Military settlements are worth preserving

By Chang Mau-kue 張茂桂  / 

Mon, Jun 25, 2007 - Page 8

As evidenced by the development of Tainan City's Peiyuan military community in 1994 and Hsinchu City's festival for military communities across the nation in 1997, interest in military communities is strong around the country.

More recently, we have seen the making of a documentary on the demolition and relocation of 1 Air Force Community in Sanchong, a cultural festival for military communities around the nation in Taoyuan and the screening of Wang Wei-chung's (王偉忠) documentary about his mother and her daily life in a military community. These developments are all intended to educate the public about these communities and their cultural significance.

However, efforts to preserve the culture and history of military communities face challenges on two fronts: political and legal.

Politically speaking, a minority of people regard these communities as ghettos whose residents do not identify with Taiwan. Such individuals refuse to recognize the uniqueness and multicultural value of these communities. This reflects a misunderstanding of both people and history, as well as the conflict over national identity that has raged in recent years.

Simply put, the legal challenge to these communities is that existing legislation is insufficient. Crucially, military communities differ from the private or public buildings and sites mentioned in the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act (文化資產保護法). The ministry in charge of military communities is the Ministry of National Defense, whose primary interests in this regard are land development, capital allocation and the construction of new communities. The problem is that the officials in charge seem unwilling to preserve these cultural assets. The need to follow the law combined with inevitable inertia means that the unique military community culture will vanish as the government continues to demolish and reconstruct military communities.

Military communities are tangled up with the divisive issue of national identity, which results in problems that cannot easily be solved. However, common misunderstandings must be clarified. For example, in the past, these communities existed for the benefit of the dependents of military personnel. But today they are home to veterans. They have never been simply Mainlander households, as most are multicultural. The first generation of Mainlanders married across ethnic lines, as have later generations. The history of these communities is the history of first-generation Mainlanders forming families with Taiwanese residents and putting down roots here.

For most Taiwan-born descendants of Mainlanders, home is where their parents and grandparents live. The preservation of military community culture is the preservation of their homes and their memories of home. Faced with a cultural preservation project that may be politically controversial, we must take a broader view and not handle the issue based on narrow political interests.

To deal with the issue of insufficient legislation, the Association of Mainlander Taiwanese is working together with lawmakers from different political parties to push for the amendment of articles 1, 4 and 14 of the Act for Rebuilding Old Quarters for Military Dependents (國軍老舊眷村改建條例).

Military communities embody the lasting memories of many Mainlanders and Taiwanese mothers and their offspring. We call on the public to show greater tolerance and goodwill for the better of Taiwan's future, so that we can build a homeland for all of us.

Chang Mau-kuei is chairman of the Association of Mainlander Taiwanese.

Translated by Lin Ya-ti