Translated and compiled by Bing-sheng Lee
On May 3, Hsu Yung-ming, a New Power Party (NPP) legislator, held a public hearing at the Legislative Yuan on future plans for the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Hsu said that tearing down the hall is not the only way to bring justice to the victims of Chiang’s dictatorship. Instead, since the hall is a symbol of the past authoritarian regime in Taiwan, it can be transformed into a museum that educates citizens about the development of Taiwan’s democracy.
Hsu believes the hall can become an educational institution that serves as a reminder of what the country has been through. Tearing the hall down may wipe out memories of the authoritarian regime, which would be adverse to educating people of the Taiwan’s history.
Chen Yi-shen, a history researcher at the Academia Sinica, suggests that the hall can be converted into a repository of records for Taiwan’s presidents.
Shin Nian-feng, professor of Land Management at Feng Chia University, says the construction style of the hall resembles the appearance of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, which not only implies authoritarian power, but also consecrates Chiang Kai-shek. Shin states that Taiwan is a democratic country, which should no longer commemorate a dictator like Chiang.
Shin also mentions that many democratic movements in Taiwan, such as the Wild Lily Student Movement in 1990 and the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008, took place on the plaza in front of the hall. He suggests that the history of these civic movements should be included in the transformation of the hall.
Social activist Peng Yang-kai argues that the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Park, where the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is located, is culturally and historically meaningful, so the priority is to determine the role and direction of the venue.
Lee Chieh-ming, a representative of the Ministry of Culture, says that the hall has already been converted from a memorial hall of a single president into a museum with diversified purposes over the years.
According to Lee, the issues of whether the hall should be turned into a record repository for all Taiwan presidents and whether the transformation of the hall should include the process of public deliberation will be presented to the minister.
In response to the issue, NPP legislator Freddy Lim says that he supports the transformation of the hall, but the exhibition in the hall should present the history truthfully.
Lim says demolishing the hall is the worst suggestion. The point is how to make the best use of the existing venue and expand its functions.
Lim also emphasizes the importance of transitional justice and why it is critical to redefining the role of the hall. He argues that transitional justice should be achieved by putting ourselves into the shoes of the victims. People should consider how the victims and victims’ children would think when they see the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the purpose for its establishment.
Located in the center of the Taipei City, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was built in 1980 in memory of the country’s former president Chiang Kai-shek, who ran the country for more than 20 years. Since its establishment, the hall is one of the most well known landmarks in Taiwan.
Past controversies over the hall
This is not the first time that the hall has been at the center of debate in Taiwan.
In 2007, then Taiwan president Chen Shui-bien considered the hall a legacy of the past authoritarian regime and insisted the hall should be torn down or renamed. He later managed to rename the hall as National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall and changed the name of the park into Taiwan Democracy Memorial Park.
Yet, in 2008, Ma Ying-jeou and the Kuomintang (KMT) won the presidential election and took over the administration from the DPP. Ma reinstated the name of “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall” following his victory and the name has remained to date.
In 2012, Joseph Wu, who is now DPP secretary-general, admitted that DPP often used transitional justice as a tool for election campaigns when it was in office. The way the party handled the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall issues was a mistake.
In 2015, Alexander Tsai, former DPP researcher of public policy, also criticized the party for changing the name Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall into National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. He said the transformation was a desperate move that resembled the devastation of traditional cultures and histories carried out by the Red Guards in China in the 1960s.
Reactions to the recent debate
SET reports public reactions to the debate.
One person thinks the government should keep the hall. It is just a part of history. He doesn’t think there is any authoritarianism left in the building.
Another says it is a waste of money to simply demolish it. He believes people can discuss how to make the best use of the hall.
A lady says she does not consider the hall a representation of political ideology, but a place of cultural heritage.
NPP legislator Kawlo Iyun states that Taiwan can learn from how Germany dealt with the history of Nazi regime. She says the hall could be a reflection, but not a memorial of the past regime.
CTiTV reports some people worry that if the hall is demolished, Taipei would lose a famous landmark that has annually brought in hundreds of thousands of tourists, which could be a huge blow to the tourism industry.
In addition, some experts say that tearing the hall down is not worth it because it might cost about NT$10 million (approximately US$313,000). They suggest that the government consider the issue carefully before making any decision.
Edited by Olivia Yang