chiang memorial 蔣公廟
14, Mar 2008 20:07
Chiang’s Benevolent Smile: symbolic reduction and national commemoration in contemporary Taiwan
During the summer of 2007, officials in the Ministry of Education ordered the heavy bronze doors of the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial in downtown Taipei shut. Although the ministry, which then administered the site, claimed that the closure allowed for much needed maintenance, people throughout the island suspected that the closure responded to more than rust and dangerously loose tiles. In March, the national government had renamed the site the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. Most people still called it Marquis Chiang’s Temple (jiang gong miao). The closure suggested changes more comprehensive than cosmetic.
The doors remained shut through the autumn. Whether the memorial would reopen and in what form was unclear. In April, the Taipei City Government had the memorial proclaimed an “emergency historic site” and issued an injunction against removal of the original signage. Rumors circulated. The walls surrounding the memorial complex would be demolished. Certainly, the Chiang statue, which gazed down at visitors with a benevolent smile, would be removed. No, it would be caged, perhaps covered with a net. Yes, the memorial would reopen as a park. Workers draped a banner with the new name and logo for the site over one wall of the memorial hall and then removed it as courts deliberated whether the banner was in violation of antiquity preservation laws. Hotels directed disappointed tourists to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial or the National Martyrs Shrine, where they could view the changing of the guard. Rumors continued to circulate. The doors, shut. Chiang’s benevolent smile, invisible, still exerted a magnetic pull on the imagination as people attempted to come to terms with Chiang’s memory, perhaps no longer burnished but still occupying much public space and attention.
One could easily depict controversy over the memorial as another example of the boisterous and often belligerent party politics that have been a feature of Taiwanese public culture from the mid-1990s onward. This assessment suggests that recent controversies over Chiang’s legacy emerged within a political field in which questions of identity, and hence memory, intensified. It directs us toward the means through which political parties employed Chiang to mobilize their constituencies. An attempt to understand the controversy as symptom of the periodic agony of election cycles does indicate the extent to which Chiang’s memory relates to the island’s ongoing democratization. However, it may be more enlightening to see the conflict not as an epiphenomenon of party politics but as an ethical dilemma common to democratization generally. In other words, the particular position that one might have taken in response to the controversy was less important than the requirement that one had a position in the first place. Hidden behind the bronze doors of the statue hall, Chiang’s benevolent smile could still hail each member of the public as subjects within a national project. Ironically this project touched upon an ongoing conflict internal to the workings of Taiwan’s threatened democracy. It had jettisoned the project of national salvation Chiang envisaged. Although many who weighed in on the controversy found memorials to the Generalissimo both inappropriate and risible in democratic Taiwan, the project of realizing Taiwan as a multicultural, cosmopolitan, and “normal” state cannot dispose of him. Thus Taipei’s public amenities include the spectacle of a national democracy memorial that houses a dictator