municipality.
Lai Ching-teh's father died when Lai was still a child. His mother performed odd jobs to raise six children, including Lai Ching-teh. Lai excelled academically. He graduated from Chienkuo Middle School, National Taiwan University, National Cheng Kung University, and was eventually awarded a master's degree from Harvard University. After returning to Taiwan, he excelled in medicine, then emerged a political star.
Why could Lai rise to the rank of high official, in spite of his humble background? Lai's political achievements involve personal effort on his part of course. But shouldn't we recall how Chiang Kai-shek promoted national education in 1968? Were it not for Chiang's reforms, ensuring educational opportunities for the children of underprivileged families, could Lai Ching-teh or Chen Shui-bian ever have become political legends? This is merely one example. But it tells us Chiang Kai-shek's development of Taiwan was not mere abstraction. It was concrete action that benefitted the people of Taiwan, including Lai Ching-teh.
Leave aside for the moment Chiang Kai-shek's development of Taiwan. Allow us to ask Mayor Lai a question. Suppose Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government had chosen not to relocate to Taiwan? Suppose Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces had not won a commanding victory at Kuningtou in 1949, or during the 8/23 artillery battle in 1958? Then six decades ago the Communists would have taken over Taiwan. Would Lai Ching-teh be the mayor of a directly administered municipality?
Chiang Kai-shek's authoritarianism, White Terror, and the 2/28 Incident harmed some on Taiwan. This harm cannot be forgotten merely because he also made contributions. But this is precisely the time to test the mettle of political leaders. Lai Ching-teh is a government official. He is one of the DPP's future stars. Can he do more than wallow in hatred? Can he "honor the tree whose fruit he consumes?” Can he feel a sense of gratitude? Can he acknowledge that an historical figure's merits outweighed his demerits? If he cannot, that is Taiwan's real tragedy.
Finally, Lai Ching-teh would do well to listen to the words of Taipei Mayor Wen-Je Ko. Ko said he would not dismantle the statues of Chiang Kai-shek in Taipei City. He said "Leaving the statues in place does not mean one has surrendered to history, It means one has transcended history. It means one has become one's own master." One may not be able to identify with Chiang Kai-shek. But one ought to be able to transcend history, instead of beating the drums of hatred.