Two years ago, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government sparked controversy when, for symbolic reasons, it changed the name of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall to National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall and replaced the characters dazhongzhizheng (大中至正) on the main gate with the name Liberty Square (自由廣場). What was the significance of the controversy?
At the time, the DPP controlled the presidency but had a minority in the legislature. To mobilize voters ahead of last year’s presidential poll, the DPP government made the change without regard for procedures or the sensitivity of the matter.
At the time, we objected to the way in which the change was made. Now the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government has undone part of the change, saying it is “administering according to the law.”
This could be seen as a compromise, but it is still unacceptable. What, then, is the goal?
The controversy over the memorial is a symptom of a more important issue — the status and significance of the memorial. It is a question of history and social justice and of how society sees itself. It is only natural that there should be different views about a major issue.
It would be unfortunate if arrogant politicians of any party once again resorted to taking forcible action in an effort to prove their own legitimacy. Doing so would only widen existing divisions and make the issue even harder to resolve.
Furthermore, other, more practical questions about the memorial hall are worthy of discussion. For example, how can the space be improved for public use? How can the National Concert Hall and National Theater, which lie within the same park, become more internationally competitive? How can the memorial complex and park be made into a model urban park?
All these questions are more relevant to the lives of ordinary people than the political issue of what to call the memorial.
While the controversy may seem to be one between the pan-blue and pan-green political camps, at its core is the questions of how we perceive ourselves and what values we hold dear. It is a question of how we view the world we live in and what impression we want to leave for future generations. It is also a matter of how the public wants to present itself to the increasing number of Chinese and international visitors.
Such issues can in principle be decided by political parties, but Taiwan’s parties today are too bogged down in mutual antagonism. This makes it hard to be optimistic about prospects for politicians who take a just and objective view of history.
Considering the implications of this issue and the divergent opinions about it, as well as the determination of both the DPP and the KMT to force through their views, citizens cannot wait passively for an outcome. The public must look for a solution.
Elected representatives and technocrats may propose compromises or simple answers to these thorny questions, but we feel that an equally important consideration is whether the process and means used to find a solution are reasonable and democratic, and to what extent the public is involved.
If President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) and officials of the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for the upkeep of the memorial complex, are serious about “administering according to the law,” they should proceed according to Article 107 of the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法), which stipulates that administrative bodies should hold a public hearing “where the administrative authority considers it necessary to hold a hearing.”
They should also respect Article 164, which states that: “The decision on an administrative planning [sic] that relates to specified utilization of land situated in specific districts or the construction of major infrastructures, which involves persons with diverse interest and the powers of a multiple number of administrative authorities, may be finalized only through open process [sic] and after the holding of a hearing.”
Specifically, we are in favor of encouraging the public to contribute to resolving the memorial hall issue through a process of deliberative democracy. This approach puts society at the center rather than politics and power. Civic forums must be more than a formality. If discussions are held behind closed doors instead of openly, then they will never go beyond the conventional top-down way of doing things.
The authorities must stop sticking the label of “civic” on meetings that are “forums” only in name.
We hope government authorities can trust the public to take part in the task of rebuilding Taiwan’s social values and that they will stop interfering in the process.
Proposed solutions should be considered rigorously, with plenty of opportunities for public participation and discussion. The options must be open to debate, not predetermined. This was our position when we opposed the rash actions of the DPP government, and it is the same now when we criticize the KMT government for its conservative methods and lip service to democracy.
Chang Mau-kuei is a research fellow at the Institute of Sociology of Academia Sinica. Chien Hsi-chieh is executive director of the Peacetime Foundation of Taiwan. Chen Fang-ming is director of the Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature at National Chengchi University.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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