Closing mausoleums of Chiang Kai-shek and his son brings relief, says relative

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2007, 12:00am

Last weekend's closure of the mausoleums of former leader Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo by the Taiwanese government is being viewed as 'liberation' by the generalissimo's great-grandson.

In a statement on his website yesterday, Demos Chiang Yu-bou said the mausoleum and the issue of the final burial place for his great-grandfather and grandfather had been constantly used by both the opposition Kuomintang and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party as tools to score political points.

'This has deeply bothered our family and the public, and there is a need to resolve the issue once and for all,' he said, to prevent politicians from continuing to use the family's name as a 'totem' during election campaigns.

The moves are also part of President Chen Shui-bian's vigorous effort to erase Chiang Kai-shek's legacy.

Mr Chiang said if the DPP government considered the burial of the two late presidents a 'state affair', it should deal with the case as a 'state issue', and he would 'fully respect the decision and arrangement made by the government'.

But if the government thought the burials were a family issue, his family should have the freedom to do whatever it wanted to.

As the pair had both expressed a desire to be buried in their home town in Zhejiang province , his family would arrange to have their remains cremated in Taiwan and the ashes sent back to the mainland for burial.

'The name Chiang is already a part of Taiwan's history,' Mr Chiang said. 'Regardless of whether you like it or not, that era has long become a part of history, and history cannot be erased or removed.'

Mr Chen had lashed out at remarks by Mr Chiang's mother, Fang Chih-yi, last Sunday that the remains of the two late presidents would be sent back to the mainland for burial after the Chen government ordered the closure of the mausoleums.

Last Sunday, an estimated 50,000 visitors visited the Tzuhu Presidential Burial Place in honour of Chiang Kai-shek, who has been demonised by the DPP as a dictator responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Taiwanese.

Military guards, who had watched over the mausoleum for three decades, gave their last hourly demonstration of gun salutes to a packed crowd before permanently withdrawing.

At the end of the demonstration, visitors said they found it difficult to understand why the Chen government wanted to close the mausoleums, which had become a tourist attraction.

'Why shut it down?' said a tourist from Shanghai with one of the dozens of mainland tour groups that visited the Chiang Kai-shek mausoleum every day to see the resting place of the man they had heard so much about.

Liao Shan-mei, 60, said she had been a fan of Chiang Kai-shek and his son for 30 years, and had visited their mausoleums to pay her respects every year.

'The government believes what it does can erase the legacy of the generalissimo. But can it really erase history? Such an act only hurts our feelings,' she said.

'I don't care about politics. I pay respects to them because I believe they had their human side apart from the political controversies surrounding them.'

Ms Liao said she had met Chiang Ching-kuo 30 years ago during an outing to Hsitou in central Taiwan.

'I was sick and felt bad at that time. I sat on the ground and suddenly Chiang Ching-kuo came over and asked if I was feeling well,' she said. 'I was so moved.'

Military veteran Wang Yuan-fu said the mausoleum was no longer a political symbol, but a cultural asset. 'Chiang Kai-shek has been dead for a long time, and regardless of whether he killed many people or not, politicians should no longer use him for their own gains,' Mr Wang said.

He said judgments should be left to historians.

Analysts said Mr Chen started the anti-Chiang campaign this year as an election strategy to divert attention from his poorly performing administration ahead of next month's legislative elections and the presidential poll in March.

The DPP blames Chiang Kai-shek for the 1947 massacre of thousands of Taiwanese during rioting later known as the 228 Incident. Two years later, Chiang led his KMT troops to Taiwan following their defeat in the civil war and set up an interim government on the island, hoping to one day recover the mainland.

Chiang died in 1975 without achieving that mission. His son became president in 1978, lifting martial law and introducing limited democracy before dying in 1988.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry said the closure of the mausoleums would be temporary while the government decided when to hand jurisdiction over them to the Taoyuan county government, headed by Kuomintang mayor Chu Li-lun.

The county government has complained that their closure will cost it at least NT$300 million a year in tourism income.