Four characters removed from Democracy Hall

Main gate of Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, 9:37pm 6 Dec 2007

9:37pm, 6 December 2007

Taiwan Democracy Memorial Main Gate, 4:52pm 7 Dec 2007

4:52pm, 7 December 2007 

Taiwan Democracy Memorial Main Gate, 5:26pm 7 Dec 2007

5:26pm, 7 December 2007

Taiwan Democracy Memorial Main Gate, 5:28pm 7 Dec 2007

5:28pm, 7 December 2007

Just before darkness fell on Taipei City this evening two workmen completed the removal of the four characters 大中至正 (dàzhōng zhìzhèng) from the main gate of National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (國立臺灣民主紀念館). It was the latest step in the renaming of the Hall. Back in May the central government changed the name from Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念館) to Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. The four characters on the main gate also refer to Chiang Kai-shek. The government plans to replace them with 自由廣場 (zìyóu guǎngchǎng), which means Freedom Square.  

Lines of media satellite news vans at the main gate on Taiwan Democracy Hall on 7 Dec 2007

A crowd of a few hundred people and a huge media contigent gathered to watch the historic occassion. There was a small number protesting the change, while the vast majority were either in support or just wanting to witness the moment. There was also a large police presence and they formed a wall across the middle of the area in front of the gate. The red and blue protesters were kept on one side and the green supporters on the other.

A few other bloggers have commented on the name change. Michael Turton has written about AFP reporting on the issue. At Taiwan Matters Feiren has a post on the incident yesterday were several people were hit by a truck and one person was seriously injured. Spinning the Globe witnessed the incident. Tim Maddog also has some comments about this and other issues. 

Earlier this year I wrote about some of my ideas for transforming the space around the Hall. However, I know that many people in Taipei have a sense of attachment to the Hall. While I support the removal of the references to Chiang Kai-shek, I think more thought could have been given to the new names and there should have been some sort of process of consultation. Your comments and opinions are most welcome on this blog!

44 thoughts on “Four characters removed from Democracy Hall

  1. Are they going to remove the CKS statue as well? It seems strange to call it Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall and Freedom Square with the statue of CKS there. If it were up to me I would rename it the 228 Memorial Hall and put up old photos and memorabilia from that time around the statue and also some info about the event. (Most tourists would not bother to go to the 228 museum)….and maybe engrave the all the victims names on the walls that surround the memorial. This would make the removing of the statue unnecessary avoiding more clashes between the greens and blues.

  2. Agreed with your latter comment,”I think more thought could have been given to the new names and there should have been some sort of process of consultation. ” To me it’s sad how one party or leader of a party attempts to redress the alleged wrongs of the other by being equally capricious.

    In essence it’s all politics and never about the people, here and every where.

  3. i was wondering too if they were going to remove the statue. It’s a really beautiful complex. Definitely hope they at least put up sme exhibit to leeson the statue’s impact.

  4. Mark, I don’t think it is fair to say A-bian or the DPP is “equally capricious”. They haven’t thrown anyone into jail and people are free to criticise him without fear. However, democracy is a continual process not just a matter of holding elections once every few years.

  5. Whatever-my main discomfort is not because of what they did, just feel it could be handled more democratically like letting Taiwan citizens offer suggestions on if they want it changed and how.

  6. Jeanne and owshawng, I am not sure about the removal of the statue. Although the room were it is displayed has been closed for over six months now. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has disappeared in the middle of the night, especially as the entire hall area is currently locked down. Since May they have already had exhibitions on “Bye-bye Chiang Kai-shek!” and the transition to democracy.

  7. David,

    to say that the DPP and the KMT aren’t equally capricious because the DPP ‘hasn’t thrown anyone into jail’ and people are ‘free to criticize A-Bian’ is a somewhat disingenuous response to Mark’s point.

    The KMT doesn’t throw anyone into jail and people are completely free to criticize Ma or any other KMT leader. I think too many foreigners proceed under the assumption that CKS is still alive and at the helm of the KMT. To them I would say, ‘Welcome to 2007′. The KMT certainly has plenty to account for regarding its past; whether it can do so is the key to its survival as a viable political party in Taiwan. But this is not your father’s KMT.

    I wonder how useful these kinds of actions by the DPP are, other than as a means to fire up its base in the run-up to the elections. But if the KMT wins in January and later in March, should they get to put the old words back up? Would they have a mandate?

