Reviving the National Democracy Hall – Taipei Times
Taiwan will always face new challenges at home and abroad as its democracy develops. Yet as new issues emerge and need to be addressed, one of the most pressing issues of his past remains, namely: what to do with the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, or as it is sarcastically called “The Tomb of the dictator dead ”.
A debut on this problem had been made under the presidency of Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). In 2007, the hall was renamed National Taiwan Democracy Hall and its surroundings were named Liberty Square.
Controversy naturally followed, especially on the part of Taiwan’s resident diaspora, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). The KMT members had fled to Taiwan after losing the civil war in China in 1949, and they still hadn’t wanted to face this fact. For convenience, therefore, they ignore how they have imposed more than 40 years of martial law, white terror and one-party rule on Taiwanese, and focus on the current problem of the room.
In 2009, with a democratic change of the presidency, the mainstay of the KMT Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) changed the name to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The Place de la Liberté ironically kept its name.
In 2017, after Ma’s presidency, a commission was again formed to reconsider a name change more in line with the hall’s purpose, but after four years no clear results have emerged. It is therefore time for more concrete suggestions and actions.
The first step should be to rename the hall to National Taiwan Democracy Hall again. The statue of former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) must also be permanently removed. Once done, all future actions can take place. What to do with the statue is not a problem. It can easily be placed in the Cihu Memorial Sculpture Park, where it can reside with all the other statues and relics from this past totalitarian era.
However, once that is done, the more difficult question arises: What should the statue in a renowned Democracy Hall replace with?
I suggest a statue or a monumental piece that symbolizes the democracy of Taiwan. This specific sculpture or work can be developed by a commission and voted on by the people as to what symbolically and aesthetically best represents the democracy of the nation.
While such an aesthetic work should dominate the hall, space along the walls should also be arranged for the statues of each of Taiwan’s four democratically elected presidents, as well as future presidents.
Each person’s statue can be placed with a brief history of the main accomplishments and developments (good and bad) during each person’s term of office. This isn’t about fostering a cult of personality, but rather pointing out to people that “you get what you elect,” so you better be careful in your selections. In this way, voters can easily learn how their choices have consequences and that elected officials have weaknesses as well as strengths.
Taiwan has been fortunate that its four elected presidents already provide a clear and ready history of the many changes that have taken place since 1996, when Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) became the first president to be elected by the people.
The developments in the room do not end there. In the rooms at the bottom of the hall, a room could be dedicated to exhibit a brief history of Taiwan from its Aborigines who made significant contributions to the vast Austronesian Empire that once spanned the oceans. Taiwan’s various colonial eras as well as the flags that flew on the island would also be included. These would be the Dutch, the Spaniards, the fleeing Ming loyalists, the pursuing Qing Manchus, the brief French military incursion and the Japanese colonial era. Taiwanese should be aware of the fullness of the island’s history.
Another piece could indicate how democracy arose out of the occupation of the KMT with its martial law and white terror. What citizens need to understand is how his democracy came at a price.
A third room could present the different political parties that rose and fell. It is important to understand how, in a democracy, political entities such as the New Party can not only rise up, but understand why they have fallen. Such lessons would lead to a better understanding of democracy. No party should be invoked, and not all parties contribute equally.
Information could also be provided on other museums and historic sites. Reference to the Shung Ye Museum of Formosa Aborigines, Green Island Prison, 228 Peace Memorial Park and Museum, Martyrs’ Shrine, Jing-Mei Prison and others can be highlighted. It’s all part of Taiwan’s formative past.
Coordination with these museums and sites can be easily achieved. A brochure could indicate where each of them is located in the city or country. In this way, citizens who wish to deepen their knowledge would know where to go and learn how each demonstrates the development of Taiwanese democracy.
A special room or exhibition should also be set up for citizen movements which have contributed to democracy. These movements served an important purpose. The roles of the Wild Lily Movement, the Wild Strawberry Movement and the most recent Sunflower movement would be included here. Each has made their own contribution at a crucial stage in the development of Taiwanese democracy.
A different and more controversial issue to be faced is the role of the National Palace Museum. Treasures of this country across the Taiwan Strait are entrusted to this museum. They do not belong to Taiwan, but even this fact can become a good teaching tool.
The museum’s treasures were brought by the KMT as it fled its homeland. In truth, these treasures of the past ultimately belong to China and not Taiwan, but China has yet to demonstrate that it can show them proper respect. Many would have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
While a long-term plan can be made for the return of the artifacts, a special irony also exists. China should give up its bellicose and hegemonic desire to control and destroy Taiwan and its democracy. One can easily guess that he would rather sacrifice these treasures than admit his hegemony and the reality that he has no legal rights to Taiwan.
This same question would even pose a problem to many in the KMT; they should make the decisive choice whether they really support Taiwan’s democracy or, like quislings, prefer to return to a China, where they still hope for rank and privilege even though they have lost the civil war.
This question is beyond the scope of this article and raises the many reasons why a recipient was never named in the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco, when Japan relinquished sovereignty over Taiwan.
Taiwan’s beloved democracy is a democracy born out of controversy from the end of World War II to the present day. Our goal here is to restore the National Taiwan Democracy Hall, and the immediate first step in that effort is the removal of the Chiang Statue there.
It is time for Taiwan to be Taiwan and to have a national hall dedicated to its democracy.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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