Sat, Nov 20, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Tiptoe through the old dictator's tulips

A flower festival running through next Thursday at Chiang Kai-shek's former residence offers a colorful look at a place once shrouded in mystery

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Despite the falling mercury, the flowers are still blooming at the former residence of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) in Taipei's Shilin district. The special exhibition runs now through next Thursday.

Long shrouded in mystery, the estate nestled on the slopes of Fushan were off-limits to the public even after the deaths of Chiang in 1975 and his son and political heir Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) in 1988. When it was finally opened in 1996, the public queued to take a look.What they saw were 45 hectares of gardens first planted during the Japanese colonial era and enjoyed by the last governor-general of Taiwan, Rikichi Ando.

Though the flowers and trees that shade the estate were planted by the Japanese, Chiang's legacy consists of several structures within the expansive gardens, the most significant of which is Victory Chapel, a modest red brick church.

The church shows the influence of another figure who strolled these gardens, Soong Mei-ling (宋美齡), Chiang's second wife and one of three daughters to a Methodist minister who moved his family to Georgia after making a fortune selling Bibles in China. Before Soong would marry Chiang, she demanded that he first divorce his first wife and convert to Christianity. (He'd already proposed to her sister, Soong Ching-ling (宋慶齡), following the death of her husband and his mentor, Sun Yat-sen (孫中山), but was quickly rejected.)

Chiang was baptized in 1929, two years after his wedding. Nearly a decade later, while Chiang was fighting the Japanese near Nanjing in 1937, he swore that if China ever defeated the invading army, he would build a chapel to commemorate the victory. Today, Victory Chapel is padlocked and mostly unused.

Chiang had another structure built that commemorates his mother, his home in China's Zhejiang Province and his roots as a Buddhist. And it's a good deal more welcoming than Victory Chapel. Buddha's Heart Pavilion sits atop Fushan, an area Chiang likened to the hills of his home province, with forested walking trails that lead to the peak, and a view of Shilin from the second floor of the pagoda.

But the main structure on the estate, the official

residence of Chiang and his wife, remains shrouded in mystery, locked behind a fence. The front entrance and west side of the two-story mansion are mostly visible from the gardens and visitors line up next to the fence to have their picture taken flashing "V" signs, then stroll away to enjoy the dictator's old stomping grounds for themselves.

Earlier this week, one visitor from Beijing surnamed Mao was noticeably tickled at having his photo taken next to the late Generalissimo's house."I can't wait to show this photo to my friends in China." he said laughing. "They'll wonder how ever I got so close to Chiang's house!"

Should he return in a couple years, he will be able to get even closer. The Taipei City Government announced in June this year that the official residence will be opened to the public some time in 2006. The government is working with remaining members of the Chiang family to sort out which articles in the house belong to the family and which belong to the nation.

For their part, the family members have expressed their hope that the estate can be turned into a museum or a national level research facility for the study of topics related to World War II.

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