Imagining a Chiang Kai-shek memorial for democratic Taiwan

The memorial is facing the task of transformation in the wave of transitional justice practices

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Exhibition "Imagining Memorial" at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Culture)

Exhibition "Imagining Memorial" at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Culture)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — To tourists, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall may merely be an attraction with a majestic monument and a guard mounting ceremony taking place hourly, but in the eyes of some Taiwanese people, the memorial symbolizes the power of an authoritarian government in the past era whose tight rein led to many sorrows.

An exhibition titled “Post-Martial Law: Imagining Memorial” kicked off on December 9 at the memorial as part of the initiative by the Ministry of Culture (MOC) to invite the public to participate in the work of transforming the memorial.

The exhibition consists of architects’ proposals on how they may transform the memorial, either by rebuilding the entire site or through changes in the surrounding area while preserving the monument.

In addition, several satirical videos discuss how people in the past used to be educated, especially at school, to worship or idolize leaders of the authoritarian government as a way to prompt reflections upon the taught history.

The exhibition is fairly small. It is more of a platform for conversation and imagination. Visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to form their opinions and express them on the chalkboard or papers prepared on site.

The ministry has started a series of activities aiming to collect public opinion and ideas about the transformation of the memorial since July, which will serve as foundation for the revision draft to the current regulations on the memorial, according to MOC.

These activities include an exhibition, three workshops, a three-day conference, and a website with an online forum.

After the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice (促進轉型正義條例) was passed on December 5, the fate of the memorial has once again come under the limelight.

Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) said on Monday the ministry would push for the work of transitional justice according to the law, but the transformation of the memorial should avoid measures similar to those of the authoritarian government in the past.

Cheng added the fate of the memorial would be decided by people and through dialogue from the bottom up.

Cheng said the purpose of transitional justice was to restore truth in history, particularly facts about those who had been politically prosecuted or suppressed by the authoritarian government, instead of laying the blame on the governments of the Martial Law era.

While supporters and victims of political prosecution and their family lauded the legislation as a historic moment, some expressed disappointment at the fact that the legislation made no mention of the indigenous peoples’ part of transitional justice.

The memorial was built from 1976 to 1980 with the original purpose of commemorating Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正), leader of the authoritarian Kuomintang government at that time, who died in 1975.

With the ruling of the Kuomintang government, Taiwanese people had lived under 38 years of Martial Law since its retreat to Taiwan in 1949 until 1987, which is the second longest following Syria’s.

It is estimated during the Martial Law period, about 140,000 Taiwanese people were imprisoned, and among them, 3,000 to 4,000 were executed for real or perceived opposition to the government. Those people are referred to as the victims of the White Terror.