'Formosan Independence' Activists Splatter Statue of Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan

The activists say no more public money should be spent on venerating the island's authoritarian past.

A supporter of Formosa independence throws paint at a statue of Chiang Kai-shek in Taipei, June 20, 2018.

Protesters on the democratic island of Taiwan defaced an iconic statue of late former Chinese president Chiang Kai-shek, who fled with his government to the island after losing a civil war to the communists on the mainland.

The prominent statue at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in the island's capital, Taipei, was left splattered in blood-like stains after protesters filled egg-shells with red paint and hurled them at the Generalissimo's image.

Activists from the groups From Ethnos to Nation (FETN) and Chhengliân To̍kphài (Youth For Independence) also unfurled banners that read: "Eliminate Chinese tyranny: build our own Republic of Taiwan!" as part of a protest at the use of public money to maintain symbols of authoritarian Chinese rule.

They also spilled red paint on the ceremonial marble steps leading up to the memorial hall, prompting the authorities to shut down the tourist attraction to clean up the paint.

FETN said via Facebook that the red paint represented the blood of victims of 38 years of martial law under the authoritarian presidencies of Chiang Kai-shek and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo. Two Chhengliân Tokphài activists, Lee Chia-yu, and Chen Yu-zhen, were taken in for questioning by police on Friday over the incident.

"This morning, Chhengliân To̍kphài entered Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in central Tâipak (Taipei)—built to commemorate the most notable dictator and mass murderer in Formosan history—to pour red paint symbolizing the blood of the oppressed over the unfortunate seat of power of the Republic of China," the group said in a post on Friday, using a romanized form of the Taiwanese language, a symbol of its fight for an independent "Formosa" free from Chinese colonial power.

"We once again urge the ruling party to act on removing the monuments of dictatorship," it said. "Formosan opposition to Republic of China colonization will never cease."

FETN said it chose to take the action because activists who splashed paint over Chiang Kai-shek’s sarcophagus at the Cihu Mausoleum in Taoyuan City on Feb. 28 were due to appear in court on Friday.

'Cult-like worship'

Protester and Taiwan University student Chang Min-chiao, who is among those facing public order charges for splattering Chiang's tomb in Taoyuan county with paint in February, said that the current government should abide by its campaign promises and wipe out the legacy of the authoritarian period of the island's history.

"Why do Taiwanese spend Taiwan’s resources on the cult-worship of a past dictator?" Chang said. "[Chiang's tomb in Taoyuan] is like an image of an emperor. This is not a phenomenon that should occur in a democratic country."

Defense attorney Lee Wei-kuo said the splashing protests should be regarded as political statements and not a matter for the law.

"[We will argue that] the Republic of China cannot be said to have sovereignty over Taiwan, and that the protest ... didn't take place on its territory," Lee said, citing historical treaties indicating that the laws of the Republic of China can't be applied to his clients' actions.

The 10 defendants stand accused of "publicly insulting and damaging graves" under public order laws.

Mass killings

A 2006 government-funded report found that Chiang Kai-shek bore the main responsibility for mass killings of civilians by Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist troops in Taiwan in 1947, prompting victims' groups and social activists to call for an end to public veneration of the late Generalissimo.

The bloodshed was triggered after a fight broke out between government officials and an illegal cigarette vendor in Taipei on Feb. 27, 1947, sparking an uprising of native Taiwanese against the incoming KMT regime.

Further violence followed as the KMT imposed decades of martial law, including several waves of political purges of government opponents that saw 140,000 tried by military courts in an era known as the White Terror, during which thousands were executed.

Taiwan had been ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to China as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.

In 1947, incoming war-hardened KMT troops and hardships triggered by massive post-war inflation were a stark contrast to the five decades of relative peace and prosperity the island had enjoyed as part of Japan, and the local people rose up against their newly imposed rulers.

A new nation

FETN called for the removal of all "monuments of dictatorship" from the island, and an end to the use of public resources to maintain them.

"The Republic of China must fall to make way for a new Formosan nation," it said in a reference to the government formed after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 by Sun Yat-sen and subsequently ruled by Chiang Kai-shek. The Republic of China ceased to control most of China with the KMT's defeat at the hands of Mao Zedong's communist forces, but has kept its name.

Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

More recently, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Tsai Ing-wen has thrown her support behind a process of transitional justice, including the opening up of secret government files, for the victims of authoritarian rule. But for many, the authorities appear to be dragging their feet and seeking to maintain the status quo.

Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

But while the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the island, Beijing regards it as part of Chinese territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence. Beijing has succeeded in isolating Taiwan diplomatically by insisting that its diplomatic partners break off ties with Taipei, under the "One China" policy.

Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.