    Most Taiwanese I know here think this is yet another in a long line of useless, silly bickering that both parties engage in to avoid the real issues facing Taiwan.

  8. Many people I have spoken to feel that the renaming is necessary. Even KMT supporters feel that CKS has now been shown to have done bad things, so it is not appropriate to have a large memorial glorifying him in the centre of Taipei.

  9. There was a small number protesting the change, while the vast majority were either in support or just wanting to witness the moment.

    It could also be said that a small number openly supported the change, while the vast majority were either protesting or just wanting to witness the act.

    I can’t speak for everyone, but nearly all the Taiwanese people I’ve asked about this were pretty vocal detractors of all the time spent on re-branding everything.

  10. Prince Roy, if this is not your father’s KMT, then why are they still celebrating the past with events like “Missing You Chiang Ching-kuo”. Seems kinda odd for a party committed to democracy to recall the days of dictatorship with such fondness!

    The most democratic option would of course be to hold a referendum. I wonder why the KMT are not suggesting this route?

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  12. Most Taiwanese I know here think this is yet another in a long line of useless, silly bickering that both parties engage in to avoid the real issues facing Taiwan.

    That’s because you live in Taipei, where “most Taiwanese I know” are either mainlanders, pro-KMT Taiwanese, or people who have to follow the party line because they work for one of the above two categories. As I am sure you know, Franc, locals hardly reveal truths about their political views to just anyone. They take the easy route and go along with the collective view. Of course, you get an incredibly skewed view of Taiwan from living in Taipei, where the city is overwhelmingly pro-Blue, especially the government workers, and believe that they are entitled to be running the government by right of birth. Hence their anguish at A-Bian in charge of “their” ROC.

    It might not be your father’s KMT, but the system that Dad set up is still running things, and so are all of his buddies.

    Michael

  13. For the moment, let’s set aside your suggestion that the residents of this city give an “incredibly skewed view” about what should be done with a hall in this city. My point was only that the Taiwanese people I know don’t paint these events in the same light that most foreigners do.

    I really don’t see why it’s necessary to point out my city of residence or use it as some sort of disclaimer against my observations. Since you have, though, it’s only fair to point out that I just moved to Taipei a little over a year ago. Before that, I spent significant amounts of time in Taoyuan county and Jiayi city, both of which lean more DPP than your home, Taizhong city, does. It’s certainly not like I’ve spent my entire time here cloistered away with a group of aging mainlanders who came here during the war.

  14. If it is the case that “…locals hardly reveal truths about their political views to just anyone”, then it’s as likely that they haven’t revealed their true views to you either. Still, you don’t seem to let that possibilty get in the way of you stating their views and beliefs as fact.

    Oh, and do you really need to be quite so partronising?

  15. fair enough, many of these people live in Taipei, but they are actually from the south, like so many other Taipei residents.

    Actually, I think it should be a matter for Taipei city residents to decide. The park is in their city, so why should someone in Miaoli have a say?

    Maybe the fair thing would be a city referendum, but again, my sense is that most people here think this whole issue is irrelevant foolishness.

  16. Thanks to everyone for their comments. I won’t reply to each one individually, but I will just make a few key points.

    1. The Hall has only been there less than thirty years. It is a significant landmark in Taipei, but the way people perceive it will change over time. Once all this fuss has died down perhaps there can be some more rational discussion about the future of the space.

    2. The number of people protesting against the change at the site was very small on the three nights that I was there (6,7,8 Dec). Perhaps about 50 on 6 December and down to about five on 8 December. They were outnumbered by both the police and the media.

    3. People in Taiwan that refrain from or are hesitant to express their opinions are much more likely to belong to the green side. The psychological and social effects of four decades of martial law continue to influence Taiwanese society today.

  17. For the moment, let’s set aside your suggestion that the residents of this city give an “incredibly skewed view” about what should be done with a hall in this city.

    But I didn’t say that you got a skewed view of the hall situation, Mark. That comment was about Taiwan, and it was the concluding point of a longer comment.

    If it is the case that “…locals hardly reveal truths about their political views to just anyone”, then it’s as likely that they haven’t revealed their true views to you either. Still, you don’t seem to let that possibilty get in the way of you stating their views and beliefs as fact.

    I didn’t say they had revealed their views to me. But I am capable of reading voting patterns and census data, Ben, that give a basic indicator of the political makeup of the city.

