Academic journal article China Perspectives

Transitional Justice and Collective Memory in Taiwan: How Taiwanese Society Is Coming to Terms with Its Authoritarian Past

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Transitional Justice and Collective Memory in Taiwan: How Taiwanese Society Is Coming to Terms with Its Authoritarian Past

Article excerpt

The importance of transitional justice became increasingly apparent throughout the 1990s, when the democratic transitions of countries Samuel Huntington designated as belonging to the "third wave" entered their final phase.(1) In 2004, attesting to its importance, the UN defined transitional justice as "the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society's attempt to come to terms with a legacy of largescale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation."(2) Whilst enumerating the different aspects covered by this type of public action, that is to say the mechanisms that enable light to be shed on past events, victims to be compensated, legal proceedings to be brought, and the introduction of institutional reforms accompanied by lustration laws to the detriment of the criminals, the UN Report also emphasises that they must be seen as a coherent whole. Indeed, the measures are interactive, and it is only by considering transitional justice from a holistic perspective that they can be fully effective. If, for example, the awarding of material reparation is not accompanied by an effort to expose the truth concerning human rights violations in the pre-democratic period that led to the condemnation of the authors of these acts, it is highly probable that the victims will perceive compensation as a second-best measure incapable of obtaining true justice for them.(3) Two forms of recognition are required, since it is a question of returning to both the actions of the authoritarian regime and the unique experience of each of the victims.

Taiwan, a democracy that is both recent and stable, has experienced two movements for the rehabilitation of victims of the Nationalist dictatorship. The first demanded that the state shed light on the massacres committed by the Nationalist army in March and April 1947, commonly known as the "28 February Incident" or the "228 Incident" (Ererba shijian)(4) and that it assume its responsibilities by attempting to make reparation for the wrongs committed. The second was in relation to the abuses committed by the police of the Nationalist regime during the authoritarian period, an experience known as the White Terror (baise kongbujd5

The White Terror began in 1948 with the adoption of the Temporary Provisions during the period of mobilisation for the suppression of the rebellion (dongyuan kanluan shiqi Unshi tiaokuan), reinforced the following year by the Provisions for the suppression of the rebellion (chengzh i panluan tiaoli) and martial law (jieyan fa), both implemented in 1949. In 1950, the Provisions for the control of spies during the period of provisional mobilisation (kanluan shiqi jiansu feidie tiaoli) completed the existing punitive arsenal. These laws formed the backbone of a security system that authorised the arrest and trial by a military court of civilians under various pretexts, which in practice meant arbitrarily. Martial law was lifted in 1987, and the two other decrees in 1991. The reform in the same year of Article 100 (abolished in 1992) of the Penal Code, employed to legitimise the arrest of persons promoting the independence of Taiwan, marked the end of the White Terror.

Even though we are dealing with different historic experiences, the two dynamics are linked, since the adoption of a legal framework designed to obtain justice for the victims of the White Terror used the measures decided in favour of the victims of the 228 Incident as a model. Indeed, beginning in February 1987, a few months before the lifting of martial law, the movement for the rehabilitation of the 1947 victims emerged at the same time as the early stages of the democratisation of Taiwan. The symbolic force that was very rapidly invested in this memory in Taiwan elicited a swift response from the Government. As we shall see, this precocity can be explained by the central position occupied by the 228 Incident in Taiwanese nationalism. …

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