Thursday, February 08, 2007

On the Rectification of Names and Displacements of Memorials

I was compiling a literature review the other day and stumbled across this:

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Document Type: Research article

Affiliations: 1: National Chin-Yi Institute of Technology, People's Republic of China

National Chinyi Institute of Technology is right down the road from me; I've taught courses there. The author of the article is a friend of a friend. Mistakes like this are so common as to be completely unremarkable -- anyone who has spent time here has found themselves explaining to people at home the difference between ROC and PRC. But confusion between the two is so natural overseas....

Recently the news has been filled with the government's decision to change the names of various entities in Taiwan that bear the name "China" (Mutantfrog with a great review; the BBC ) as well as dismiss the guards from Chiang Kai-shek's mausoleum, and rename or even move the disgusting memorial to the dictator in the heart of Taipei. The pro-KMT China Post, speaking for social groups whose identities are bound up with whitewashing the dictator's crimes, noted:

In line with a series of moves to rid the country of its worship for late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the ruling party is calling on the government to stop having military guards protect the mausoleum of the "dictator."

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is expected to put forth a proposal today asking the Cabinet to remove the guards at Chiang's mausoleum in Taoyuan County, party officials said yesterday.

The officials said the government is not obliged to continue protecting the mausoleum of what they called a "dictator," as it should be his descendants' responsibility to maintain it.

The call comes at the heel of the government's move to remove hundreds of Chiang's statues from all military premises.

The removal of the statues yesterday sparked strong criticism from the opposition, which claimed it was part of the pro-independence government's efforts to cut off Taiwan's Chinese roots.

The article is quite forthright in its way -- it labels reverence for Chiang "worship" and puts dictator in quotes -- signaling where its pro-authoritarian political sympathies lie. The pro-democracy Taipei Times argued that the whole thing was good riddance, which happens to be my point of view. But what is really happening?

The "rectification of names" is an old phrase in Chinese, and the existence of this concept in local political discourse has obscured what is really going on. Confucian thinking argues that disorder results from failing to call things by their right names, and avoiding disorder is what Confucianism is all about. Certainly renaming in Taiwan has that function. But what is really going on here is that Taiwan is attempting to move into a post-colonial era, like that experienced by India in the 1950s or Kenya in the 1960s. Taiwan's situation is quite remarkable, trapped in a moment between existence as a colonial entity under the rule of mainlander elites and their compradores, and an independence that is de facto but not de jure -- with those selfsame elites still active and out to subvert the country's independence. The rectification of names going on now may be viewed through a Confucian lens, but it is in fact thoroughly postcolonial.

Anish Chada, writing on colonial cemeteries in India in the postcolonial era, observes:

There are two terms in heritage studies that have attempted to classify monuments whose erection originates in a historical moment of conflict, contradiction, or deep contestation -- 'dissonant heritage' and 'negative heritage'. The dissonance in dissonant heritage 'involves a discordance or lack of agreement and consistency' (Tunbridge and Ashworth, 1996: 22) and is seen clearly in the heritage of atrocity, such as war memorials, holocaust memorials and other monuments or architecture with a subtext of violence. Similarly, 'negative heritage' is either appropriated for a 'positive didactic purpose (e.g. Auschwitz, Hiroshima,District Six)', or otherwise erased like Nazi and Soviet Statues and architectures (Meskell, 2002: 558). The Park Street cemetery is distinct from these types of heritage in its more ambivalent status. Although most of the colonial heritage in the postcolony can be subsumed under the taxonomic grasp of dissonant heritage or negative heritage -- a site like the Park Street cemetery resists these classificatory boundaries and is located in a nebulous and undefined conceptual space. It can neither be culturally appropriated nor completely obliterated from the postcolonial landscape, and it occupies a space of conflicting emotions and indeterminate meaning. It is a heritage that is a clear reminder of an oppressive occupation, however, it is also a site of mourning and has come to have an ambivalent meaning for Calcutta's population. The semiotic content of such ambivalence is produced in the tension between the dual symbolic position that the Park Street cemetery occupies -- a monument to colonial ideology which is simultaneously a memorial to the dead.