    Actually, I think it should be a matter for Taipei city residents to decide. The park is in their city, so why should someone in Miaoli have a say?

    I have no idea how to reply to a comment like this, but I assume then, that from this point on you will hold that similarly, Beijing should have no say in the future of Taiwan.

    Maybe the fair thing would be a city referendum, but again, my sense is that most people here think this whole issue is irrelevant foolishness.

    Yes, we all agree that they say that.

    Michael

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  19. 3. People in Taiwan that refrain from or are hesitant to express their opinions are much more likely to belong to the green side. The psychological and social effects of four decades of martial law continue to influence Taiwanese society today.

    Once again, my experience in this matter has been different. I’ve known several people, including neighbors, friends’ girlfriends and other acquaintances who are furious about things like this, but who would hesitate to say anything, even on a blog like this.

    I think the psychological and social effects of the administration in power this decade are greater than those from generations past. I know multiple non-Taiyu speaking people who were refused various services or even yelled at by aggressive green supporters during the last election.

  20. I think the psychological and social effects of the administration in power this decade are greater than those from generations past.

    Any basic reading of history would lead one to completely dismiss this statement out of hand. It really is ridiculous. The DPP has not imprisoned or executed anyone for their political beliefs and it has not engaged in censorship and control of the media. It has strengthened Taiwan’s rule of law, democracy and sovereignty. I really don’t understand where you could get such an idea from.

  21. Any basic reading of history would lead one to completely dismiss this statement out of hand. It really is ridiculous.

    Is it? People always care more about what is happening now than about what happened years ago. The Iraq War, for example, isn’t nearly the conflict that WWII was, but has a greater effect on Americans psychologically and socially. Blogs are full of what the neocons in the Bush administration have done to give the executive greater power, but rarely ever mention FDR’s blatant attempt at taking control of the courts. WWII involved such atrocities, and yet the Iraq conflict gets more air-time. Why? Because it’s happening now. Because people we know now are involved.

    Similarly, regardless about what you feel the Taiwanese people should feel about their history, most are more concerned with who has power now, and how the social landscape is now. Have you asked many Taiwanese people you know how they feel about this issue? Do most of them really want the walls to be taken down and the words to be changed? If you haven’t taken the opportunity to listen to the opinions of the people around you, it might be worth the time it takes. I’ve found that even casual acquaintances are very open with their opinions when I express none of my own and ask their thoughts on a news topic.

  22. I never denied that Taiwanese people have a variety of opinions on this issue. Of course people’s feelings are aroused now and we can experience this directly. However, to dismiss people’s feelings in the past as being less strong is not valid. We cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for someone whose family members were disappeared during the White Terror period or for someone who spent years denied their freedom in jail or if they were a little luckier in exile. This historical suffering is still playing out in Taiwan today. It makes no sense to deny it or view it in isolation.

    If you want to write an article on your blog about how Taiwanese are now more oppressed than they were during the White Terror period please go ahead.

  23. I think the psychological and social effects of the administration in power this decade are greater than those from generations past.

    Mark, do mean that psych effects of this administration are greater at this moment, or are you seriously suggesting that what the DPP has done in 7 years outweighs what the KMT did in fifty? Or what?

  24. I think both of you, Michael and David, are somewhat overstating the reluctance of the pro-Green Taiwanese to voice their opinions.

    I see very little, if any, evidence of this. Whether it be letters to the editor, radio call-in shows, TV political talk shows, both guests and viewer call-in, conversations I overhear…whatever, there is no shortage of people unafraid to express their views regarding any Green/Blue politician.

    In the conversations I’ve had about the CKS issue, I didn’t even initiate them. They brought it up to me, so I can’t buy the explanation that they are reluctant to express their true feelings.

  25. Michael, I’m just saying that what people feel now is usually more strongly affected by what’s happening now than by what happened in decades past, even if that past was brutal compared to our modern society.

    David, those who have lost family members in the white terror, who were jailed or were exiled would obviously feel differently. Are any of your friends among that group? I’ve actually known any personally.

  26. Michael, I’m just saying that what people feel now is usually more strongly affected by what’s happening now than by what happened in decades past, even if that past was brutal compared to our modern society.

    OK, just wanted clarification.

  27. Mark, I watched the TVB video on YouTube. Nothing new there.

    Do you mean you “saw the event” live, like David did?

    Anyway, here’s a direct link (12.4 MB WMV) to the video I mentioned in my earlier comment in case you want to try downloading it.

