Remembering Chiang Ching-kuo
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 14, 2009
Today is the 100th anniversary of Chiang Ching-kuo's birth, and nostalgia fills the air. Chiang Ching-kuo is a political icon. For Taiwan, this is both a blessing and a lament. The blessing is that Taiwan has a political icon whom most people can identify with, who was the very model of an effective political leader. This constitutes a valuable historical legacy. The lament is that Chiang Ching-kuo was, after all, an authoritarian era figure. Today, 21 years after his death. he has been succeeded by three generations of political leaders, not one of whom holds a candle to him. On the contrary, they include a reprobate who has brought disaster upon the nation.
Taiwan was blessed to have had Chiang Ching-kuo. But ironically, ever since martial law was lifted, a democratic Taiwan under the rule of law has never had a political leader who compared with Chiang Ching-kuo. This is cause for concern.
Chiang Ching-kuo is of course, a controversial figure. But his defining trait was his ability to change with the times, to better himself, to correct himself, and ultimately, to change the world around him. His liked to say that "The times have changed, the environment has changed, the tide has changed." He never allowed himself to become a stumbling block to progress. Instead, he transformed himself into a facilitator of progress.
One could say that Chiang Ching-kuo had a hard life. He clashed with his father. He joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He was exiled to Siberia. He clashed with the Kung and Soong clans. He personally presided over the withdrawal from the mainland. He trekked across the Central Cross-Island Highway. He stood on the front lines during the 8/23 Artillery Battle. He escaped an assassination attempt in the United States. He guided the nation through the Oil Crisis. He completed the Ten Major Infrastructure Projects. He presided over the withdrawal from the United Nations. He promoted central government by-elections. He weathered the Chungli incident, de-recognition by the United States, the Kaohsiung incident, and the Chiangnan case. He was eventually relegated to a wheelchair. He lifted martial law and allowed citizens to visit their mainland relatives. He died coughing up blood in a narrow bed in the Seven Seas Apartments.
But from another perspective, one could say that Chiang Ching-kuo was fortunate. In the twilight of his years he successfully presided over the lifting of martial law and the introduction of democracy. He enabled people to visit their relatives on the mainland, laying the groundwork for peaceful cross-Strait exchanges. He successfully concluded his life's work, becoming a model for future generations of political leaders to emulate.
The lifting of martial law and opening of cross-Strait exchanges was completed during the twilight of Chiang Ching-kuo's life, as he coughed up blood. Chiang Ching-kuo's rule was not without twists and turns. But overall, the character and trajectory of his life were straight as an arrow. Every step he took advanced democracy and promoted cross-Strait reconciliation. This was his final legacy to the Chinese nation and to world history.
Without Chiang Ching-kuo's dedication to transforming Taiwan into one of the four Asian tigers, how could the ROC have lifted martial law and opened up cross-Strait exchanges? Chiang Ching-kuo promoted central government by-elections and "young Taiwanese" political talent. The Chungli Incident and Kaohsiung Incident notwithstanding, he forestalled nepotism. He exiled Wang Sheng and Chiang Hsiao-wu, and promoted Lee Teng-hui. From beginning to end, he consistently paved the way for democracy. Had Chiang Ching-kuo not personally presided over the lifting of martial law and the opening of cross-Strait exchanges, what sort of chaos would his successor have faced, within and without? Had Chiang Ching-kuo not established the necessary political and economic preconditions, what sort of chaos would have prevailed after the lifting of martial law?
Chiang Ching-kuo inherited a lifetime of political authoritarianism and cross-Strait confrontation. Yet he was able to establish a democratic Taiwan and cross-Strait peace for future generations. The lifting of martial law and the opening of cross-Strait exchanges were in fact two sides of the same coin. Without opening cross-Strait relations, it would have been impossible to lift martial law. Without lifting martial law, it would have been impossible to open cross-Strait exchanges. A democratic Taiwan, would eventually have had to face the issue of cross-Strait exchanges. The opening of cross-Strait exchanges would eventually necessitate democratic institutions to act as the island's first line of defense. Twenty-one years after Chiang Ching-kuo's death, no leader of the ROC can afford to depart from the framework he established. Any leader who does, will inflict harm upon the nation. Mainland leaders cannot ignore Chiang's framework. Nor can they ignore the island's democratic institutions when dealing with cross-Strait issues.
Chiang Ching-kuo must not be deified. Chiang Ching-kuo's controversial political record must not be blanked out. But any evaluation of Chiang Ching-kuo that attempts to tar him as a "foreign political regime," will be met with public rejection. The irony is that following Chiang Ching-kuo's death, Taiwan has been forced to endure over 20 years of internal division as a result of such rhetoric.
Today, over 20 years later, as we commemorate Chiang Ching-kuo's life, we must recognize that the Chiang Ching-kuo government cannot be characterized as a "foreign political regime." Chiang Ching-kuo's style cannot be characterized as "lacking in love for Taiwan." Chiang Ching-kuo's administration cannot be characterized as "a political entity that is selling out Taiwan." That the entire island is now engaged in such a phony debate is ludicrous, pathetic, despicable, and shameful.
Chiang Ching-kuo's political and economic liberalization and opening of cross-Strait exchanges were monumental achievements. They provide a powerful contrast with the disastrous leadership of his successors. Even Chiang Ching-kuo's humble manner of dress, his trademark windbreaker, provides a sharp contrast with the conspicuous consumption of his corrupt successors. Chiang Ching-kuo was an authoritarian. Yet standing next to him whom did we find, but such giants as Ying Chung-jung, Sun Yun-suan, Li Kuo-ting, Tao Pai-chuang. Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian were ostensibly "democratically-elected leaders." Yet next to them whom do we find, but the likes of Liu Tai-ying and Ma Yung-cheng. The times were hard on Chiang Ching-kuo. But his achievements were towering. The times were kind to Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian. But they betrayed the common people.
To commemorate Chiang Ching-kuo is to recall a model worthy of emulation. To commemorate Chiang Ching-kuo is also to bemoan his lack of successors.
2009.04.13 06:03 am