A Taiwan government-sponsored report has found Chiang Kai-shek, the island’s late authoritarian ruler, responsible for the killings of thousands of people in 1947. This represents an unprecedented open accusation of the man whose authority remains unchallenged after more than a decade of democratisation.
“Chiang Kai-shek was the real murderer” of thousands of native Taiwanese who died in the so-called 228 massacre, said a report published yesterday. The study on the political and legal responsibilities for the massacre, which began on February 28 1947, was commissioned by the government and compiled under the leadership of Chang Yen-hsien, head of the Academia Historica.
The 228 massacre was a military crackdown on Taiwan’s intellectual elite in 1947 after a riot against the military regime of Mr Chiang’s Kuomintang party, then based in China. Two years later, Mr Chiang fled with his party’s members to the island after communist victory in the Chinese civil war.
The massacre is the root of the hate and rejection of not only the KMT – which took control of Taiwan after 50 years of Japanese colonial rule in 1945 – but also China, among many older Taiwanese.
Although Taiwan has become a fully fledged democracy since the lifting of martial law in 1987, the island has followed a conciliatory path in dealing with its authoritarian history, and abstained from publicly discrediting or prosecuting people involved in the KMT regime’s darker moments such as the jailing of dissidents and the 228 massacre.
The government’s first report on the massacre, published in 1992, admitted that KMT troops had killed between 18,000 and 28,000 people but did not put any direct blame on Mr Chiang.
References to the generalissimo can still be found everywhere in Taiwan today. One is a larger-than-life copper statue overlooking central Taipei from the huge Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall, a building rivalling the mausoleums built for deceased leaders in communist countries. Another is Taiwan’s main international airport, which is named after Mr Chiang.
With copies of written communication between Mr Chiang and his military governors in Taiwan, the report documents how the generalissimo was informed of every detail of the crisis on the island and personally gave orders on how to handle it.
Chen Shui-bian, president, said Taiwan’s efforts at reconciliation should not mean that the ugly events of the authoritarian past should be buried and forgotten. “The question of responsibility for 228 is something the government did not dare raise, did not dare to speak about in the past,” he said.
“Taiwan’s society does not reflect on history deeply enough.”