That last sentence is precisely what the CKS Memorial in Taipei is: a monument to a colonial ideology that is simultaneously a memorial to a dead leader and a reminder of atrocity. In any normal postcolonial state these monuments to the previous power would be either rehabilitated or destroyed. That is the process that the DPP is attempting to carry out.

Many observers patronize the DPP or dismiss its moves as mere intraparty politics -- though they are certainly part of that, with the legislative elections coming up at the end of the year -- but everything the DPP is doing is normal in a postcolonial state. Even what the DPP is doing to the statues is utterly normal -- India is littered with the remains of statues erected by the Raj and then mutilated and discarded (many are collected in a corner of the Bombay Zoo), and of course, images of Eastern Europeans desecrating statues of Communist heroes were a staple of the Cold War transition in Eastern Europe.

In that respect the Chiangs are lucky that the colonial elites in Taiwan still maintain a hold on political and social power and consider protecting the memory of the dictator a key part of their own social identity. In most postcolonial states nothing protects the memory of the colonizers, and their markers are banished from public life, as the KMT did when it colonized Taiwan and attempted to extirpate any links to Taiwan's Japanese era. Coming to grips with the colonial past, and reclaiming it, is part of the normalizing process that Taiwan, like any other postcolonial state, needs to go through.


Prince Roy said...

the statue issue is fascinating, and it's one I covered yesterday. The nearest parallel I can think of is the Confederate flag controversy of the American South.

Anonymous said...

One thing I always found quarky about Taipei was that the CKS Memorial Park is on Roosevelt Road. From what I've read, FDR hated CKS and even thought about taking him out..... funny how that worked out.

Anyway, great post Michael. It will be cool to see park renamed someday, I hope I am still here when it happens. Already the KMT (Keep Marginalizing Taiwan) party had to hightail it out of their fortress HQ next door to the park since they could no longer milk the taxpayers for their cash flow.

Off Topic:

BTW: Good post also in today's paper about the scammers. The same thing just happened to a friend of mine in Chayi. (Scammed out of NT$600K).

Its definitely an issue politicians should address, but do the Taiwanese really pay attention to issues? All they seem to care about is the latest scandal, the latest car crash or the most recent LV handbag design.

To add to that statement, It's funny that in Taiwan, there is only one international news program on TV at night. Its hosted by Sisy Chen of all people. (someone who I've lost all respect for over bulletgate fiasco). As much as I despise her, she is the only one that seems to have a clue that there is a world outside of the Taiwan. Too bad only a few people watch it. World events are not looking good for the future of Taiwan. (Iran/China/USA conflict). The Taiwanese should be paying attention to this more. Moving statues and renaming companies is trivial compared to what may happen in the near future. Perhaps CKS park will be renamed for that Chinese guy...Lei Feng or something like that.

Michael Turton said...

KMT=Keep marginalizing Taiwan. ROFL.

I think the Taiwanese would pay attention, if somebody started screaming at them about issues. But none of the major politicians talk about issues...


Ed en Vadrouille said...

Concerning the scams related in the Taipei Times article Taipeimarc is linking to (your article then Michael), I first saw it happening about two and a half years ago, and it was at the time targeting the parents of students studying in UK. The scammers knew that their children were abroad and were using that as a further mean of pressure.
But how did they got to know about them being away from Taiwan?
(that would imply some pretty good connection with a government body, an embassy...).

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right, but let me give it this label. Naming universities, companies, locations in Taiwan as Taiwan instead of "Bank of China" or "Chinese Petroleum Company" is an ECONOMIC issue. First of all, any regular Joe seeing a name like that for the first time is going to assume that it's a Chinese company.

