Sat, Mar 17, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Feature: Tashi's CKS statues lure Chinese pilgrims

TOUCH OF HISTORY The statues of the generalissimo that have been dumped in a hillside park close to his mausoleum are attracting a constant stream of tourists

AP , TASHI

Visitors take photographs of the statues of the late dictator Chiang Kai-shek at a mountainside park in Tashi on Tuesday.

PHOTO: WALLY SANTANA, AP

Transplanted statues of former dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) have been neatly spread along a verdant hillside in northern Taiwan, some showing him on horseback with his mustachioed face held high, others with him clutching a ceremonial sword or reading a classical text.

Chiang's 25 years of dictatorial rule is regarded by many as justification for the relocation of his once ubiquitous bronze images to an isolated site in Tashi (大溪), an hour's drive from Taipei.

But in an ironic twist, they have now become a pilgrimage target for tourists from China -- from where Chiang fled in shame in 1949 after his Nationalist forces were defeated by Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) Chinese Communist Party in a bloody civil war.

Chiang is a contentious figure on both sides of the Taiwan Strait -- though for very different reasons.

Here, he is reviled by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Many of the DPP founders suffered imprisonment and worse under 39 years of martial law imposed by Chiang in 1948.

And many of the younger members of Chiang's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), eager advocates of the democratic system that Taiwan now embraces, freely acknowledge the excesses of his regime.

But in China he is seen as an avatar of the unification that has long stood at the forefront of Beijing's Taiwan policy -- so much so that his ruthless pursuit of the communist enemy during 23 years of on-again-off-again civil war has been conveniently shunted aside.

Here in this quiet hillside park, some 120 Chiang statues dumped by schools, public parks and once reverential communities attract a constant stream of tourists from China, now permitted to visit Taiwan despite lingering hostilities between the sides.

The park abuts a somber Chiang mausoleum, and a local official said the two sites appear to appeal to Chinese visitors far more than Taiwan's loudly trumpeted scenic lakes and mountains.

"Whether they respect or dislike Chiang, they see the man as a symbol of Taiwan's ties to the mainland," said Chang Ching-wan, of the Tashi Township. "We were surprised to see some of the mainlanders bowing before Chiang's coffin."

A shop next to the park sells mugs and plates imprinted with Chiang's tall figure and a picture of his 1927 wedding to second wife Soong Mei-ling (宋美齡).

Last year, nearly 40,000 Chinese visited Taiwan, and local authorities are hoping for a tenfold increase in the number of tourists from China after a deal is struck with Beijing on travel arrangements -- a development that could easily turn the trickle of Chinese visitors to Tashi into a flood.

On a recent weekday morning, a group of tourists from northeastern China's Liaoning Province carefully inspected an oversized bronze statue showing a smiling Chiang in a traditional Chinese gown seated comfortably on a large chair.

The tourists -- men in dark business suits and women with permed hair and bright jackets -- appeared subdued as they posed quietly for photos with their digital cameras.

"We came here to get a touch of history," said a Chinese tourist who identified himself only by his surname, Zheng. "Chiang was a man of a bygone age and my impression of him is neither good nor bad."

Those sentiments are a far cry from the widespread Communist condemnations in the days following Chiang's ignominious retreat to Taiwan in 1949.

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