Seven years of lawsuits over the fate of the diaries and other papers of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) appear to have reached at least a partial conclusion, as the Taipei District Court on June 19 ruled that the diaries written during their presidencies are government property.
The ruling is a victory for those who have long argued that the materials belong with the Academia Historica under the Presidential and Vice Presidential Records and Artifacts Act (總統副總統文物管理條例), but, as ever with the Chiang family, nothing is clear-cut.
The ruling, which can be appealed, leaves open debate about all the materials from outside their presidential terms. A court case filed in San Francisco by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, which has held the papers since 2005, has since 2015 been on hold pending a resolution of the Taipei case.
Chiang Kai-shek was president of the Republic of China (ROC) from March 1, 1950, to his death on April 5, 1975, while Chiang Ching-kuo led the ROC from May 20, 1978, to his death on Jan. 13, 1988. However, the elder Chiang’s 55 volumes of diaries cover the years from 1917 to 1972, while his son’s run from May 1937 to December 1979.
The Taipei court ruled that items from outside their presidential terms are private property belonging to the Chiang family, yet they are perhaps of equal interest, if not more, to historians and all who are interested in modern Chinese and Taiwanese history.
Chiang Kai-shek turned his diaries over to Chiang Ching-kuo before his death, while Chiang Ching-kuo bequeathed his diaries, private papers and government documents and those of his father to his third and youngest son by his wife Faina Chiang Fang-liang (蔣方良), Chiang Hsiao-yung (蔣孝勇).
Chiang Hsiao-yung’s widow, Chiang Fang Chih-yi (蔣方智怡), decided to leave the documents with the institution for a 50-year period, for preservation and “pending the creation of a suitable repository on Chinese territory,” which led to the lawsuits.
She has testified that her husband, who died on Dec. 22, 1996, had asked her to give the documents to a credible academic establishment for preservation after his death, and that she had consulted with Chiang Kai-shek’s wife Soong Mayling (宋美齡) before her death in 2003 about what to do with the material.
In 2010, Chiang Fang and six other family members reached an agreement that the collection should be given to the Academia Historica.
After the Academia Historica and Chiang family members raised ownership claims, the Hoover Institution in 2013 filed a lawsuit in the US to determine the rightful ownership of the collection, to protect itself from any liability.
Although the institution made copies of Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries available to researchers in 2006 and opened Chiang Ching-kuo’s to the public in February this year, it allowed family members to choose passages to be redacted until 2035 to “protect” some of the people named.
Much of the material at the institution has not been examined by historians, and the risk is that the Taipei court’s decision would mean large portions of it could remain so.
The government, through the Academia Historica, should argue that all the materials from Chiang Kai-shek’s time as leader of the ROC (1928 until his death), regardless of his title, should be considered government property, as well as all from Chiang Ching-kuo’s time as head of the secret police (1950 to 1965), minister of national defense (1965 to 1969), vice premier (1969 to 1972) and premier (1972 to 1978).
It is important to ensure that these materials are returned to Taiwan, where they belong, instead of waiting for “a suitable repository,” since many Taiwanese would regard that argument as another vestige of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) invader attitude toward this nation.
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