Saturday, April 18, 2009

Erasing the Past

The Ma Administration's latest shenanigans with the past have sparked controversy in Taiwan, as the Council on Cultural Affairs has proposed turning a famous political prison and memorial to the democracy and human rights movement into a concert and cultural activities venue....
Several civic groups expressed their objection to the plan yesterday.

“The CCA’s plan to permit artists to freely use the historic rooms — including the former courtroom and prison cells — and allow them to make adjustments will just destroy the place,” Mainlander Taiwanese Association executive director Huang Luo-fei (黃洛斐) told the Taipei Times via telephone.

“Of course we support the idea of attracting more visitors and giving a new life to the old historic space,” Huang said. “But you have to take into consideration why this place was preserved in the first place and don’t take it out of the historical context.”

Chiu E-ling (邱伊翎), director of media and communications at the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, agreed.

“[The former Jingmei military detention center] is an important landmark in Taiwan’s human rights history — you cannot treat it like an abandoned warehouse,” Chiu said, adding that the CCA had never discussed the issue with human rights groups or former political prisoners who were jailed there.

“[President] Ma Ying-jeou [馬英九] said that he considers the human rights issue a priority and the government brags about the ratification of two UN human rights convenants,” she said. “But I think we’re taking a step backward in manifesting human rights.”

Former DPP secretary-general Wang Tuoh (王拓), who was detained at the center as a political prisoner, accused the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government of “trying to erase its own ugly history.”

DPP legislators also joined in the chorus of disapproval.

DPP caucus whip Lee Chun-yee (李俊毅) told a press conference that Ma’s government renamed the human rights park on Feb. 27.

The old military court will be remodeled into offices for performing arts groups, while the detention house would become display rooms for art or performance rehearsal studios, he said.

The historical value of the site would be destroyed by the project, Lee said.
Not mentioned in the Taipei Times article, but noted by a Liberty Times commentator, (h/t to the Latin lover) is that the upgrade to the 228 Memorial Museum commencing in May eliminates the second floor exhibit showing the resistance to the White Terror:
同樣的事情也發生在台北二二八紀念館,在五月將要更新的常設展規劃中,原有的白色恐怖展區被取消。當我們好 不容易面對那段歷史,為什麼政府要再次的把它遮掩。每個人、每個群體的歷史都該被尊重,白色恐怖受害者、流亡老兵、樂生院民以及外籍配偶,然而掩蓋顯然不 是尊重的表現。請不要再欺瞞我們,讓人民共同面對「光陰的故事」。
The same thing has also occurred in the Taipei 228 Memorial Hall. In the May upgrade of the permanent exhibition plan, what was originally the area of the White Terror Exhibit has been eliminated. After all the difficulties in facing this part of history, why does the Government have to hide it again.
Exactly. Why does the government have to hide it again?
Daily links:
Taichung-based music promoter needs help to pay off massive debts for baby. Far Eastern Sweet Potato on Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng's talk at TFCC. David Reid's recording of talk given by Director of the KMT's International Affairs department to NCCU students.

Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

The KMT's actions demonstrate many of their powerful members simultaneous feelings of guilt over their past deeds and a wish to absolve themselves of that guilt by destroying the physical reminders of the decades of state terror committed against the people of Taiwan.

They may feel that if the reminders are destroyed people can forget the violence of the ROC's arrival of Taiwan. This may be with an eye on solidifying support for an ROC national identity as the citizen's obligation to forget the violence of the nation's birth is essential for the replacement of old national identities with the new one.

Unfortunately for the KMT, the violence and suppression of citizens on Taiwan has become a predominant narrative in the realization of Taiwan's democratic regime change in the 1990's. This current era should be viewed as the latest era in-line with Dutch, Cheng, Qing, Japanese, KMT/ROC and now Democratic ROC, as the radical changes vastly altered the relationship between the citizen and the state.

Destroying these symbols becomes an assault on the nation and on the ideals shared by all peoples of Taiwan who support democracy on the island. The KMT would be wise to leave them and recognize them.

Carlos said...

I'm with Anon.

I think the KMT has been successful in separating itself from its past in voter's minds. The truth is certainly up for debate, but what matters is that most Taiwanese think of the Martial Law era KMT and the current KMT as being separate entities.

Messing with history weakens that perceived separation, and is risky. Unfortunately, Taiwan has a strong "don't cause trouble by bringing up the past" culture, so the KMT can probably get away with it.

Anonymous said...

Carlos said: I think the KMT has been successful in separating itself from its past in voter's minds.

I think not -- consider it an active demonstration of democracy. Since people tend to vote their pocketbook, political conservatives in Taiwan are giving KMT a chance to reform themselves and maintain the economy. If they fail, we'll likely see a return of the other party.

Anonymous said...

This would be laughable if it weren't so sad.

Since when has the Taiwan government ever significantly subsidized art and artists?

Most of Taiwan's greatest art institutions have to go begging for money.

It's perhaps apt they're thinking of putting artists up in prison.

Adam said...

Maybe I am wrong (and it could be so because I live in very pan-blue Taipei and I married into a family of pan-bluists), but it certainly seems that the KMT has been successful in seperating itself from its past.

Anonymous said...


I should commend you for realizing where your bias is coming from, but the KMT openly does not dissociate itself from its past.

They vote in steel blocks for the descendants of the operators of this deadly authoritarian machine (Jiang's, Hao's, and so many sons and daughters of old generals, whose military police/intelligence apparatus operated WITHIN the borders of Taiwan).

I would think it would be too obvious to bring up Ma's worship of Chiang Ching-Kuo too.

If the KMT were serious about being open with their past, they have a lot of historical archives that they could open up to the public, and their money warchest--whether or not they think it's legitimate gains--could be negated by campaign spending limits and allow for fair elections. But they won't do either of these, in the former case because they feel guilty and what's in those archives will shock even the Blues and in the second because they want above all, to win and enjoy their power.