Sun, Apr 01, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Why Lo Sheng must be preserved

By Liao Hsien-hao 廖咸浩

The Cabinet and the Taipei County Government have decided to evict the residents of the Lo Sheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium on April 16 to make way for the construction of a Mass Rapid Transit maintenance depot. If this isn't stopped, it will be a black day indeed in Taiwanese history. Not only will the government destroy a major cultural artifact and compound the misery of the residents, but even more importantly, it will show us how single-minded politicians lack respect for culture, history and human rights. This is a real tragedy for all Taiwanese.

Of about 60 such institutions around the world, Lo Sheng Sanatorium is one of the few to have survived until today. It bears witness to the process of modernization, in which state violence is used to "purify" society as well as besmirch and oppress disadvantaged groups -- including those of different ethnicity, the lower classes, the mentally ill, the diseased and dissidents.

Preserving Lo Sheng would not only let Taiwan retain one of its cultural assets, but it would also preserve a piece of history for the entire world. The International Association for Integration, Dignity and Economic Advancement, a UN-related organization dedicated to promoting the rights of Hansen's disease patients, also believes that the sanatorium is part of a global heritage and has asked the Taiwanese government to protect it.

In preserving these buildings, Taiwan would allow the residents to continue to live there instead of uprooting long-standing community networks in the name of modernization. This would conform to the community spirit of the "villages" set aside for protection under the Cultural Heritage Preservation Law (文化資產保存法). It would also let the residents, who have been victimized by the Japanese colonial and Taiwanese governments, satisfy their modest wish to live out their lives in suitable and familiar surroundings.

No one can say how much effort has been wasted in the six years that have passed since former Lo Sheng director Chen Ching-chuan (陳京川) applied to have the sanatorium considered a historical site in 2001. Yet politicians from all parties still delay in executing the most basic of their duties -- confirming the sanatorium as a cultural asset.

According both to the spirit and the regulations of the preservation law, officials must fulfill their responsibilities and assess whether or not a location is a cultural asset after receiving an application. Any other considerations must wait until the status has been confirmed. Yet the entire Lo Sheng case has been handled backwards from beginning to end. It began with the idea that construction should be prioritized over culture. Officials discussed the feasibility of the project first and only talked about cultural preservation afterwards. This is the reason why even today Lo Sheng hasn't even entered the appraisal process.

Next, government technocrats should of course perform their bureaucratic responsibilities instead of trying to make things easier for themselves. The Taipei Department of Rapid Transit Systems has held on to information and given several, constantly changing reasons for the demolition, none of which held water in the end. How could this stalemate have continued for six years if there weren't politicians directing and conniving behind the scenes, using technocrats as an excuse to get their own way?

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