Newspapers carried a story recently about how the Presidential Office auctioned off 660kg worth of scrap copper in the middle of last month, from melted down official stamps and seals of departments that were no longer needed after the departments had been merged as part of the restructuring of the Cabinet. However, the items that had been reduced to scrap and sold for less than NT$100,000 had a value that cannot be measured in purely monetary terms.
The scrapping is a good example of the lack of awareness within the Presidential Office of the importance of history. The Cabinet restructuring that has been carried out is part of a major organizational reform process. In terms of historical development, it is difficult to express just how important it is. Certain departments, such as the now defunct Government Information Office, were amalgamated into others after decades of existence, and various objects — official stamps and seals included — were the only remaining evidence that they had ever existed at all.
From a historical perspective, there is a convincing argument that they should have been preserved for posterity. That they have been melted down for scrap is regrettable.
The Academia Historica already has presidential seals that have been chamfered to indicate they are no longer in use. It saved these artifacts from being reduced to scrap metal, and they now form part of the Academia Historica’s collection.
The National Archives of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission (RDEC) is the department responsible for keeping records of everything that happens in Taiwan, but the commission is due to be amalgamated with other bureaus next year, in the next phase of the Cabinet’s restructuring process.
According to the new RDEC director, Sung Yu-hsia (宋餘俠), the official seals and stamps that have been used over the 43-year history of the commission are to be melted down next year when it is amalgamated into the future national development council.
If senior management within the agency responsible for the National Archives thinks this way, it is likely that other departments will follow suit and believe that these official seals and stamps ought to be melted down.
While official seals and stamps from the various institutions are not actual paper documents or records, that does not mean that they are necessarily less historically valuable for this.
If they are seen as documents or records in the wider sense of the term, then such artifacts, that have existed for several decades, are at the very least concrete evidence of the existence of now-defunct departments and institutions.
These objects, with their own unique historical value, could have been chamfered and added to the collection of the Academia Historica. Only then would the record of governmental departments, offices and institutions consigned to the pages of history be complete.
Hsueh Li-kuei is a professor in the Graduate Institute of Library, Information and Archival Studies at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Paul Cooper