What you need to know
As the Tsai administration mulls updating Taiwan’s antiquated laws on land expropriation, one demolished building serves as a powerful symbol.
Premier Lin Chuan (林全) on Monday said that a pharmacy and residence in Miaoli County’s Dapu Township, demolished to great controversy in 2013, could eventually be rebuilt if the law permits.
Such a move would be welcomed, not only because it would be the just thing to do, but also because of the symbolic value of the act. Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) did very well in the November 2014 local elections and January 2016 general elections in large part due to a widespread loss of confidence in the Kuomintang’s (KMT) ability to find a proper equilibrium between development and respect of society’s most vulnerable groups.
Key among the many controversies that marked Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) second term in office was that surrounding urban renewal in Dapu, a trauma that directly contributed to a few deaths — including that of Chang Sen-wen (張森文), whose spouse, Peng Hsiu-chun (彭秀春), was at the meeting with Premier Lin — and to the KMT’s downward spiral into electoral defeat.
Dapu was a catalyst, an unleashing of communal anger, and a turning point in Taiwan’s civic activism, when society (and the media) decided it would no longer countenance the government lies, indifference and local corruption that had conspired to uproot innocent citizens like the Changs and many others like them. Among other things, it led to the occupation of a government building seven months before the Sunflower Movement’s occupation of the Legislative Yuan on March 18. As I have argued elsewhere, without the “radicalization” that occurred following Dapu and the Aug. 18 (“818”) occupation of the Ministry of the Interior, it is likely that the Sunflower Movement would never have dared to escalate the way it did in March 2014 (future Sunflower leader Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) was one of the leading participants in the Dapu protests).
It is for this reason that the home and pharmacy in Dapu should be rebuilt. Politics is, among other things, the art of symbolism. President Tsai has given every indication that she understands that, as her formal apology to the nation’s Aborigines earlier this month suggests. Of course it would be impossible to rebuild all the homes, businesses and entire communities — such as Huaguang — that were demolished in recent years for urban renewal purposes, and undoubtedly other victims, past and future, would be entitled to ask why Dapu should receive preferential treatment. But rehabilitation has to start somewhere, and where better a place to begin than in Dapu, a hitherto unknown little corner of Taiwan that due to the predations of the powerful turned into the epicenter of the seismic waves that transformed the face of politics in Taiwan.
Dapu would be the perfect symbol of the new administration’s avowed commitment to revamping the nation’s laws on land expropriation, to greater accountability and transparency. Politics is the art of the possible, Premier Lin. The law permits.
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White