What you need to know
Zongchai is something of an everyman — or everydog, and therefore the ideal replacement for Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.
The debate of whether and how to renovate the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall has raged since the beginning of the Tsai administration, which promises to do away with symbols of the authoritarian period. The Memorial features more than just a Chiang statue, which is under armed guard. In the same building is a museum devoted to Chiang memorabilia, including his old armored cars, clothing, portraits of the former president, and even his plastic reproductions of his favorite foods.
Before the Transitional Justice Commission announced a plan to transform the Memorial Hall last week, there were proposals to make it the new site for the Legislative Yuan, or to turn it into a museum devoted to the authoritarian period. But the Commission also stated specifically that it would prioritize removing the 6.3 meter tall bronze statue of the former president.
While the plan faces severe backlash from the opposition KMT, it is unsurprising that the Tsai administration would take aim at the statue. The statue is the “axis of worship” of the memorial hall, the commission said, situated at the center of what is one of the largest landmarks in Taipei. The problem is, what to put in its stead?
The answer should be obvious: Why not a statue of Zongchai, the Shiba Inu “speaking” for the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), which handles Taiwan’s Covid-19 response? Zongchai rose to prominence last year as the “spokesdog” for the CECC, calling for the public to follow guidelines from the command center. In reality, Zongchai is the pet of the social media manager of the health ministry.
Why Zongchai? First of all, it saves lives, unlike Chiang, who was a dictator that presided over thousands of politically-motivated killings during the White Terror. Taiwan was kept free of Covid-19 for over a year while the rest of the world was in lockdown. Likewise, while Taiwan was one of the last countries to see the arrival of the newer, more transmissible variants of Covid-19, the situation was brought under control in just around 100 days with a “voluntary lockdown.”
Zongchai is also a symbol of the successes of contemporary Taiwanese governance. The government did not have to compel people to comply with Covid-19 measures by threatening punishment. With the help of Zongchai, it educated the public about the measures needed to fight against the virus, and expected them to voluntarily carry them out. Information was disseminated through memes, LINE stickers, “zhangbeitu,” and other formats — many of them featuring Zongchai.
On the other hand, Chiang is reminiscent of an outmoded past and outdated values. To consolidate its power, the KMT placed informers in every classroom and within company offices to monitor political dissent. Heavy propaganda was broadcast through all sectors of Taiwanese society for the KMT to keep the public in line.
Zongchai and Chiang represent two opposite poles of government messaging. After his death, the KMT government used Chiang’s image as the basis for a personality cult to maintain its authority. Chiang was more or less deified; as the Transitional Justice Commission pointed out, the structure of the CKS memorial is that of a temple, and that temple is for worshipping Chiang. As part of this, Chiang was held up as a superhuman figure, referred to as “Chiang Gong” (蔣公 or “the Noble Chiang”) in an epithet that one might compare to “Führer” or “Il Duce.”
By contrast, Zongchai is a figure of the everyday. Rather than some kind of Great Man of History or deity, Zongchai is a cute, small dog who is meant to be relatable. Images released by the CECC urging people to stay at home and avoid going out during the outbreak feature Zongchai napping at home, or just chilling out.
In this sense, CECC memes including Zongchai aim at precisely the opposite of the KMT’s propaganda about Chiang. Zongchai is depicted as like the average person. There is no need for fanciful stories mythologizing Zongchai, Zongchai is depicted as something of an everyman — or everydog. If Zongchai is to set an example for public behavior during Covid-19, it is through this relatable nature, rather than by holding him up as a god for society to emulate, and threatening lethal punishment in the event that the public does not comply.
If we can learn to live without gods or heroes beyond reproach, we might as well melt down Chiang and erect a statue of Zongchai in its place. We can keep the honor guard for Zongchai and replace the Chiang memorabilia with some of the various ties, scarves, or glasses that Zongchai has been seen wearing in CECC memes. Whether or not it is the CECC’s sexy humanoid, anthropomorphized version — possibly inspired by popular Japanese anime Beastars — or the regular dog version that gets a statue, we can decide by a national referendum. I, personally, will vote for the former.
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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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