A Taiwanese government body has released plans to transform the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall – one of Taipei’s most prominent landmarks – by removing all symbols associated with the late Kuomintang party leader in what it described as a reflection on the island’s authoritarian past.
The memorial, set in a 240,000 square metre-commemorative plaza in the island’s capital city, was built in 1976 in memory of Chiang who died a year earlier.
Chiang led his KMT troops to Taiwan in 1949 and set up an interim government following his defeat by the Communists on the Chinese mainland.
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But over the years the value of the memorial has been called into question. Many descendants of those killed during the “White Terror” Chiang’s forces initiated have expressed strong opposition to a memorial to someone they see as a dictator.
In 2018 the Democratic Progressive Party government set up the Transitional Justice Commission to review injustices committed during the period between 1949 and 1987, when Chiang and his son Chiang Ching-kuo ruled Taiwan.
The commission, whose priorities also include the removal of authoritarian symbols from public life, announced its plans to transform the memorial following discussions with local opinion leaders.
“Under our plan, the memorial will be converted into a public park with the theme of taking a retrospective look at Taiwan‘s authoritarian history,” said Yeh Hung-ling, acting chair of the commission.
In the future, the park will host exhibitions that will teach visitors about Taiwan’s progression from an authoritarian regime to democracy, she added.
Instead of tearing down the monument, the commission plans to remove the giant bronze statue of Chiang inside the memorial hall and all symbols honouring him.
The “Boulevard of Homage” connecting the main hall with the square will also be redesigned.
Yeh said the changes represented Taiwan’s establishment of a liberal democratic constitutional order and rejection of authoritarian rule, as well as remembrance of past human rights violations.
The hourly changing of a military honour guard – a must-see for many visitors to Taiwan – is also likely to be discontinued although Yeh did not confirm this. However, her predecessor Yang Tsui had said it should be discontinued.
Yeh said she expected the plan to be carried out by mid-2022 after a public consultation and its approval by the government.
The monument, which opened to the public in 1980, includes the 76-metre memorial hall, the National Theatre and National Concert Hall – all built in a traditional Chinese style – as well as arched gates, gardens and pavilions.
The site has not only served as an important public space for performing arts and exhibitions, but also a major venue for various political and civic gatherings, including large-scale protests against the KMT when it was in power.
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