Kudos to AP for correctly labeling Chiang a ‘dictator’ as President-elect Ma Ying-jeou went to the Tomb of the Dead Dictator to pay his respects…

Taiwan’s president-elect bowed in front of Chiang Kai-shek’s mausoleum Saturday to commemorate the anniversary of the dictator’s death, a departure from the outgoing government’s efforts to distance itself from the late leader.

Ma Ying-jeou said Chiang’s faults and achievements should be decided by historians - but that there was no denying he was part of the island’s rich past.

Since Chiang Kai-shek’s son Chiang Ching-kuo passed, the KMT has been struggling to decide who has retained the Chiang charisma. Both James Soong, now in political eclipse, and Ma Ying-jeou have attempted at times to claim they are the real inheritor of the Chiang charisma. Religious movements frequently split over whether the leader’s charisma is passed down to the True Family or the True Followers — thus we have the conflict between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, or between the main Mormon church, run by disciples who went with Brigham Young, and the tiny Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints, run by Smith’s son, and possibly, the struggles between James and Paul in early Christianity. The secession crisis is twofold, not merely a question of Who Owns the Church? but also a question how the charisma of the leader is to be institutionalized and used to legitimate the structures and individuals who carry on (see Weber).

One key component of the KMT’s quasireligious structure is the Return to China theology, but another important part is the personality cult that the party fostered around Chiang Kai-shek. Jeremy Taylor1, the Australian scholar who has written several pieces on the cult aspects of KMT rule, observes:

“In any case, while the nature of Nationalist rule under Chiang can be debated, there is little question that it shared with its Soviet and fascist contemporaries a tendency to promote the mass adoration of leaders. This included the manufacture and distribution of images of Chiang, the naming of streets in his honour, the celebration of his life through textbooks and public events; and in some cases, the attribution to Chiang of superhuman power and wisdom.”

Ma, who navigates in these waters with a sure hand born of his many years as a believer himself, immediately goes to pay his respects to the cult, showing both his deference to the received religion to conservatives within the KMT, and also, representing an attempt to appropriate that cult to legitimate his own rule. Recall that Ma is widely detested, for different reasons, by KMT elites. While at the Tomb — a shrine that institutionalizes the charisma of the Cult Leader Chiang — Ma comments that Chiang’s role will have be decided by historians — a comment that looks balanced, but which everyone around understands is directed at Outsiders *wink wink*. We know what Ma thinks since he is there at the shrine….

UPDATE: Taiwan News has a blistering commentary on this. Here’s an excerpt, but don’t miss the whole thing:

Ma’s action and his declaration that he will continue to visit Cixi annually on the anniversary of Chiang’s death on April 5, 1975 are unmistakable signals that the president elect intends to resurrect the former virtual state religion of the Chiang personality cult that is enshrined in the Cixi facility and the even more imposing imperial temple, once known as the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in the middle of Taipei City as well as streets and facilities all over Taiwan.

Ma stated that the judgment of history on Chiang and the autocratic rule of his son Ching-kuo, who is interred at Touliao in Taoyuan County, is “open to discussion” and maintained that his visits to the mausoleums were “individual actions” and should not be branded as an acts of “worship.”

Ma thereby willfully ignores the fact that the very existence of these publicly-funded shrines marks nothing less than a campaign by the KMT to use state power to “coerce” all of the 23 million Taiwan people into “adhering” to its own Chiang cult.

Chiang’s personality cult, which was launched by the KMT regime on the China mainland during its “New Life Movement” in the 1930s and imposed on Taiwan in the late 1940s, is thought by some to rival the cult of the German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler as well as the quasi worship of the Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong in the People’s Republic of China after 1949.

All citizens, especially members of the KMT party, government, military, secret police and intelligence and security forces, were required to first “forever support the Leader” and, after his death in April 1975, “forever cherish the Leader,” while the educational system was used to propagate Chiang’s feudal-dictatorial values of obedience to patriarchal authority and Chinese national chauvinism.

1“The production of the Chiang Kai-shek personality cult, 1929-1975″, The China Quarterly, 185, March 2006, 96-110.