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Taiwan Considers Changes to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial

Guards of honor parade at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, Jan. 17, 2016.

Guards of honor parade at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, Jan. 17, 2016.

Taiwan’s lawmakers are debating whether to remove one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions -- a memorial to Chiang Kai-shek.

A 6-meter-tall statue of Chiang Kai-shek has been in the capital city of Taipei since 1980. More than 7 million people, including people from other countries, visited the memorial and nearby buildings in 2015.

Chiang ruled Taiwan from the mid-1940s until his death in 1975. His Nationalist Party ruled all of China until it lost the civil war to the Communists led by Mao Zedong. Chiang and his supporters then fled to Taiwan.

Re-examining Chiang Kai-shek

Chiang placed Taiwan under martial law in 1949. It ended in 1987, 12 years after he died. During campaigns to end opposition to Nationalist rule under Chiang, thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands were imprisoned.

In February, Nationalists lost control of parliament. They will lose the presidency later this month. The Nationalists’ loss of power to the Democratic Progressive Party means it will be easier for the DPP and its supporters in parliament to consider making changes to the Chiang monument.

Hsu Yung-ming is a legislator from a minority party. He led a legislative meeting -- called a hearing -- about the memorial recently.

“I believe a lot of people think it should be redone, as this memorial honors Chiang Kai-shek and…to commemorate Chiang Kai-shek I think is strange, as there are a lot of things for which he needs to take responsibility,” he said.

Legislators are considering changing the memorial into an archive for all Taiwanese presidents. Other possible changes include making it a place to honor protest movements or one that shows the pain caused by Taiwan’s authoritarian history. Some legislators want some or all of the memorial to be destroyed. But others fear such an action would divide Taiwan.

Some defend Chiang

Some Taiwanese still consider Chiang’s role in history so important that his statue should not be removed from the center in Taipei. Some people believe his fight against Mao Zedong kept the island from being ruled by the communists.

Joanna Lei leads the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank in Taiwan. Lei says changing the memorial would be “a highly political- and ideologically-driven move by the new [Democratic Progressive Party] to eradicate all records, especially the records of Chiang Kai-shek, who brought lots of people from mainland China to Taiwan. So if they are trying to gradually phase out the connection with mainland China, then (removing) the roots would be a very important political move.”

Memorials and statues

There are many memorials to Chiang in parks and public schools throughout Taiwan. Many of them are statues made of bronze or stone that show him smiling and wearing military clothing. The Taipei Times newspaper estimated that in 2000 there were 43,000 Chiang statues in the country.

When the Democratic Progressive Party was in power from 2000 to 2008, it removed Chiang’s name from the center in Taipei where the large statue sits. The decision was supported by many people in Taiwan.

In 2014, high school activists asked to have Chiang statues removed from their schools. And people sometimes damage Chiang statues in public places.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Ralph Jennings reported this story from Taipei. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

memorial – n. something (such as a monument or ceremony) that honors a person who has died or serves as a reminder of an event in which many people died

martial law – n. control of an area by military forces rather than by the police

commemorate – v. to do something special in order to remember and honor (an important event or person from the past)

authoritarian – adj. expecting or requiring people to obey rules or laws; not allowing personal freedom

eradicate – v. to remove (something) completely

phase out – v. to stop using, making or doing (something) gradually over a period of time

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