TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ As they revel in a new democratic era, the Taiwanese are suddenly being reminded of an awkward, unkept promise made in the authoritarian past.

At issue are the remains of Chiang Kai-shek, once the president of China, then of Taiwan; dead for 21 years but still revered by some as a leader and reviled by others as a dictator.

Should his body be returned to China, his birthplace, for burial? It's a question that shows up the fault line running through Taiwanese society, dividing those who think Taiwan a part of China and those who think it separate.

Chiang fled to Taiwan with his Nationalist followers after losing the civil war in 1949, and kept up the dream of one day reconquering the mainland.

When he died in 1975, his dream unfulfilled, the government put his body in a mausoleum in Taipei and promised to bury him on a recaptured Chinese mainland. The same pledge was made when his son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, died in 1988, opening the way for more democratic government on Taiwan.

But the Chiangs' descendants have grown tired of waiting. They see the dream of a reunified China fading away, while the Chiang legacy is increasingly being debunked.

Opposition politicians, some of whom were persecuted in Chiang Kai-shek's days, are junking his portraits and statues. Demonstrators burn Chiang in effigy.

So last month, Chiang's only surviving son finally did what was once unthinkable, and proposed that the two bodies be buried in China _ now.

``We are worried the mausoleums could be vandalized,'' Chiang Hsiao-yung wrote to the ruling Nationalist Party. ``We just want to honor the Chinese concept of burying someone to put his soul at rest.''

Not until reunification, replied the party. China said the time was not yet right.

The problem could be that the two governments are locked in an ideological feud whose every move is measured for its propaganda value, and neither side seems sure who would benefit from a reburial.

From the Taiwan government's standpoint, it would reaffirm the old doctrine that Taiwan and China are one country. But to do it before reunification would be to break a solemn promise.

China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan, could portray the burials as the return of wayward sons to the soil of the motherland. But it also hates everything the fiercely anti-communist Chiangs stood for, and it knows that once the bodies leave Taiwan, there will be one less symbol of China and Taiwan's oneness.

The only clear winner would be the opposition, which wants independence for Taiwan, regards the Chiangs as intruders from the mainland, and would happily ship them out tomorrow.

``Let's cremate them and spread their ashes in the middle of the Taiwan Strait,'' deputy Liu Yih-teh of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party told the National Assembly.

The family wants the elder Chiang buried in Nanjing, next to Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Nationalist Party, and Chiang Jr. in the family home town of Fenghua, in the southeast Chinese province of Zhejiang.

Chiang Hsiao-yung, the elder Chiang's grandson, told a news conference he would prefer a state burial, ``but given the circumstances, we don't care so much about the formalities.''

His main concern, he said, was to get them home, even if China refused to give them full honors. ``I would rather have their bodies whipped by the enemies than by our own people,'' he said.