The name of a street, a town or a location in Taiwan often has special meaning and reflects the nation’s complex history. For example, Roosevelt Road in Taipei was named in memory of former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt, while the Barclay Memorial Park in Greater Tainan was named after Reverend Thomas Barclay, a Briton, for his contribution to the city.
Greater Taichung’s Fengyuan District (豐原), with its name coming from the translation of Toyohara, was among numerous townships and cities that shared a history under the Japanese colonial period.
At the same time, street names like Zhongzhen Road, Zhongshan Road, Qinghai Road and Changsha Road, among others, which were named after Chinese cities by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime following its flight from China in 1949, are found in almost every city.
Although many Taiwanese do not like the names, they have been etched into people’s daily lives.
However, two incidents related to names in the past week raised people’s attention and triggered protests.
People in Changhua County launched an online protest against the county government after its Department of Agriculture renamed Xizhou Park in Xizhou Township (溪洲) to Fitzroy Park, with residents saying that the name had nothing to do with the township.
Officials said the inspiration came from an inspection visit to Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens, but they have agreed to review the name if the public finds it unacceptable.
In Greater Taichung, the city government decided that the Chinese-language name of Taichung Gateway Park, a 251 hectare project on the site of the old Shuinan airport, would be “Dazaiman District” (大宅門), although its English name would remain unchanged.
Dazaiman comes from a Beijing-based Chinese TV series inspired by a book of the same name that aired on local cable TV.
Blasted by local advocates and city councilors across party lines over the move, the city government has nonetheless refused to reverse its decision.
The incidents show how local governments have misused and distorted the concept of internationalization and how they were unaware that the ideology of Sinicization had long been planted in their brains.
Internationalization is a far more complex and difficult issue than merely changing the name of something. If officials in Changhua County were serious about making the county one of the most livable places in the nation, they should realize that it will perhaps take 20 years of hard work with no shortcuts.
The Xizhou incident also highlights officials’ lack of understanding of Taiwanese identity and the people’s sense of connection, bond and pride with the history of the place in which they live. Naming the park after a foreign attraction was one of the worst ideas possible.
The incident in Greater Taichung has raised an even more serious concern over the deeply ingrained “Greater China” ideology of KMT officials. While they could have easily named the project the Beverly Hills gateway park, they chose Dazaiman.
From the central government, which is trying to overhaul the high-school history textbook outlines to better serve its “Greater China” perspective, down to the local governments, the KMT administration has devoted every bit of its energy to reminding Taiwanese of the nation’s ties and connections with China.