In the 1980s, Freedom Era Weekly magazine, published by Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), translated and published the history of the South Korean student movement.
The magazine did this in an attempt to awaken Taiwan, where at the time, there might have been student activities, but no student movement.
Taiwan had left the Martial Law era behind, but had yet to enter the democratic era.
Between 1990 and 2000, a group of about 30 people who, like Deng, were born in 1947 — the year of 228 Massacre — and who were active in the arts, academia and politics, took an oath to bring about a cultural awakening and political reform.
Freedom is not a gift from above, nor is democracy won without hard work.
Moving toward a new phase in history requires a new name and that requires rebuilding history.
Assigning a new name is a cultural process, but the right to do so often involves power politics.
The decision by the administration of National Cheng Kung University in Greater Tainan to reject the renaming of a campus plaza with a large banyan tree to “Nan-jung Square” (South Banyan Square, 南榕廣場) — the same characters as in Deng’s first name — has clear political overtones.
When the school asked students for name suggestions for the plaza, Nan-jung Square quickly topped the list.
This made it clear that students wanted the square to be named after Deng, a graduate of the school who sacrificed his life in the struggle for freedom through self-immolation on April 7, 1989, at the age of 41.
Unfortunately, the university’s administration is just as backward and conservative as Deng was advanced and progressive.
Once the administration blocked the naming of the square, the news spread that the university president was a potential nominee to be Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate in the Greater Tainan’s year-end mayoral election.
The issue was left unresolved when the university decided the square would not be named at all.
Is this a cultural or political issue?
The school’s administration felt that Nan-jung was a political name and ignored the actual meaning of the name, “southern banyan tree.”
School officials only see politics and do not care about the real meaning.
However, does such behavior not also carry cultural significance?
Professors are more conservative than their students, and university presidents are more conservative than their professors — this is Taiwan’s problem.
One person’s “National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall” is another person’s “Peanut Temple” — this is Taiwan’s problem.
One person says “Republic of China,” while someone else says “Taiwan” — this is Taiwan’s problem.
A history professor, flippant and ill-intended, blackens the memory of Deng, a martyr, by comparing him to Islamist suicide bombers and calling him a terrorist — this is Taiwan’s problem.
The university’s president said: “You can call the plaza whatever you want, and you can also call it ‘Nan-jung Square.’”
The university administration clearly did not take the students’ vote seriously and it will not name the plaza.
However, for some people, from now on the name of the campus plaza with the great southern banyan tree will be “Nan-jung Square.”
Lee Min-yung is a poet.
Translated by Perry Svensson