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Contesting the past in the present: a critique of transitional justice scheme in Taiwan

Authors
  • Hsiao, Ling-yu
Publication Date
May 21, 2018
Source
Apollo - University of Cambridge Repository
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown
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Abstract

The White Terror in Taiwan was a 43-year period during which the Kuomintang (KMT) regime, with significant support from the United States during the Cold War era, persecuted its political opponents, imprisoning tens of thousands of people and executing some 1200. In the wake of democratisation since the 1980s, Taiwan has instituted a scheme of transitional justice to acknowledge and atone for the past political oppression and to promote national reconciliation. As this initiative was undertaken by the same regime that perpetrated the White Terror, questions of objectivity and transparency arise. Accordingly, this thesis aims to assess the progress of transitional justice in Taiwan by examining the official discourse on the subject and also analysing the non-official discourses amongst survivors of the White Terror in present-day Taiwan. Tensions between the different discourses are identified. This thesis focuses on the construction of the past in the present, which refers to contestation of the past in the context of present-day society in Taiwan. Drawing on discursive analysis of Taiwan’s transitional justice initiatives since the late 1990s, as well as in-depth interviews with 24 former political prisoners, it discerns how the official transitional justice discourse is circumscribed and limits our knowledge of the White Terror. Since the implied fall of communism, the aim of reconciliation has not embraced the former socialists and communists at the global level, enabling the KMT government to elude accountability in its transitional justice efforts by rationalising the White Terror in the name of anti-communism. As a result, Taiwan’s socialist dissidents remain stigmatised in the official discourse, which offers redress only to those individuals who disassociate themselves with subversion and identify as ‘political victims’. This restriction in the official discourse suggests that the government wishes to reconcile only with those who were ‘innocent’ of treason. By the same token, the identity of White Terror victims is de-politicised, distorting the content of their trauma and shame and their survivorhood in present-day Taiwan. Informants’ non-official discourses, which point up the contradictions in the government discourse, reveal that survivors tend to feel profound shame owing to the failure of their political projects, viewing themselves as inept revolutionaries. Much of their interest in transitional justice lies in seeking opportunities to advocate for the causes to which they still adhere. Thus, their identity as survivors is focused less on persecution than on sustaining their political activism in the era of reconciliation. Thus, the tension between the official and non-official transitional justice discourses in Taiwan is not only a contestation of the past but, more profoundly, a contestation of the vision for the nation’s future.

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