More than 1,000 people from across the country took to the streets in Taipei yesterday, calling on the government to halt the construction of a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) maintenance depot on the site of the partially demolished Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium, and to rebuild the sanatorium complex.
During the protest, a group of 120 people wearing white T-shirts and yellow headbands that read “Defend Losheng” walked in time with each drum beat and, at the sound of a cymbal, knelt down and touched the ground with their foreheads.
It was not a group of ascetic monks, but rather a group of Lo- sheng Sanatorium preservation activists who were trying to attract public attention for their cause.
The sanatorium in Sinjhuang District (新莊), New Taipei City (新北市), was built in the 1930s to house people with Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy), a disease at the time believed to be highly contagious and incurable.
Decades after its completion, residents who lived in the complex were forced to move as the Taipei City Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS) planned to demolish the sanatorium complex and build a maintenance depot for the Sinjhuang MRT line.
The plan was met with strong opposition from Losheng residents and preservation activists.
However, the government decided to continue the construction after proposing an adjusted plan in 2007 that would preserve a small part of the complex while demolishing the rest.
In 2010, the preservation movement was revived after a series of landslides near the construction site — which the preservationists had already warned on — which led several times to the suspension of construction.
Although DORTS is yet to propose a plan to solve the landslide issue, construction was resumed earlier this month after being suspended for about a year, causing concerns among activists and residents that the hill on which the sanatorium is built may collapse.
“I was indifferent to the issue years ago when activists campaigned for the preservation of Losheng Sanatorium, but when I had a chance to learn more about the issue, I became upset at myself for not realizing the importance at the time,” said Lin Kun-chang, a Sinjhuang resident taking part in the parade group. “I volunteered to join the ascetic group to make up for my past ignorance, and I hope that more people who are as indifferent as I was will become aware.”
Following the group was a large flag with the logo of the sanatorium held up by a dozen demonstrators, Losheng residents in wheelchairs, members of civic and student groups, as well as participants from all over the nation.
“In 2010, the [maintenance depot] construction was suspended because of a landslide. A year later, DORTS said they were better prepared and resumed the construction. However, within six months, the construction had to be halted again because of another landslide,” said Wang Wei-min (王偉民), a civil engineer and a long-time supporter of the preservation movement. “The same thing has happened over and over again. We no longer trust DORTS.”
“When you make enough mistakes, your boss may simply fire you — as masters of the nation, we certainly have the right to tell DORTS to stop,” he added.
When the parade reached the DORTS headquarters, the crowd shouted: “Face the mistakes, move the depot” and stuck hundreds of stickers that read “DORTS lies” onto the plaque bearing the agency’s name outside the building.