Transition in Taipei

The times they are a-changin.

The site originally dedicated to Chiang Kai-shek by his Kuomintang successors is being rededicated to the ideals of democracy. In the years following the Generalissimo's death in 1978 the site bearing his name became the scene of numerous demonstrations calling for reform. The most notable of these, the Wild Lily student movement of 1990, led to Taiwan's first island-wide popular elections. Recalling these events, Taiwan's national government recently designated the square, the hall and the surrounding gardens historical landmarks and rededicated them to the island's peaceful achievement of democracy.

The original Chinese characters over the entrance archway recalled Taiwan's late dictator in words fit for a Chinese emperor: dazhong zhizheng (大中至正) . Yesterday workers took down the characters. When the last one came off the wall at 5:26 pm the crowd cheered. Cries went up: 'Taiwan ten thousand years!' 'Long live democracy!'

New characters designating the landmark as Liberty Square (自由廣場) are due to be mounted today.

A crowd of several hundred looked on, took pictures, and shared stories about life under Chiang Kai-shek and the developments since. There were songs as well. One knot of protesters waved ROC flags and sang 'Remember Chiang Kai-shek' repeatedly throughout the day. The Chinese-language anthem, once taught in schools, declares the singer's loyalty to the Generalissimo's goals of 'opposing Communists' and 'retaking the mainland.' Another small group, supporting the change, broke out singing 'Taiwan the Formosa' as the last character dropped from the wall. This Taiwanese-language hymn praises an island 'once subdued under foreign rule, now free at last to be its own.'

The Taipei Times reports that in the next week the plaque designating the monument across the square as 'Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall' (中正紀念堂) will also be removed. A new plaque will be put in place bearing the characters minzhu jinianguan (民主紀念館): 'Democracy Hall.'


Photos by Alton Thompson
Taipei, Taiwan 2007
December 7
All rights reserved.



Prince Roy said...

Well, I might take issue with the Taipei Times that this represented a decision of Taiwan's national government. As far as I know, this is an entirely unilateral move done by the executive branch, and without any consultation with the legislature or judiciary. There even remains the issue of if the central government even has jurisdiction over the site, or whether the Taipei municipal government does.

Alton Thompson said...

Democracy is built on the recognition of human rights. It is a great thing to stand for and a momentous achievement for Taiwan. Democracy on this island was not won easily or cheaply. It is appropriate that we enshrine it.

Partisan passions run high in election seasons. It's important to remember that liberty is not something that belongs to a single party. It belongs to, and benefits, all. We have no kings and princes here. Every government authority you mention holds that authority because free people have voluntarily entrusted those individuals with it.

The minutia of the moment will be forgotten. Great ideas endure.

Anonymous said...

Strange, isn't it, Alton? You would think that giving an honored place to the ideal of democracy would be the least controversial move a government can make.

A elected administration made the change by legal means. The executive branch of government, specifically the Ministry of Education, administers the site. The change is thus proper. Let those who dislike "unilateral" decisions express their repudiation of Chiang Kai-shek, who did everything unilaterally.

It may well be that the process is not "checked and balanced" enough. If people feel this way, the laws can be changed. That's the beauty of an open system.

I agree with Prince that, in the case of a well-known icon such as this, the expression of broad support is appropriate even if not required.

Taiwan's next president, regardless of his party affiliation, would do well to hold a popular referendum on the matter. (I understand that one of the candidates, Mr Hsieh, has already proposed holding one.) Let the people of Taiwan choose between "Liberty" and "Chiang Kai-shek" in a popular vote. Then let all parties, at all levels, respect their decision.

BenG said...

Good comment. The accused lack of legitimacy of the name change stems from the ROC constitution that allows for a government executive run by a minority party in the legislature and also from city government politics that unilaterally decides it will follow its own course regardless of national policy .. the one-step voting process conflict is an example here. I am glad the name has changed and find no excuse for maintaining relics of idolatry for former dictators. The transition needs to be handled with care and there will always be vocal minorities that complain they are victimised but then thats the downside of democracy - at every election at least a large group of the population will be disappointed and their needs de-prioritized. ... now I wonder if they'll take down the huge bronze statue of Chiang inside the hall?

Alton Thompson said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone. We live in interesting times, yes?