Saturday, May 26, 2007

Personality Cult Touchstone and the Future of the KMT

During the martial law period the KMT government fostered a personality cult around the figure of Chiang Kai-shek (the Australian academic Jeremy Taylor has done a sterling job of chronicling the development and ramifications of this cult, and political religion in general in Taiwan). The ultimate realization of this personality cult is of course the massive memorial to Chiang Kai-shek in downtown Taipei.

Last week the Ministry of Education hung gigantic banners on the hall to proclaim it National Democracy Memorial Hall. As I remarked earlier, the spat not only shows the ongoing struggle between Chinese and Taiwanese nationalisms in Taiwan, it also shows how jurisdictions conflict, and that Taipei has far too much power in what is supposed to be a centralized governmental system. Taiwan News reported:

City Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), when asked by reporters whether the banners will be removed again, said that the city government will deal with the issue at the appropriate time and will abide by the law. He did not specify which law he was referring to.

But the MOE fired back and stressed that the hanging of the banners does not violate any law.

Chu Nan-hsien, director of the ministry's Social Education Department, said that the central government's hanging of banners bearing the name of "National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall" is in conformity with the law.

Chu said that the city government's removal of the two banners and the repeated imposition of fines are a "twist of laws," and that the MOE will file a lawsuit against the city government for its abuse of power.

When asked by reporters about the shrunken size of the banners, Chu explained that it takes more time to print out the larger banners, therefore the MOE is using smaller ones for the moment to replace the originals.

The DPP is hanging the dead dictator around the KMT's neck, and more power to 'em. A Taiwan News editorial noted:

While there is room for discussion on method, we believe there is absolutely no legitimate room in a democratic country for a state-funded and -maintained feudal temple for the worship of a dead dictator, an edifice which stands today as a daily reminder of the pain victims or survivors of the "228" or "white terror" repression felt, and an arrogant negation of the Taiwan people's hard-won democracy and freedom.

Although the act is seven years too late, the DPP government's action upholds the principle of the separation of state and religion and puts an end to a ridiculous situation in which a democratic state subsidized with taxpayer funds a paragon to anti-democratic values.

On a more positive note, the new name and emblem of the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial also commemorates the most positive event of historical significance which occurred at the site, namely the March 1990 "Wild Lily" student movement for democracy that began as a protest against the re-entry of the military into the government through the appointment by then president Lee Teng-hui of Chiang-era militarist Hau Pei-tsun as premier, which ultimately served as a catalyst for the realization of full parliamentary re-elections by the end of 1992 as well as Taiwan's landmark first presidential election in March 1996.

Blind faith

The blind and fierce defense of this "temple," including its moniker, feudal architecture and fascist content, by KMT presidential nominee Ma Ying-jeou and KMT Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-pin, the son of Hau Pei-tsun has been predictably shortsighted and inept.

The attempt by the KMT Taipei City government to obstruct the transformation of the Chiang temple into a memorial museum for Taiwan's democratic transition by arbitrarily declaring a 27-year old building a "historic relic" and tearing down the banners featuring its "wild lily" emblem displayed the KMT's refusal to set aside its habitual use of "state violence" to block democratic reform.

Yesterday's decisions by Hau to both tear down the new "Wild Lily" banners and rename Ketegalan Boulevard "Anti-Corruption Square" rubbed salt in the wounds of all the victims of the Chiang era "white terror" regardless of ethnicity. The move also stupidly insulted Taiwan's indigenous peoples, for whom the renaming of "Kai-shek Boulevard" to honor an indigenous people in the mid-990s marked a cherished breakthrough in their struggle for transitional justice and recognition.

The editorial hits on several points. First, the DPP move is seven years too late. Lots of us DPP supporters felt this way. It also notes that the street in front of the Presidential palace was once "Chiang Kai-shek Street" but the name was changed (funny how China didn't object to that "desinicization.") to Ketegalen as a tribute to the local aboriginals. Third, it refers to Hau Lung-bin and Hau Bei-tsun....

Lost in all the fuss has been the way this campaign has thoroughly revealed just what a doctrinaire mainlander the younger Hau is. There is a vast irony in his renamed Ketegalen Blvd to "Anti-corruption and Democracy Blvd." Hau's father, Hau Bei-tsun, appears to have been in on the US$400 million kickback the KMT received from the French government for purchasing French ships, in 1991 (see here and a much longer post). That's corruption. As for democracy, it was also the elder Hau who led a rear-guard action against the democratic wave Lee was permitting to wash over the Taiwan government. As I wrote last year when the elder Hau was hauled in for questioning on the matter, which prosecutors later closed:

Back in 1989-91, when the procurement decision was being made, newly-minted President Lee Teng-hui and longtime KMT stalwart Hau were struggling over just who controlled the military. Hau's reference thus is imbued with surpassing irony: Lee could not have made the decision, because in the period 1989-1990 he did not control the military; Hau did. In fact, in January of 1988, when Chiang Ching-kuo died and Lee ascended to the Presidency, a hardline faction of mainlander officers threatened a coup. The intervention of James Soong, who mediated the crisis, enabled Lee to retain power. The early years of Lee's presidency were thus overshadowed by the conflict between Hau, point man for this faction (the "non-mainstream faction"), and Lee representing the Party Machine and the mainstream KMT factions, over the direction of the KMT, and the shape of the government. Lee moved Hau out of his position as Chief of the General Staff, into the post of Minister of Defense, and finally to the position of Premier in May of 1990. Hau was appointed to that position because of the continuing threat of hardliners who wanted to run Hau as an alternative Presidential candidate in the March 1990 election, and because the previous premier, Lee Huan, had sided with the hardline mainlanders against Lee Teng-hui (he was a close associate of Chiang Ching-kuo). In fact Hau would eventually run as the Veep on an alternative ticket with Lin Yang-kang in 1996.

In other words, during the early 1990s the chief opponent of democracy in Taiwan was Hau Bei-tsun, the father of the current Taipei mayor who wants to rename Ketegalen Road "Anti-corruption and Democracy Road." History loves irony.

Lost in all this hoo-ha over the proper name of Personality Cult Square is another issue: that of the younger Hau's political career. As mayor of Taipei, there were a number of ways he could have played this. In the first Chen Administration he worked as head of the EPA and developed a reputation for being a moderate, which the DPP renaming ploy has now nicely revealed was a complete sham. Hau could have taken a more moderate position and angled for future Light Green votes, but instead, he chose to repeat the strategy of fellow mainlander Ma Ying-jeou, the current KMT Presidential candidate, and like Hau, the son of a prominent mainlander general who was close to Chiang Kai-shek -- when trouble threatens, move closer to the Deep Blue base.

The KMT, as I've noted on many occasions before, is afflicted with a structural conflict: its need to be a political party and get its people elected conflicts with its position as guardian of the Mainlander Political Identity, a quasi-religious identity whose core is built around the Return to China and Chiang Kai-shek. The KMT also has another structural problem: its local base is built around corrupt money interests, particularly in the farm associations, as I chronicled last week. It is extremely difficult for national level candidates to emerge from that network because anyone who came out of that system would be tainted by it. Hence, the KMT's national level candidates are restricted to prominent mainlanders, because the Deep Blue base won't tolerate a Taiwanese, and because the local networks are too corrupt -- and further, for many years it was KMT policy to suppress the power of influential local political clans by preventing them from developing a national political following.

Now a possible future national level candidate, Hau Lung-bin, who could have chosen to take a moderate position and preserve some space for a future presidential run, has been revealed by the Banner War to be just another doctrinaire mainlander. The effect on his possible future political career should be clear.

Nice move, DPP.


cfimages said...

"Anti-corruption square" might backfire on them if Ma becomes president - especially if he's found guilty.

Michael Turton said...

Not to mention insulting one of the partners in the KMT ethnic coalition, the aborigines. That's why I suspect that Hau will actually drop this suggestion sooner or later -- it will vanish. He's made his political point, and can move on.