The latest newsletter from taiwanreporter Klaus Bardenhagen
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My first taste of Taiwanese politics

Below you'll find part VII of my "When I first came to Taiwan" story. It's about a controversial historical figure and a no less controversial site.

Just scroll down!

Remember, you can still read the previous episodes in case you missed them.

If you would like to support me and my work in Taiwan, there is a way that will not cost you a penny:

The next time you order anything from, simply start your shopping via this link:

This is an affiliate link. No matter what you order (a book, toilet paper, a sofa...), I will get a small percentage from Amazon. Your price remains unchanged, and I will not know who ordered what.

Here's an idea to start: Green Island, the much acclaimed historical novel about Taiwan by author Shawna Yang Ryan.

No matter what you decide on: Thank you very much!

Want to re-read the previous newsletters? They are right here.

Taiwan Resources in English

An absolutely invaluable treasure trove of English information about Taiwan is the online archive of the Taipei Times.

The site design may feel dated, but don't be fooled.

They have everything in there that has been published in the paper, going back to 31 August, 1999.

Strangely the site's own search function sucks big time. The search period cannot exceed three months, which is ridiculous.

This is where Google comes in handy. Just enter SEARCHTERM, and you will get the complete results from the Taipei Times archives. You can then filter them by publicaton date using Google's own tools.

Another great thing: The Taipei Times always adds the names of Taiwanese people in Chinese characters. And since the romanization ('English spelling") of Taiwanese' names is often not consistent with any rules or changes over time, the best way to find out what has been written about a specific person (back to 1999!) is to just use the above Google command to search for their Chinese name. I you don't write Chinese, you can copy/paste the characters from any Taipei Times article, Youtube video description, personal Facebook profile etc.

If you want to support my work in Taiwan, here is what you can do.

My Taiwan Story (Chapter 7)

During my first stay in Taiwan in the spring of 2008, I had the opportunity to report on a number of politican subjects. The presidential election was around the corner, and the situation with China was especially delicate with the run-up to the Beijing Olympics and unrest in Tibet. So I decided I had to catch up on Taiwanese history in order to get the background right.

One of the first sites I checked out was the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Everyone who has spent any time in Taiwan has probably been there, so let me just say: It looked different back then than today.

On the outside, it still bore the inscription “National Democracy Monument”, a controversial step taken by President Chen Shui-bian late in his term to shore up support.

Inside, there was no honour guard. Instead, Chiang’s stature had been made to look at a sight the old man probably would not have approved of.

To his feet, a photo exhibition about the history of Taiwan’s democracy movement had been set up. Suspended from the ceiling were colorful kites and an Aboriginal canoe.

The message was clear: Your dictatorship is history, diversity and freedom of expression have come to stay.

I was quite surprised to see the exhibition downstairs look pretty much exactly like when the hall opened in 1980.

Texts hailed Chiang as a flawless leader and exemplary human being. There were larger-than-life paintings, countless photos and artifacts of all sorts.

I had only encountered this kind of personality cult in East Germany and Cuba before.

Together, this made for an interesting contrast, and it helped me understand why Taiwan’s society is still divided about how to evaluate the country’s post-war history, and how to move forward.

Today of course, there is no trace of the photo exhibition. The honour guard has been restored to do their thing, and in 2009 President Ma Ying-jeou had the inscription above the hall’s gate changed back to “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall” instead of “National Democracy Memorial”. There was a lot of barbed wire, and many policemen were guarding the compound that day.

The inscription “Freedom Square” on the huge gate at the entrance to the plaza, on the other hand, was not changed back to the previous state.

Fast forward to 2017. Before the 70th anniversary of the 228 Incident, Tsai Ing-wen’s new government recently announced changes regarding the memorial hall.

For one, they pulled the Chiang Kai-shek souvenirs and cutesy figures from the souvenir shops. I always found them highly peculiar, and I can understand why you don’t want to see them in this place.

They also announced that the start of a deliberation process to give the memorial hall and exhibition a complete makeover. Everything is on the table: renaming the hall, changing the exhibition, even removing the stature (though I would bet that won’t happen soon).

My personal opinion is that the downstairs exhibition in the hall should be preserved – exactly because it has never been changed. In this original state, it functions like a time capsule. Enter it, and you are transported back into the minds of the people running Taiwan before the lifting of martial law. 
If you want to learn from the past, you need to understand it. This exhibition gives you a chance to do that, to experience firsthand how an all-encompassing ideology works like a closed system, allowing only those bits of history and reality to filter through that fit into its worldview – or twisting them so that they fit.

I still remember passing through the iron curtain into East Germany. I also remember standing on a platform in West Berlin and looking over the wall into the no man’s land on the other side. But almost nothing of this has been preserved. The border fortifications on the transit highway where we were made to wait uncomfortably in our car, had to endure the border guards opening our trunk and go though our luggage if they wanted, they are gone. There are almost no traces left of the Berlin Wall, either. Just some tiny specks that, if you see them today, make you wonder what it all was about.

That was a mistake that we Germans made and that Taiwan should not repeat. Put the photo exhibition back at the feet of the statue. Add new information boards to the exhibition to clarify how facts have been distorted. But don’t dismantle the big statue, and leave that Chiang wax figure downstairs, too.

Because this is the stuff that future generations of visitors will need to understand what happened, and why.

(To be continued.)

Photo of the Week

 Have you ever seen that many soldiers in a 7-Eleven at the same time? If not, you need to go to Matsu. While the garrison numbers on this group of small islands here have been reduced drastically from the time of the Cold War, soldiers still make up a significant part of the population. You see them all the time. And since entertainment options on Matsu are limited, of course they feel drawn towards the local convenience stores.
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