    Tim Maddog

  28. I remember when adults only discussed politics in whispers late at night and only with close family members such were the psychological and social effects of the KMT and the refugees that came with them. The Taiwanese established freedom of speech, press and freedom to demonstrate and hold politicians accountable for their actions. If the blues are feeling a psychological and social effect then they have only themselves to blame. They lost power to the people they repressed and treated like second-class citizens and that’s where the psychological effect comes from. When apartheid came down I’m sure the whites were afraid of retributions from the blacks because they knew they treated the blacks like crap. If the Taiwanese had been treated fairly then you would probably see less aggression towards the blues after all you don’t see the Taiwanese behaving that way towards the Japanese. These refugees don’t want to be Taiwanese and also don’t want to go back to China so all they do is create trouble whenever they can. They created the red shirts campaign instead of letting the rule of law takes its course, they stonewalled the defense budget, held the legislature hostage when they didn’t get what they want; more power for the CEC which they control, fabricate news stories (the gangster on TVBS) and spread rumours (CSB threatens martial law) and now they are threatening to change voting procedures…. that is why they are getting the reaction they are getting from the greens…how much more of these antics can Taiwanese people take.

  29. Erasing history good and bad is bad news. If that was the case with here in the US in regard to our holiday Thanksgiving Day.

    Should it be celebrated, because the indians of America save the pilgrims from europe which eventually tooks the lands of the native americans.

    Chiang may have had a dark history in Taiwan, but if it wasnt for him would Taiwan been one of the 4 Little (economic) Dragons of Asia?

  30. What happened here was not “erasing history.” That would be what the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) did when they removed most of Taiwan’s history from the books used to teach here and replaced it with the “glorious” history of China.

    What happened here was the removal of a memorial which glorified a dictator — a perfectly normal thing to do. If the history books don’t talk about Chiang, blame that on those who still worship him.

    BTW, the thing about “if it wasn’t for him” sounds exactly like a fake KMT talking point.

    On Thanksgiving, I’m not sure what your point is, but have a look at this video.

    Tim Maddog

  31. Thanks for replying to the above comment Tim Maddog. I would have written about the same thing myself.

    To “Guest from America” it is not about erasing history. It is about presenting a version of history which is closer to reality rather than the ridiculous fantasy of CKS as God which some people still seem to believe.

  32. I don’t know anyone who considers him as a god, or anything even close. But “Guest” raises a point which many deep greens fail to address. If not for CKS, the KMT, and US support for them, where would Taiwan be today?

    What or who would have stopped the PLA? Truman had already written CKS off, and if not for the Korean War, Taiwan would likely look very different today.

    It’s a legitimate question. Compare and contrast CKS’ White Terror with what Mao’s response would have been to the events that led to 2/28.

  33. I think it is a little pointless to speculate about what might have happened in history if….. Anyway, I’ll just make a few points in response to Prince Roy.

    1. Regarding those who consider CKS as a god you need look no further than this photo or this one. Prince Roy, you have even blogged on CKS being given an “entry-level positions in the Taoist heavenly bureaucracy!”.

    2. Who knows where Taiwan would be today if CKS and the KMT hadn’t landed upon its shores? However, there is absolutely no reason why it couldn’t have become an independent democratic state. The Taiwanese were quite capable of managing their own affairs and determining what their future should be.

    3. More than 100 miles of ocean would have done a pretty good job of stopping the PLA. The PLA was never able to capture Jinmen. What hope would it have had of capturing Taiwan?

    4. I don’t quite understand the point you are trying to make when you say, “Compare and contrast CKS’ White Terror with what Mao’s response would have been to the events that led to 2/28.” Are you trying to say White Terror under Mao would have been even more terrible? I really don’t think making these kinds of comparisons are a good idea as they tend to create a notion that some groups of peoples’ suffering was worse than others. Disappearings, arbitrary detentions, executions and a climate of fear are terrible things in any country in under any leader.

  34. Hi David,

    my own brief response:

    1. yes, there are still CKS supporters, mostly old-timers like this guy. That doesn’t rise to the level of deification, however. And in fact, that old man raises the same point: where would Taiwan be now if not for CKS (even more so, his son CCK)? The icons I saw in a Taoist temple are interesting, but don’t represent deification either-the icons are placed well in the rear, and are not the main objects of worship-just low level bureaucrats in the Celestial realm.

