To deal with the large influx of Chinese tourists and maintain the quality of Taiwan’s national parks, the Ministry of the Interior is planning to adopt a “user pays” principle from next year and start charging entrance fees to the parks. While this seems like a reasonable idea, it is very likely that it will cause a lot of public discontent unless certain details are properly thought out.
If charging entry fees to national parks helps counteract the inconveniences caused by the large numbers of Chinese tourist groups visiting the parks while providing economic benefits, then the ministry’s policy is worth supporting. However, at present, the parks’ maintenance costs are paid with taxpayers’ money and it would be very unfair to charge local tourists the same entrance fees as foreign tourists, since the latter do not pay any taxes in Taiwan.
Furthermore, since last year, when increases in fuel and electricity prices drove up commodity prices, it has been increasingly hard for people to maintain their quality of life. If they want to travel to a national park to relieve some of the stress in their lives, but have to pay entrance fees, it will only increase their economic burden, displeasing them and deepening their resentment toward the government. If this were to happen, then charging fees would be pointless, despite the economic benefits they would generate.
To see the possible downsides of this policy, one can look at the charges that could potentially be imposed at Taroko National Park in Hualien County, as reported in the media. If a person drives along the Central Cross-Island Highway through the Tian-hsiang (天祥) section of the road in the park to get to Greater Taichung without doing any sightseeing in the park, will that person still have to pay an entrance fee? If so, this means that taxpayers would be paying three times for the privilege: they fund the operation of the national parks through their taxes, pay a tax on their drivers’ licenses to pay for road maintenance — and now have to pay an entrance fee to drive through the park. This seems unreasonable.
Su Shi (蘇軾), a notable literary figure who lived during China’s Song Dynasty wrote in his Former Ode to the Red Cliff: “The myriad things within Heaven and Earth each have their own master. Supposing there was something that I did not possess, I would never take even a tiny bit of it. However, the gentle breeze over the river becomes sound when our ears hear it and the bright moon between the mountains becomes beautiful scenery when our eyes see it. Nobody can stop us from acquiring these things and we can use them without ever exhausting them. This is because they come from the unlimited treasury of the Creator.”
Taiwan’s beautiful mountains and rivers belong to everyone, and while it is everyone’s duty to love and protect them, there is also no doubt that everyone has the freedom to appreciate and enjoy them. It would be very depressing if Taiwanese had to pay to enjoy a gentle breeze blowing over their rivers and the bright moon shining between their mountains.
Hsu Yu-fang is an associate professor and chairman of Sinophone literature at National Dong Hwa University.
Translated by Drew Cameron