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Taiwan will tear down all remaining statues of Chiang Kai-shek in public spaces

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Taiwan’s government will remove all remaining statues of late president Chiang Kai-shek from public spaces in what is seen as a bid to erase his legacy and the historical link with mainland China.

Chiang ruled the island for nearly three decades until his death in 1975. He led his Nationalist or Kuomintang troops to Taiwan in 1949 and set up an interim government on the island, declaring martial law, after being defeated in a civil war by the Communists on the mainland.

The move is likely to unnerve mainland authorities as Chiang, despite fighting the Communists in the civil war and being seen as an enemy by Beijing his entire life, had sought to bring the mainland and Taiwan under the same rule under the Republic of China.

Mainland sentiment towards Chiang has also softened significantly over the past three decades, as he is increasingly seen as part of the historic link between the mainland and Taiwan. His great-grandson Chiang Wan-an, now Taipei’s mayor and a member of the KMT, is seen favourably by the mainland Chinese public and media, in part for his Beijing-friendly stance.

03:14

Future of Chiang Kai-shek statues questioned as Taiwan reckons with former leader’s legacy

Future of Chiang Kai-shek statues questioned as Taiwan reckons with former leader’s legacy

Taiwan’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party government set up a transitional justice commission in 2018 to investigate Chiang’s rule, finding perceived political dissidents had been persecuted and he had misused government funds to benefit the KMT.

One of the commission’s proposals was to remove thousands of Chiang statues across Taiwan. Critics have branded Chiang as a dictator who sent troops to kill hundreds of civilians during unrest in 1947 and say he does not deserve to be remembered.

On Monday, a cabinet official told the legislature that the interior ministry would swiftly remove the more than 760 statues of Chiang that are still standing across the island.

The ministry would coordinate with local and central governments to remove them, said Shih Pu, deputy director general of the Department of Human Rights and Transitional Justice under the cabinet.

“The interior ministry has communicated and coordinated with relevant departments over [the removal] and has provided subsidies as an incentive for them to do so,” he said.

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Shih was responding to a call from DPP lawmaker Huang Jie to speed up the process.

Huang said the government had offered subsidies worth NT$100,000 (about US$3,000) to relevant units to remove the statues, but only 165 of the 934 listed statues had been pulled down. She asked what the hold-up was.

Shih said the military was part of the problem. “The defence ministry has said it needs to take into account the military tradition,” he said, referring to Chiang being honoured as founder of the island’s military academy.

Chiang was superintendent of the Whampoa Military Academy in Guangdong province in 1924, and went on to re-establish it in Taiwan in 1950.

Last week, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said it was military tradition to honour Chiang and any statues of him on the island’s military bases were deemed to be on private property.

Chiang Kai-shek (centre), with his wife Soong May-ling and his son Chiang Wei-kuo (right) pictured in Taipei in 1961. Photo: AFP

Huang Kwei-bo, a professor of diplomacy at National Chengchi University in Taipei, said the DPP government appeared to be trying to hasten its “de-Sinicisation” efforts.

“Before any public discussion or debate on social justice, and before any court determination of violating so-called transitional justice, the unilateral handling of a former leader who contributed to the defence of Taiwan and its outlying islands by the [DPP] authorities is unreasonable,” he said.

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James Yifan Chen, a professor of diplomacy and international relations at Tamkang University in New Taipei City, said the DPP’s push to remove the statues was related to the new White Terror Memorial Day.

The government on Friday approved a plan to make May 19 a memorial day for what is known as the White Terror period of political repression under Chiang’s rule. The memorial day will take place a day before the inauguration of the DPP’s William Lai Ching-te as Taiwan’s next leader.

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“This memorial day could be a very useful tool to attack the KMT for their historical misconduct,” Chen said.

He noted that the Whampoa Military Academy – whose first leader was Chiang – would mark its 100th anniversary in mid-June.

“Lai, as the incoming commander-in-chief, will have to … honour his predecessor if he is to win the trust of the military,” Chen said.

He added that removing the statues of Chiang “will be seen as an unfriendly gesture towards mainland China”.

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