On Tuesday last week, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) posted a video on Facebook, calling for the renaming of streets in Taipei named after places in China.
In the video, Ko also took a sideswipe at the central government, saying: “I think it is strange that the headquarters of a political party that claims to be the ‘most local’ is on Beiping E Road,” in an apparent reference to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Ko the following day appeared to backtrack, saying that he believed changing the names would be problematic and that the bar would be extremely high — “as high as changing the Constitution” — and that existing laws would need to be changed.
Ko made clear that he believes the renaming of Taipei’s streets would be an arduous task.
However, the experience of former Taichung mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) shows that the task would be easier than Ko thinks.
In 2012, the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration running the Taichung City Government announced its intention to rename the roads from Taichung Railway Station to the Port of Taichung, amalgamating their names to “Taiwan Boulevard” and removing from the map the name “Jhong Jheng Road,” which refers to Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).
The renaming project was the largest in Taiwan’s history, and involved updating the street signage along the 24km route and 12,000 house number plates.
Because the policy at the time divided public opinion, the city government conducted a survey of residents, collecting more than 4,900 responses. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they supported the “Taiwan Boulevard” proposal, while less than 10 percent supported a change to “Taichung Boulevard” or “Taichung Port Boulevard.”
The poll gave Hu the backing his administration needed to go ahead with the project.
This example from recent history shows that, contrary to Ko’s preposterous claim, changing Taipei’s China-centric street names would not require amending the Constitution or any laws: It is within his power as Taipei mayor to rename streets in the capital.
The names of streets and roads should reflect local culture and characteristics, or familiar geographical features, and can even be used to commemorate certain individuals. This is a progressive practice that has been implemented on an ad-hoc basis following the lifting of martial law.
However, Taiwan is still covered with roads and streets named after Chinese places, Republic of China politicians and even Chinese historical figures: It is not just a problem for Taipei.
For several decades, the Kaohsiung City Government has almost always been under the control of DPP administrations, yet many of its street names still have a Chinese flavor, with streets named after Beiping (北平), an old name for Beijing; Beian (北安), a city in China’s Heilongjiang Province; Hanmin (漢民), which means Han Chinese people; and Mengzih (孟子), referring to the Chinese Confucian scholar Mencius.
Instead of ridiculing Ko for his clumsy Facebook video and rapid U-turn, DPP politicians should reflect on their party’s own track record while in government and let the matter rest, or they run the risk of being accused of hypocrisy.
Rather than trying to score cheap political points, Ko and DPP politicians should exert their energies by debating how to most effectively incorporate Taiwanese culture and characteristics when renaming streets. Channeling the spirit of the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit System’s Formosa Boulevard Station (美麗島站) would be a good place to start.
Lo Cheng-chung is director of Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology’s Institute of Financial and Economic Law.
Translated by Edward Jones
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