Taiwan lets go a symbol of ancient days

A new law calls for removing landmarks honoring a former dictator, Chiang Kai-shek, whose Confucian-style rule on the island nation finds renewed favor within China’s ruling party.

AP Photo
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen delivers a speech during the National Day celebrations in Taipei Oct. 10. Tsai says the independence-leaning government will defend the self-governing island's freedoms and democratic system amid heightened tensions with rival China.

On Dec. 6, lawmakers in Taiwan voted to rid the island of a prominent symbol of the country’s past. They approved a law requiring the removal of public statues honoring Chiang Kai-shek, a dictator who governed from the late 1940s until his death in 1975. In addition, Chiang’s name will be replaced on many schools and roads.

The law, coming 30 years after Taiwan moved toward democracy, shows how far a people will go to free themselves from a cultural legacy that may hinder progress in individual rights and equality before the law. The measure said that authoritarian rule should be “stripped of legitimacy.”

Chiang’s harsh rule of Taiwan was based on Confucian-style autocracy, or a belief that only a natural social hierarchy with a strong ruler can bring stability. That ancient tradition saw rights as granted only by the state and not inherent in everyone.

Today, Taiwan is a thriving democracy noted for its media freedom and lively politics. And unlike a previous generation that identified as Chinese, most of its 23 million people now see themselves as Taiwanese, defined in large part by their embrace of the values of democracy and freedom.

Chiang and his Nationalist Party fled to the island after losing China’s civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists. He brought with him some 600,000 troops and more than 1 million loyalists from the mainland, hoping someday to retake China. Today most Taiwanese, including many descendants of the mainlanders, now happily proclaim the island’s independence – and not only as a separate country.

By contrast, in China, the ruling Communist Party has become more explicit in justifying its one-party rule as rooted in Confucian doctrines and the notion that the people are not sufficiently advanced in their thinking to pick their leaders. The party’s leading political theorist, Wang Huning, has said that Chinese political culture is pervaded by a reverence for authority. In October, he was elevated into the powerful Politburo Standing Committee and often travels with President Xi Jinping.

Taiwan’s very public act of removing landmarks commemorating Chiang is not only a symbolic shift for its people but a statement to the world that outdated ways of thinking can be let go. The move also sends a strong signal across the Taiwan Strait to China that real stability lies in honoring individual rights, not the presumed right of a few to rule.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Taiwan lets go a symbol of ancient days
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2017/1208/Taiwan-lets-go-a-symbol-of-ancient-days
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe