Funeral politics played sensibly

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Editorial

The Chiang family has once again made news headlines after it was revealed last week that relatives of former presidents Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo have requested government permission to bury the two leaders at a military cemetery in Taipei County. The former presidents, who dominated politics in Taiwan for the better part of four decades in addition to the elder Chiang’s leadership in mainland China for another two decades, have been “temporarily” interred at separate mausoleums in Taoyuan County since their deaths in 1975 and 1988, respectively.

In line with both leaders’ sacred goal of recovering the Chinese mainland from communist forces, orders were given for their bodies to be temporarily interred in Taiwan pending the mainland’s “recovery.”

According to their wills, both leaders wanted their bodies laid to final rest at their family plot in Fenghua, Zhejiang province, where Chiang Kai-shek’s mother and many other family members have been buried. But the two leaders’ precondition for being buried in their native land was its liberation from communist rule. Many young people in Taiwan certainly have a hard time realizing that government officials here actually believed they could “recover” the mainland from communist “rebels,” not to mention purposely avoided burying the two presidents here in Taiwan pending the mainland’s imminent “recovery.” But many older readers still remember the political climate that prevailed during the period of martial law and Cold War rivalry with Beijing, when anti-communist ideology dictated much of the government’s policies and actions. Now, at a time when “Taiwan consciousness” has reached new heights following the re-election of President Chen Shui-bian of the governing Democratic Progressive Party, an issue all but forgotten has come back to the surface in search of a resolution.

So far, President Chen’s office has done the right thing in agreeing to the request and ordering the two burials carried out according to the State Funeral Law. Interestingly, the Presidential Office has stated that both burials should be carried out in accordance with executive orders issued in 1975 and 1988, at the time of their respective deaths, as the orders are still valid. In addition, officials at President Chen’s DPP have tried to put a positive face on the burial issue, saying the Chiang family’s decision to bury the two leaders in Taiwan shows their identification with the island.

While some DPP supporters may resent the idea of both Chiangs being permanently buried in Taiwan, their placement within a guarded military cemetery should sufficiently protect their graves from vandals or protesters. While many residents have good reason to complain about the repression and excesses which occurred under the authoritarian rule of both Chiangs, it is also undeniable that the two leaders laid a foundation for prosperity, and eventually democracy, to flourish in Taiwan. At the same time, for all of the controversy that still surrounds the two former presidents, their leadership saved Taiwan from coming under the rule of the Chinese communists, making it possible for Taiwan to remain politically separate from the mainland to the present time. The current state of quasi-alliance between Taipei and Washington is also the product of long-time friendship between the two governments which was built through decades of cooperation under the two Chiangs. Even though the current climate of democratic competition has put the two Chiangs far back in the memories of most ordinary people, their contributions to Taiwan’s development should be recognized and they should be given a proper state burial.

The decision by the Chiang family, particularly Chiang Ching-kuo’s widow Faina Chiang, to keep the two leaders in Taiwan instead of burying them in Zhejiang is also highly commendable. While it is obvious that the two leaders would have wanted to be laid to rest at their family plot in Fenghua, they also made it clear they did not want to be buried in the soil of a communist-ruled China. Over the last several years, the government of communist China has repeatedly offered to permit the Chiangs’ burial at Fenghua in what appeared to be a grand gesture of reconciliation. While the mainland for decades reviled Chiang Kai-shek and his family as the “fascist Chiang clique,” Chiang’s image has undergone something of a restoration in recent years, with his Fenghua home being turned into a tourist attraction. But under the surface, the genuine purpose of mainland China’s moves to “restore” the Chiang family’s reputation is to use them for propaganda as part of Beijing’s attempts to force Taipei to accept the mainland’s version of a “one China” principle.

If the Chiang family actually agreed at this time to let the two former leaders be buried at Fenghua, the mainland would turn the funeral into a propaganda event and use it to pressure the current government into agreeing that Taiwan is a part of a Beijing-dominated single Chinese state. Both Chiangs were dedicated anti-communists and would certainly never assent to their funerals being used for such a purpose. Even though the two leaders are to be buried here in Taiwan, it is still possible that they may be transferred to their Fenghua plots someday when the Chinese Communist Party is ousted from power.