Time to stop name-calling and let bygones be bygones
Our Legislative Yuan is known throughout the world for parliamentary free-for-alls, but lawmakers in opposition turning interpellations into name-calling sessions is much less well known. Cabinet ministers and the like are so afraid of being grilled at interpellations that they sometimes describe Taiwan as a country where “it isn't the people who can't make a living (民不聊生) but the Mandarins who can't (官不聊生).” Their description is of course exaggerated; oftentimes, they forget that being grilled in parliament is part of their jobs.
The fact, however, is that some top bureaucrats are so afraid of our reviling legislators that they often choose to quit, while others pocket their pride and stay on in an all-out effort to survive the malicious name-calling sessions.
One of these people is Lung Ying-tai, the nation's first minister of culture. Taiwan didn't have a Ministry of Culture until President Ma Ying-jeou's second term in office. President Chiang Kai-shek created a Bureau of Cultural Affairs under the Ministry of Education for a Chinese cultural renaissance to counter Mao Zedong's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in mainland China. The bureau was disbanded as soon as the Cultural Revolution had come to an end, and it was Chiang's son, Chiang Ching-kuo, who created a Cabinet-level Council for Cultural Affairs, which has evolved into a full-fledged cultural ministry now headed by a well-known author, who once served as commissioner for cultural affairs under Mayor Ma Ying-jeou of Taipei.
She was mercilessly grilled for two days in her first encounter with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers on the floor of the nation's highest legislative organ. During the interpellation, she wasn't asked about how she plans to run the brand-new ministry, which is considered a redundancy in the first place; she was asked to give an assessment of what Chiang Kai-shek did during the bloody Feb. 28 Incident of 1947; she was also asked for her opinion on what is known as the reign of white terror that followed the 228 Incident. As a matter of fact, the opposition legislators cared little about what her ministry would do or how. They were hell bent on extorting an answer from Lung, who wrote in her books that Chiang Kai-shek didn't play the role of chief culprit in the 228 Incident or the reign of terror.
When Lung refused to answer, the lawmakers started calling her names. She was blasted for wearing tennis shoes and propping her chin with both hands while listening to their tirade. She explained she had better wear tennis shoes for she had to stand erect for hours on end listening to them. The act of propping up her chin was regarded by opposition lawmakers as indicating her low esteem for them, which must be true, albeit the gesture has been made by Chinese ladies for more than two millennia after Lady --ishi (西施), claimed to be one of the most beautiful women in Chinese history, made it while trying to think of something alone in her room. Lung was called shameless and “thick-skinned.” One lawmaker even called her the “shiniest flower vase of the Ma government,” suggesting that she is a mere gaudy ornament unfit for the job of an all-important cultural minister.
Such verbal abuse shouldn't be condoned in parliament. Unlike in the United States, Taiwan's Cabinet ministers are appointed without confirmation by the Legislative Yuan. Lung's personal opinion about Chiang Kai-shek has nothing to do with her job, though the opposition party leaders think she may ask the National Human Rights Museum, which is under control of the Ministry of Culture, to present evidence to exonerate him when it opens. They are, in fact, paranoiac.
Construction started on the museum while the DPP was in power. Lung can't change the planned exhibition in any way to extol Chiang Kai-shek. Moreover, former President Chen Shui-bian, who is doing time for corruption and graft, made an attempt at upholding justice in transition by condemning Chiang Kai-shek for what he didn't do, while Lee Teng-hui apologized for the Feb. 28 Incident on behalf of his Kuomintang government; President Ma Ying-jeou has been doing the same repeatedly since 2008.
Why not let bygones be bygones? Both the incident and the white terror are scars of the past. They have long been healed. It's of no use whatsoever to open up old wounds.
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