Second, with the rise of internet advertising, you can't find anything that's really from Taiwan when you label it "China" or "Republic of China". China because you're lost in a sea of companies ACTUALLY from China, and Republic of China will return results that contain "People's Republic of China" as well!

This is so practical it repulses me, but Taiwan has to be called Taiwan and things from Taiwan have to be labeled this way because it's a branding issue. Otherwise you're advertising mind-share has been diluted, obscured, and "unified" with China's...

Anonymous said...

One thing I always found quarky about Taipei was that the CKS Memorial Park is on Roosevelt Road. From what I've read, FDR hated CKS and even thought about taking him out..... funny how that worked out.

Are you certain about this? From what I've read, Roosevelt was eager to enlist CKS's erstwhile support in WWII, and perfectly willing to overlook reports of the dictator's character and dealings. Truman, though, loathed CKS and considered him and his Madame Chiang avaricious, corrupt and incompetant.

Perhaps CKS park will be renamed for that Chinese guy...Lei Feng or something like that.

Are you thinking of Lei Chen? While considered a pioneer of democracy for publishing Free China, and for having been arrested and persecuted by the KMT, Lei Chen has never been embraced by Taiwanese stalwarts, because on the issue of 228 and persecution of Taiwanese intellectuals, he was indifferent if not hostile, considering them rebels and "Japanese-followers" who got their just desserts. While he was interested in establishing an open and democratic society, he wanted it to be an open Chinese society, not a Taiwanese one.

Some Taiwanese have been willing to embrace Lei Chen, and uphold him as an "ally in democracy" if only as a beacon to attract WSR into the Taiwanese camp, but as in the example with Roosevelt, that meant overlooking much about the man that they did not want to hear or see.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am pretty certain FDR at least considered a CKS assassination. I did a quick search and came up with the excerpt below. As I remember, there was one event that really set FDR off, but I can't remember what it was, off the top of my head. I know if I go digging for it further, I will spend hours getting sucked into a blackhole of historical fascination so best that I just it at this:

Finally, after becoming sufficiently tired of Chiang Kai-Shek's complaints about American failure to support his government, FDR ordered that a plan be prepared for the assassination of the Chinese generalissimo. In December 1943, FDR's military representative in China, General Joseph Stilwell — who passionately disliked Chiang, often referring to him in public as "the Peanut" — told a subordinate, Col. Frank Dorn, that FDR was "fed up with Chiang and his tantrums, and said so. In fact, he told me in that Olympian manner of his, 'if you can't get along with Chiang, and can't replace him, get rid of him once and for all. You know what I mean, put in someone you can manage.'" Col. Dorn prepared a plan for an airplane mishap, in which there would be engine problems and, in the process of bailing out of the plane, Chiang and his wife would be given faulty parachutes. The plan was not executed only because FDR decided not to issue final authorization.

RE: Lei Chen. What I just referring to the PLA soldier that the communist party made into their superhero role model.

It was intended as a joke/warning because I think there is some chance the PRC will make a move on Taiwan if the USA goes into Iran in the near future. The PRC will toss out the CKS statue, but put in a (another) mainlander as the hero to worship. Lei Feng just popped into my head while I made the post, so I threw it in to be somewhat humorous.

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic. I think most Taiwanese are ignorate of how outsiders precieve Taiwan/ROC.

I got married to a Taiwanese girl and we decided to register in Taiwan. I was born in Taiwan and immigranted to US years back. My US passport says that I was born in China due to One China policy. When the lady at the registry saw my US passport she assumed that I was from RP of China. I tried to explain to her how US issues these passports. It took the entire afternoon and documents to show that I'm not from the mainland.

My point is that most people in Taiwan really do not know or are confused with their international status. I do hope this will change in the future.

Michael Turton said...

Note to TM: you can change the language blogger displays in by clicking on "language" at the bottom.


Anonymous said...

i think the name of Taiwan should be changed to .... Nawiat.

Leave it at that.