When Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) last month suggested that Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall be renamed the “Taiwan development memorial hall,” the idea did not emerge out of a vacuum.
The hall, which commemorates Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) of the KMT, is a symbol that the party faithful would not want to see desecrated. Although Chiang Wan-an’s idea was largely ignored at the time, he was trying to put the party in the driving seat of a process that is going to happen anyway. The Transitional Justice Commission on Sept. 28 last year announced its intention to transform the hall and remove the central statue of Chiang Kai-shek.
This process coincides with another initiative to transform a major symbol: Legislative Speaker You Si-kun (游錫堃) last month announced plans to visit 19 possible sites for relocation of the Legislative Yuan.
Since 1960, the legislature has been at the site of the former Taipei Municipal Zhongshan Girls High School, which was constructed during the Japanese colonial era. Perhaps this choice was indicative of the then-KMT’s party-state’s derisive attitude regarding the rule of law. Perhaps it said more about Chiang Kai-shek’s expectation of returning his government to its “rightful” seat in China.
However, Taiwan is a different place now and moving the legislature is long overdue.
This is where a suggestion by Lee Hsiao-feng (李筱峰), an honorary professor at National Taipei University of Education, comes in: Why not move the legislature to the memorial hall site?
The memorial sits on one end of a huge expanse of land on prime real estate in the middle of the nation’s capital, a stone’s throw from the Presidential Office building. It is high on the list of Taipei’s tourist destinations. Even if an international visitor had no interest in the hall itself, it looms large at the end of the same park that houses the National Concert Hall and the National Theater, which face each other across Liberty Square. The message it was designed to convey is problematic in post-democratization Taiwan.
Lee’s solution is certainly attractive, as the hall is easily accessible to transport; Liberty Square is suitable for gatherings, petitions and protests without affecting traffic; it has a spacious interior; the state already owns the land; and repurposing the hall would solve the transitional justice issues it represents.
Some might have concerns over the clearly Chinese architectural elements of the buildings, but these could also be regarded as anchoring it within Taiwan’s complex colonial history, as do the Japanese colonial era Presidential Office building and the National Palace Museum built under the post-Chinese Civil War KMT regime. These disparate architectural styles could also be seen as a celebration of the rich historical tapestry that has formed modern Taiwan.
The grand, impressive structure in its majestic surroundings might also enhance legislators’ understanding of the somber nature of their duty, and perhaps even prompt them to behave like adults when debating policies.
These considerations address the ideological and practical issues, but what would the public think?
Liberty Square is a large public expanse and a popular destination for residents. If the hall were repurposed as the Legislative Yuan, would the square need to be cordoned off? Would protests, demonstrations and security measures impede the enjoyment of visitors to the National Theater and National Concert Hall? Would supplementary government buildings, annexes and wings be built around the hall, marring the optics and upsetting the symmetry of the grounds?
If You does take up Lee’s suggestion, implementation would be the key.
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