    2. I have to disagree on this point. The CCP considered Taiwan an integral part of China-this was one area in which it was in total agreement with the KMT. If there had been no CKS on Taiwan, with a fully-equipped army, I don’t think anyone seriously doubts the PLA would’ve arrived in Taiwan sometime in the summer/fall of 1949. The Taiwanese had no army. There would have been little, if any, initial resistance.

    3. 100 miles of ocean would not have stopped the PLA. Logistically, its invasion of Tibet posed far more difficult challenges. So did Xinjiang. The PLA went to those places regardless. And remember, the only reason the PLA didn’t take Jinmen (Taiwan was next, btw) is precisely due to CKS and the KMT army. So without CKS, who would’ve defended Taiwan?

    4. The point I’m making here is that sure it’s fine to hold CKS accountable for all the bad things he did. No one denys them. But he did not exist in a vacuum. If CKS was not on this island, Mao would’ve been. So the question then becomes, with what we know of events on the PRC in the 1950s and 1960s, and how the PRC deals with dissent of all types even today, how should the Taiwanese evaluate CKS’s legacy?

    To demonize CKS without confronting the alternative is disingenuous, in my book.

  35. There are an infinite array of possible histories and one that actually happened. The possible histories might make for interesting speculative fiction, however the one that happened is what shapes the present. It should be the focus of our concern.

    Point four that I made above is what I think is the most important thing. The moral gravity of an act is not diminished simply because someone, somewhere else did or might have done something worse. You seem to think my argument is disingenuous. Our views are completely at odds here. It makes discussion difficult.

  36. PR, you seem to be unaware of your own words and/or thoughts. To those who believe in such things, even “bureaucrats in the Celestial realm” hold positions way above us lowly humans, so saying that putting CKS at the back of the altar “doesn’t rise to the level of deification” might also be called disingenuous.

    Furthermore, most people don’t get gigantic, mausoleum-style memorial halls named after them or have their bodies placed in sarcophagi.

    You say that “it’s fine to hold CKS accountable for all the bad things he did,” but when someone does exactly that, you leap to his defense. What gives?

    Imagine if, at the end of World War II, the Chinese Nationalist Party did what they were supposed to and actually protected Taiwan instead of stealing all of its resources, destroying so many things, killing so many people, imposing martial law, murdering politicians’ families, and continuing their Gestapo-like behavior right up to the present day.

    Imagine if, in April of 1980, the Chinese Nationalist Party government had lifted martial law 7 years early, reformed their party, and in place of the memorial to their party deity (read the KMT history books which do deify the pitiful excuse for a human being) built a memorial to the “little people” who suffered under their cruel regime. Where would Taiwan be today in the face of a bullying neighbor who aspires to wrongfully take power? Instead of building a new nation, the Chinese KMT clung to their old, defunct one, just like Norman Bates did with his long-dead mother in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Psycho.

    To “confront[] the alternative” without seeing the demon that was CKS — that would be a better candidate for the “disingenuous” category. While some people fight for freedom and democracy, why do others defend dead authoritarians?

    As I said in my earlier comment, it is quite normal for democratic countries to remove memorials to former dictators. Conversely, I find it quite odd for people (e.g., you) from democratic countries to be defending the continued adoration of these cruel figures.

    Tim Maddog

  37. Prince Roy seems to imagine that Chiang Kai-shek was some sort of mythical benefactor who, for “historical reasons,” needs to be defended from his detractors in the blogosphere. He wasn’t, and the record of his misdeeds in real life in China and Taiwan is quite long and well-documented. Is it really so hard to see that to many people Chiang-worship (@ the CKS Mausoleum) would seem like an insult? This is the main question that people like PR and other pro-KMT people don’t want to deal with — his actual legacy to the Taiwanese people.

    And as Tim said above, this is what’s really “disingenous”: pretending that poor ole uncle Chiang is the “victim” here, and not, in fact, the demon. He was a fascist thug and a villain to both the Taiwanese and the Chinese, and when people are blinded by their loyalty to China to directly admit it we have a problem. Hell, rationalizing CKS’ reign of terror on Taiwan isn’t even something the KMT is willing to do, um, yet.

  38. Thanks to everyone for their comments. This topic is old. I really hope we can move on from it. Whether it ever needs to be revisited depends on the actions of the incoming Ma administration. Again I hope they have the wisdom to move forward and not cause more division in society.

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