2-28, the ROC Constitution and Ma Ying-jeou's Disconnect

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Tuesday March 18, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Taiwan recently observed its annual 2-28 remembrance, and the people again recalled the tragic imposition of White Terror and subsequent Martial Law that the country endured under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for forty years. Yet even as these services were being held, Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou once again demonstrated the strange if not coldly chilling lack of connection that he and his administration have with the Taiwanese people.

On the one hand, here was President Ma repeating his standard promises that he would spare no effort to "uncover the truth" behind the killings and that the "truth would not be forgotten." With supposed sympathy, he went on to say that he understood the pain and suffering of the families of the people killed as a result of the 2-28 incident and he vowed that this "would not be erased."

Yet, in deep ironic contrast to these promises, just weeks before, the Ma sanctioned Ministry of Education was doing just that. By changing the school textbooks, it sought not only to alter Taiwan's history but whitewash if not eliminate the blame and responsibility of the KMT in the killings. There was no truth. There was no justice. All was wiped clean by saying this was basically a "forty-year necessary evil." It was the classic KMT interpretation of history; they admitted that there were victims, but allegedly there were no guilty perpetrators. The deaths were somehow necessary. How this was a search to uncover the truth, left many mystified; the contrast was so great that some not only questioned the apparent disconnect in Ma's position but even began to wonder if something worse were involved.

It did not end there; Ma's disconnect exposed yet another deep problem of Taiwan's history. That problem is the burden of its outdated 1947 Constitution, the one that Ma continually likes to tout. What is too often lost in the recalling of the past history of this Constitution is that the now defunct National Assembly had formulated this Republic of China (ROC) Constitution in December of 1946. That was just two months before the 2-28 massacres began. The participation of Taiwanese in the formulation of that Constitution was basically zero, unless one considers token representatives appointed by Chiang Kai-shek. Further, when the Constitution went into effect a year later in December 1947, thousands of Taiwanese, their elite and educated leaders as well as the common people were already being imprisoned, tortured and/or killed. With the positions in the Legislative Yuan frozen, Taiwanese were further denied any future contribution to this Constitution yet Ma tells them it should be considered sacred.

To make matters worse, in March 1948 a few months after the enactment of the Constitution, the National Assembly nullified it by immediately enacting the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Communist Rebellion. These provisions suspended that constitution and brought into play the dreaded Garrison Command. The persecution of the Taiwanese continued under this KMT one party state, but then this one party state ROC lost its seat in the United Nations (UN) in October 1971. And then in January 1979, its major ally, the United States switched its embassy from the ROC to the People's Republic of China (PRC). All this created more problems and anomalies for the ROC Constitution such as how to explain away the reality of the PRC, how to explain the independence of Mongolia, and how to explain that the San Francisco Peace Treaty had never designated that Taiwan should be given to the ROC or to any country. As a result here on Taiwan, this one party state created by the KMT was claiming to be governed by a Constitution that had little or no justifiable territory over which it legally ruled. The KMT were a diaspora, a party in exile that not only lorded over the Taiwanese but also tried to claim that they were their saviors.

When the harsh reality of all this sinks in among Taiwanese, they may well start to understand that the ROC Constitution represents more a preserved memory of their exploitation and that it is an albatross as regards any future hopes of Taiwan ever entering the UN. It also well explains the reasons behind what recently happened in Greater Tainan, where a statue of Sun Yat-sen, considered the founder of the ROC but not Taiwan, was surprisingly toppled and the wording "ROC Out" was painted on its back.

For when closely examined, Sun Yat-sen's stillborn revolution of 1911 was a revolution of Han freedom from the rule of the Manchurian Qing Dynasty, a freedom and independence that Tibetans and Mongolians also sought and which Mongolia finally obtained. That revolution had nothing to do with Taiwan, which had already been given to Japan in 1895. Sun's revolution eventually ended with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and not the KMT taking control of China. This left the ROC with its Constitution "wandering in the wilderness."

Sun Yat-sen may have been a great man and his ideals of a government of the people, by the people and for the people are admirable and something worth pursuing. But they are not what the KMT brought to Taiwan when they imposed forty years of White Terror. Taiwan's democracy was won by the protests, deaths and demands of Taiwanese who suffered long in that process just as they had struggled for representative government under Japanese colonialism

Thus the only reason that there are pictures and statues of Sun Yat-sen present in Taiwan is the same reason that there were pictures and statues of Chiang Kai-shek present in Taiwan. These images were brought by the "exiled" KMT. Whether Sun would have agreed with the KMT's subsequent imposition of forty years of White Terror, Martial Law and a one-party state on Taiwan would make an interesting topic both for speculation and debate. But regardless of that, Taiwanese should now be realizing that they not only need to uncover the truth of 2-28, but they also need to rename or create a new Constitution. ***

***(Footnote: This has not yet been done by 2017; it will take some time.)