The recent removal of items related to Japanese Shinto culture from the Taoyuan Martyrs’ Shrine and Cultural Park has caused an uproar. The complex was built as a Shinto shrine by the Japanese during the colonial period, but was transformed into a martyrs’ shrine commemorating veterans of the Chinese Civil War after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) retreated to Taiwan in 1949.
Figurines of the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu Okami were allowed into the shrine for a cultural event last year, attracting throngs of visitors to see the Shinto decorations and practices. However, some people accused the Taoyuan City Government of “abandoning its ancestors” and “violating the spirit of the martyr’s shrine.” KMT Taoyuan Mayor Simon Chang (張善政) said that the government would dismantle the decorations and send the goddess back to Japan.
KMT Taoyuan City Councilor Niu Hsu-ting (牛煦庭) commended Taoyuan for its bold move, and said that the city’s former government was lacking judgement by allowing the Amaterasu figurines into the complex. However, DPP spokesman Chang Chih-hao (張志豪) said the removal was politically motivated, and that politicians should not resort to such ploys catering to anti-Japanese sentiment. Sankei Shimbun Taipei bureau chief Akio Yaita said that people in a democratic society should respect different religions, and that it has been a shame to see the removal.
The controversy is a manifestation of the ideologies and political affiliations embedded in Taiwanese society, as well as the Taoyuan government’s narrow vision for the city. After its retreat to Taiwan, the KMT has been a strong advocate of cultural cleansing. In 1974, it promulgated an act to erase imprints of Japanese culture, in which the first article called for the removal of all remains of Shinto shrines. The current removal simply falls in line with the party’s long-established anti-Japanese stance, and proves that it strongly clings to an outdated, feudal stance of being “Chinese.”
The KMT is also overlooking the congenial relationship Taiwan and Japan have built over the years, while ignoring the public’s friendly sentiment toward their northern neighbor. As most KMT members seemingly harbor anti-Japanese sentiment, the act of removal is much akin to the spirit of “Ah Q” in which one habitually resorts to ineffectual gestures to avenge for personal humiliations. In this case, the party is exerting dominance over a Japanese cultural symbol as if the shrine prevails over the nation.
As shrines can often take on ethnic and political inferences, it is fortunate that the Taoyuan Martyrs’ Shrine escaped the KMT’s “cleansing.” It has survived as one of the best-preserved examples of a Japanese Shinto shrine outside of Japan, and has been witness to Taiwan’s vibrant multicultural development.
Former Taoyuan mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) pushed for the revitalization of historical monuments. The shrine was renovated for the purposes of cultural preservation and tourism, heightening its historical memory and heritage. The move should have been regarded as returning the shrine to its historical roots and restoring its connection to Japanese culture. Instead of being a “violation of the spirit of the martyr’s shrine,” as some KMT supporters said, the renovation was a manifestation of Taiwan’s diversity and respect for history and culture. The blending of a shrine for martyrs and Shinto worshipers would have also been a valuable attraction for tourists and locals alike.
Just as Taoyuan’s tourism is picking up again, Chang and KMT ideology are sabotaging an asset. Sacrificing the shrine at the altar of ideology, the party disregards the religion, values and beliefs of other cultures. If the KMT cannot put aside its anachronistic philosophies, then its leadership is no different than the communist party across the strait.
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