Former ROC president and Taiwanese dictator – Chiang Kai Shek – rests in his mausoleum in Cihu, a picturesque part of TaoYuan. In order to pay their respects, most visitors must pass by the Cihu Memorial Sculpture Park, a surreal resting place for effigies of the generalissimo.
By Stuart Hill
If the era in which you are born reflects the kind of person you eventually become, then early 20th Century China must have been a ruthless and precarious time to be alive. From the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, and the opportunistic encroachment of the Japanese in North-East China, to the vying of influence over China among the European powers, America and Russia, Chiang Kai Shek represents one of the period’s fiercest and longest survivors.
Yet his vision for China – which eventually narrowed down to the parameters of the world he created for his political followers in Taiwan – ultimately reflected a distant reality to the world created by his long-time political opponents, and some-time allies, the Chinese Communist Party in China.
As a competitor in the Chinese race of big ideas as the basis of a reformed national government, Chiang Kai Shek was the clear loser. Despite what is echoed among those that inherited his political achievements, his “China legacy” has long been swamped by the propaganda and social development of the Chinese Communist Party. The core of his desire to free China from foreign domination and bring modernization to the country – once reinforced by the democratic ideals of his mentor Sun Yat Sen – was abandoned for the more pragmatic pressures of political exile and personal survival.
In uniting disparate factions against foreign invaders, Chiang Kai Shek had maneuvered his way to lead significant sections of China’s provincial leadership and merchant classes to resist Japanese colonialism. He and his equally capable wife – Madam Chiang (Song Mei Ling) – had successfully navigated the agendas of the world powers to generate financial and military support throughout the chaos of the years between World Wars I and II and beyond. Yet his inability to lead the masses of peasants to revolutionize the way their government was run, ultimately failed in establishing a society that delivered on the dream to enfranchise the majority of Chinese. Instead he was left to impose this dream on the people of Taiwan.
Literally fighting for their lives, Chiang Kai Shek and his defeated KMT, fled to the Chinese/Japanese colony of Taiwan. With the backing of the US, he maintained his own version of China, a construct of diminishing relevance to world affairs – if international recognition was anything to go by.
To a large extent the Taiwan of today owes its character and existence to the political tenacity, ego-centrism, and out-right avarice of Chiang Kai Shek and his closest followers.
It’s a humbling and poignant experience to see the resting place of this once-feared and revered leader become a post-modern grave site to the fallen imagery and rejected idolatry of the man’s own painful past.