Decades after the death of dictator Chiang Kai-shek, over one thousand statues of the authoritarian ruler litter the landscape of Taiwan. The statues are on display at schools, parks, and public spaces around the island. Chiang, who imposed the 228 Massacre and White Terror crimes on Taiwan, put his image on currency, coins, postage stamps,, billboards, comic books, and statues in Chinese hero-worship style. While much of the propaganda has faded with time the statues remain as a testimony to Chiang’s immense egotism. The statues also embody the Republic of China’s historical narrative.
Most Taiwanese ignore the statues and pass by them without recognition. The largest at Memorial Hall is hard to overlook with a honor guard sporting shiny metal helmets and was the scene of a paint toss when the statue was bombed with red paint balloons by youthful protesters.
The statues are maintained by the exiled Chinese government in a tenacious effort to rewrite Taiwan’s history. The source of emotional pain to many Taiwanese, the statues are eventually supposed to disappear through the efforts of the Transitional Justice Commission. However, the statues continue to stand. In addition to the 1,063 Chiang statues, the Commission has noted 1.010 other authoritarian icons remaining and 577 places named after Chiang or his son Chiang Ching-kuo. The authoritarian items include 104 paintings of Chiang hanging in public buildings.
In the statue category, Taipei leads with 129 statues of Chiang Kai-shek, followed by 111 in Taoyuan, 98 in Taichung, 82 in Kaohsiung, 45 in Hsinchu County, 40 in Pingtung County, 37 in Taitung County, 35 in Changhua County, 34 in New Taipei City, 30 in Hualien County, 29 in Yunlin County, 28 in Tainan, 25 in Chiayi County, 19 in Keelung, 16 each in Kinmen and Lienchiang County, 14 each in Hsinchu and Yilan counties, 13 in Miaoli County, 10 in Nantou County, nine in Penghu County and three in Chiayi City.
In June, officials at Fengnian Airport in Taitung ordered its Chiang statue removed following a request from the Transitional Justice Commission. Since then no other government agency has reported progress on the clean-up campaign. The airport had the statue since 1975 when the runways were used as a back-up for Zhihang Air Force Base.
Besides honoring a brutal dictator, the statues confuse Taiwanese identity and make a case for Taiwan being a renegade province of the People’s Republic of China. The ROC clings to Chiang as a founding father while while many of Taiwan’s true heroes lie in unmarked graves, victims of Chiang’s brutal regime.
Chiang Kai-shek statues will continue to be lighting rods for controversy as long as they are kept on display in places of honor. Taiwan’s longstanding strategic ambiguity has fogged the vision of many. However, the inevitable advance of awareness will only increase public pressure to remove the offending idolatry.