Since the death of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) on July 31, some people have been calling for the government to establish a “Lee Teng-hui library” as a permanent memorial. Some have proposed using the US’ presidential libraries as a model to follow, overlooking Taiwan’s lack of a legal framework for establishing such institutions.
In 2005, Academia Historica, under then-president Chang Yen-hsien (張炎憲), cooperated with Lee’s think tank, Taiwan Advocates, to work out how to raise funds in accordance with the Act for Promotion of Private Participation in Infrastructure Projects (促進民間參與公共建設法).
The organizations obtained a plot of land in Danhai New Town (淡海新市鎮) in then-Taipei County and established a planning committee for a “Lee Teng-hui presidential library and museum.”
However, a foundation that had promised to provide funding for the project changed its mind, so Academia Historica in 2010 had to formally ask the Ministry of the Interior to cancel the appropriation of the land.
Taiwan Advocates in 2012 changed its name to the Lee Teng-hui Foundation, and announced its intention to promote the establishment of a “Lee Teng-hui presidential library,” and the New Taipei City Government helped promote the build-operate-transfer (BOT) project.
Some commentators misrepresented the project as having more to do with political interests than creating a cultural and educational facility for the pubic good.
As a result, the Lee foundation’s board of directors decided to halt the BOT project, while newspapers quoted Lee as saying: “Democracy does not need to be remembered; it only needs to be kept going forever.”
This sequence of events might appear to have been the result of a lack of funding sources or interference by opinion makers, but a more fundamental problem is that Taiwan does not have a law such as the US’ Presidential Libraries Act and Presidential Records Act, or South Korea’s Act on the Management of Presidential Archives.
The Archives Act (檔案法) defines archives of the Presidential Office as “government agency records,” just like those of other governmental agencies and departments.
Only those that have “permanent preservation value” are defined as “national archives” that must be transferred to the National Archives Administration under the National Development Council.
If a Lee Teng-hui presidential library was established under these conditions, it would not hold any presidential archives.
That would be a far cry from the US network of 13 presidential libraries and museums, which can provide a powerful research function.
The president is the core of political power in Taiwan, so how can the archives generated by the exercise of a president’s power be managed as if they were ordinary government agency records?
For example, South Korea has strict regulations concerning presidential records, stipulating that the records of each president must be transferred to the central records management institution, namely the National Archives of Korea, before the end of their term of office.
After the National Archives receives them, it must transfer them for management by the Presidential Archives.
The Presidential Archives may then establish an exhibition hall or library if it is deemed necessary for the efficient utilization and publicity of the presidential records.
Alternatively, the National Archives may establish an individual presidential library if it is deemed necessary for the management of the records of a specific president.
After a US president leaves office, a fund can be set up to build a presidential library.
Once built, the library is handed over to the National Archives and Records Administration to manage.
There are further regulations governing how long presidential records can be kept secret and procedures for destroying them when permissible.
For the time being, should one of Lee’s former residences be preserved, either the Cuishan Villa in the Waishuangxi (外雙溪) area of Taipei’s Shilin District (士林) or the Hone Shee Villa in Taoyuan’s Dasi District (大溪)?
That is how the official residence of former president Yen Chia-kan (嚴家淦) in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District (中正) and that of former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) in the Qihai Cultural Park (七海文化園區) in Dazhi (大直) area have been handled.
Although such a memorial would not have any artifacts or archives from Lee’s presidency, his private items, such as pictures, books, artifacts and photographs portraying his life, could still serve to evoke fond memories.
However, in the long term, the government should at least partly amend the Archives Act and the Presidential and Vice Presidential Records and Artifacts Act (總統副總統文物管理條例) to provide a clear legal status for presidential libraries.
Chen Yi-shen is president of Academia Historica.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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