Tzeng Rung-chien is a man with a mission. He's collecting the bits of Taiwan's past that nobody else wants -- Chiang Kai-shek statues.
Tzeng is mayor of Tahsi township, a small town an hour south of Taipei that attracts around 1.5 million tourists a year, most of whom come to pay their respects at Chiang Kai-shek's grave at the nearby Tsuhu Lake (慈湖).
He's a cordial man with a ready smile, and if you get a moment of his time he'll no doubt recount the story of how, last year, a visiting Russian television crew complimented him on his efforts to save recent political history from oblivion.
Photo by David Hartung
"They said, `That's what we should have done with our statues of Lenin, instead of just destroying them all,'" Tzeng said.
Tzeng has his work cut out for him. He reckons that Taiwan is home to some 43,000 statues of the former generalissimo. They're scattered around the island in schools, government buildings and parks; essentially wherever there's a public space in which people gather. For most Taiwanese today, they are anachronisms.
Chiang was president of the Republic of China on the mainland from 1926 until 1949, when his government was defeated by Mao and his indefatigable long-marchers. He ruled Taiwan with an iron hand as the president of the Republic of China in Taiwan from 1950 until his death in 1975. And for many Taiwanese his name is synonymous with all that is worst of the old-style KMT government.
The Chiang era was a time when the island's predominantly Taiwanese-speaking population received all their news and entertainment in Kuoyu, when martial law imposed travel restrictions on the local population, when all expressions of native culture and dissent were crushed by a government stacked with mainlanders claiming to govern free China.
But if Taiwan has come a long way from those "bad old days," the break with the past has been more evolutionary than revolutionary, a fact brought to life last week during protests by James Soong supporters in Taipei, many of whom were mainlanders.
So Chiang's smiling face still adorns the NT$1000 note (though there are plans to change that), and removing him from the public sphere is a sensitive process that if done too aggressively might spark off latent tensions between waishengren (mainlanders) and benshengren (native Taiwanese).
And that's where someone like Tzeng comes in.
"There are a lot of statues out there that no one wants," he says, "but people want to know that they're going to a good home. They want to know they aren't going to be destroyed."
Tzeng's "good home" is an art park, funded in part by the departments of transport and tourism and education, where he plans to display 200 of the best statues from around the island. The first of the statues, donated by the DPP Kaohsiung government, arrived at the park last month.
He says he got the idea when a dispute broke out at Taipei's Normal University between students who wanted a Chiang Kai-shek statue removed from in front of the university gates and conservative elements in the university faculty who thought it should remain.
For Tzeng, who is anxious to distance himself from any political motivations, the statues should be appreciated for their aesthetic qualities. "This is like putting a section of our history on display," he says.
"History is history, politics is politics. Some of these statues are works of art. They were created by artists."
Former journalist and now Tzeng's PR head, Wu Che-chung, agrees. "Chiang's rule is a fact," he says. "It shouldn't be a scar. We should be able to display his statues for aesthetic reasons.
"They were all hand-crafted," says Wu, as he stands in a garage attached to the local government buildings, where the 12 bronze statues that have been collected so far stand in a forlorn huddle.
"Back when Chiang ruled the country, he was like god. The craftsmen that made these statues had to be very careful to do a good job or they'd have been in deep trouble."
Wu points out how each of the statues shows Chiang at a different point in his life, in a different pose. The expression is the same in each: a tight-lipped smile, the strong chin jutting out purposefully.
"Look at this one," he says, pointing at a youthful bust. "This is Chiang back in China when he was a three-star general." And then he points to a life-size bronze that looks eerily like a terracotta warrior. "That's Chiang as President of the Republic of China here in Taiwan."
Tzeng and Wu are coy about what will happen to the thousands more Chiang Kai-shek statues around the island once their art park is complete in around two years time. But they are adamant that they shouldn't be destroyed.
"They're all works of art," says Tzeng. "We have to respect the people who created them."
The media reported this week on another government stimulus program to make the birth rate rise. Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said that the budget for the government’s programs would reach NT$85 billion (US$3.05 billion) by 2023, and said that the government’s monthly subsidy for child support would rise from NT$3,500 to NT$5,000. These measures are a well-meaning attempt to address Taiwan’s globally low fertility and birth rates, but they are rather like poking a heart attack victim with a stick in the hope of reviving him. The problems driving the low birth rates are well known: the lack and cost of
May 3 to May 9 The Japanese soldiers thought they had already subjugated the Atayal when they set out toward the mountains of today’s eastern Taoyuan on May 5, 1907. The two brigades, one from the north and one from the south, were tasked with pushing the colonial government’s frontier defense lines deeper into Aboriginal territory to gain access to valuable camphor. “The defense lines were used to protect the economic activities, mainly camphor production, on the [Japanese] side of the line,” writes Wu Cheng-hsien (吳政憲) in the paper, “The Principle and Utilization of the Mortars on the Frontier Defense Lines”
Take a filet mignon and smother it in a mixture of thyme, shallots and chestnut mushrooms. Add a layer of prosciutto and finally wrap it up in a blanket of puff pastry. It’s a classic recipe for beef Wellington, a holiday showstopper at upscale restaurants from New York to London. But what started in England 200 years ago, has crept its way into Taiwan’s culinary scene. From high-end restaurants in Taipei to night markets in Taichung, beef Wellington is on the menu. “Customers are really curious about beef Wellington,” said Daniel Yang (楊士儀), chef and owner of Taichung’s Just Diner.
I arrived in Kaohsiung’s Gangshan District (岡山) hoping to learn about shadow puppetry, and left with a renewed respect for this often-overlooked town. Kaohsiung Museum of Shadow Puppets (高雄市皮影戲館) is part of Gangshan Cultural Center (岡山文化中心). The museum, which has been revised and repaired since it first opened in 1994, currently occupies part of the first floor. While far from huge, it does provide a decent introduction in Chinese and English. Taiwanese shadow puppetry, unlike the form of glove puppetry known as budaixi (布袋戲, “cloth bag drama”), is fairly obscure. In the past, shadow-puppet performances were a feature of temple celebrations. Nowadays,