As many of our readers already know, the Taiwanese government has re-named the Chiang Kai-shek memorial in Taibei, now known as the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. This is actually sort of interesting, as lots of states have to deal with the “problem” of old historical monuments. This is a particularly big problem for the CKS memorial, as it is HUGE and right in the middle of town. I used to walk across it every day to change buses and stopped in to see the movie about his life about 50 times. The movie was unimpressive, but the AC in the place would lower your core temperature to the point you could walk a mile in the Taibei summer without breaking a sweat. Although there have been some protests about the renaming, the bigger problem is the symbolism. The tiles are all blue, as a symbol of the Nationalist Chinese flag. Will they be painted green? Also, the dimensions of the building are symbolic.
The square shape of the building represents the spirit of the mean and of rectitude (chung-cheng which is also Chiang Kai-shek’s name); the three-tiered staircase symbolizes the Three Principles of the People; the two-tiered eight-cornered roof eaves, built in the shape of the character jen (man) and coming together at the pao-ting converge with the sky, symbolizing revered Mr. Chang’s belief that “Heaven and Man are One”1)
Of course one could come up with Taiwanese justifications for these dimensions, which is probably what was done in the first place. It seems, however, that this will be yet another chapter in the fight over the past. Chiang actually did quite well for himself. Unlike Sun Yat-sen, Chiang’s actually called attention to his Christianity, which was not allowed in the case of Sun. Mao had to suffer the indignity of having other revolutionaries honored in what was orginally his space. Chiang’s statue is still all by itself, and its hard to see what they can do with it.
Of course Chiang has had to suffer the ultimate indignity. The museum of his life has been replaced by an exibit on the Taiwanese democracy movement, whose chief enemy was of course Chiang. If they keep changing memorials like this Taibei will become St. Petersburg.
Frederic Wakeman “Funerary Rites: The Remains of Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung” Representations 10 (Spring 1985 ↩