Last week I visited the KMT headquarters in Bade Road with some students from the Taiwan Studies program at NCCU. The ground floor is adorned with some large photos of Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) commemorating the 100th anniversary of his birth. On the ground floor there is also a small museum of the history of the KMT. As one would expect Sun Yat-sen (孫中山), Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo all feature prominently. The narrative extends to Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) who is featured in many photographs depicting his presidential election campaign and subsequently as president.
But for those who know their Taiwanese history something is missing. Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who served as the President of Taiwan and Chairman of the KMT from 1988-2000, can only be found in a handful of photos. Lien Chan (連戰), who succeeded Lee as KMT Chairman, features in more photos than Lee.
A 2008 pamphlet detailing the KMT’s history (scanned and uploaded to flickr: side 1 & side 2) also similarly neglects Lee’s role. It only has a single mention of him in a list of party leaders. The pamphlet doesn’t record that he was the first KMT leader ever elected as president through a popular vote. Nor does it mention the key role he played in leading Taiwan from the period of martial law to being a free and democratic country with its first democratic transition of power in 2000.
It is not just in the insular world of KMT headquarters that the party seeks to promote such a blinkered view of history though. A far more public struggle is currently going on over the naming and status of the former Jingmei Detention Centre in Taipei County. Many leading figures in the Tangwai movement, who later founded the DPP, were held there after the 1979 Kaohsiung Incident (美麗島事件). It was reopened as a Human Rights Memorial in December 2007.
I visited the Human Rights Museum several times after it opened. It was a profoundly moving experience that brought history to life. Prisons are places hidden behind barbed wire and walls and rarely looked into. To walk through the halls and look into the rooms is confronting and unsettling.
Now the KMT government has changed the name of this place from a human rights museum to the “Jingmei Cultural Park”. It wants it to be a place for artistic groups to practice and perform while removing things which are a reminder of the site’s dark past.
I wrote the Council of Cultural Affairs back in January about the museum’s closure but I never received a reply. The issue has been in the news in the last couple of weeks though. Yesterday human rights groups and associations of former political prisoners held a press conference to express their opposition to the government’s plan. The Taipei Times reported they had collected 400 signatures opposing the plan from DPP and KMT lawmakers, former political prisoners and 26 civic groups.
I visited the centre again today. A security guard initially told me that I could not enter because work was still going on, but after I challenged him he agreed that he had no right to stop me. Once inside I could access all parts of the site without any problems. The exhibition halls, which once had displays of the history of the White Terror period, have been cleared out. There was a small exhibition of art by students from NTNU on display in two of the halls.
A poster of Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) still stands in one part of the prison, left over from an exhibition last year. It is as if Cheng’s defiant spirit lives on, unable to be silenced. Walking through the halls of the prison I read the names on the doors of the cells, luminaries in the history of Taiwan’s democratic movement: Shih Ming-teh (施明德), Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), Chen Chu (陳菊) and Wang Sing-nan (王幸男).
The Jingmei Detention Centre represents a profound and important part of Taiwan’s disturbing history. It must be preserved as a reminder of what happened during the period of White Terror. The KMT cannot simply erase the parts of history that don’t fit its grand narrative. Only by providing an honest and complete representation of Taiwanese history can it claim to genuinely represent the people of Taiwan.