The Other Chiang's Legacy

Taiwan's Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall has recently been renamed Taiwan Democracy Hall. Taiwan's ruling political party and a majority of Taiwan's population, it seems, are unhappy with a (these are the President's words) murderer being deified in the country's capital 32 years after his death. Dr. Arthur Waldron's, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, letter to the Taipei Times last Tuesday refers to Chiang's son, Chiang Jing-kuo. This is the link to Dr. Waldron's letter:


I decided to write to Dr. Waldron:

"I read your letter to the Taipei Times this morning. I think you make some very good points. It's likely that the island would have been overrun by Communists if Chiang and the KMT hadn't hid out here. The point you make about Chiang Jing-kuo not handing Taiwan to China on a silver platter (as Lien Chan would do now) but instead initiating Taiwan's democratization is also valid.

I take issue with two points: Taiwan being "desperately poor" and the part about mainlanders making up the "core of the army". Actually, Taiwan was probably the second most advanced country in all of Asia going into WWII. It had trains that ran regularly and on time. It had running water. It had modern hospitals. It had a very productive agricultural sector. It had elevators and the people knew how to drive cars, not to mention ride bicycles. This point is often lost on people, especially mainlanders in Taiwan who still tend who look down on the "Taiwanese" as being low-class hicks. Even after the US had bombed about 75% of the islands infrastructure, the island still had rich pickings for the carpet-baggers who showed up at the end of the 1945.

The part in your letter about mainlanders making up the core of the army is also misleading. At the end of the 1950s, some 580,000 men were conscripted into the armed forces here. The majority of these individuals were Taiwanese. They did the bulk of the fighting in the Kinmen Wars. Your letter makes it look like it was otherwise."

This was Dr. Waldron's reply:

"Thanks very much for this. I appreciate correction and additions. On poverty, I understand that Taiwan was relatively advanced and ahead of China in the twentieth century and after the war. But even in 1971 per capita GNP was in the $300-400 range. Poverty is relative, but in those days people thought Africa was going to grow faster than Asia. In any case, I think no one had a clue as to what the future held. Remember, in the US all the discussion was how to keep JAPAN afloat after WWII. On the army, I did note that it was conscript. I have no figures on the casualties, which is why I didn't make a flat assertion. I do believe the officer corps was mainlander dominated until quite recently. The reconstruction of the army by Sun Li-jen was also mainlander led.

I trust you understand my point. I strongly support Taiwan's present course and oppose dictatorship. But I feel that for political reasons the basic fact which is that without CKS the important issues being discussed today would all be about non events. I have always felt the CKS memorial was too much. I hope, however, that this can be dealt with an a way that is appropriate and recognizes the paradoxical nature of his role."

I don't have much use for the "mainlander effort" in the Taiwanese army. They had all of the plum positions, ones that were Taiwanese were blocked from attaining. (I imagine that Chiang was pretty leary of turning the controls of the military over to a Taiwanese lest that individual set his sights on the true enemy of Taiwan!) Waldron's Chiang Ching Kuo angle is, um, special, but I'm still putting my money on Lee Tung-hui as the real oomph behind Taiwan democratization.

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