Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is one of the most spectacular landmarks in Taipei. It’s also one of the most visited, with thousands of tourists descending onto the site every day.
However, for a lot of the people of Taiwan, this landmark is extremely contentious. It serves as a reminder of the Chiang Kai-shek’s White Terror, a time when political dissidents were suppressed as Taiwan was held under martial law (for what was, at the time, the longest period of martial law in history). Whilst this post isn’t intended to be anything more than a showcase of this impressive landmark, I feel that a bit of historical insight provides an important context for anyone who visits.
When Mao Zedong’s Communist forces defeated Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) in 1949, Chiang fled from mainland China to Taiwan, declaring martial law. This was when the White Terror began. Over 140,000 Taiwanese people were imprisoned, largely the intellectual and social elite, whilst thousands were killed and over 4,000 were executed. Tragically, many people were taken away, never to be seen again.
Therefore, it might seem strange that his statue still stands in such a position of prominence within Taipei (although no more strange than the coins, street names and parks which also feature his face or name). All of this is especially surprising considering that in 2006 a government report declared that Chiang was ultimately responsible for the atrocities committed by his party.
To say that Taiwan has changed a lot since Chiang died in 1975 would be an understatement. The people of Taiwan have created their own identity and Taiwan has transformed into a fantastic multi-party democracy, a far cry from the authoritarian dictatorship that came before. Unsurprisingly, these freedoms have led to a serious debate about Chiang Kai-Shek’s legacy, and ultimately, what should be the future of the Memorial Hall.
The square in which the C.K.S Memorial Hall sits was rededicated as Liberty Square (previously it was called Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Square) in 2007, whilst the Memorial Hall itself was renamed as the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. However, this change did not last long, and when the KMT returned to power in 2008, the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall was re-named the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall once more. The name Liberty Square remains.
Brilliantly, albeit rather ironically, this site was, and continues to be, hugely important for Taiwanese supporters of democracy. It was an important hub for pro-democracy events in the 1980s and 1990s, including the Wild Lily student movement rallies of 1990 and as recently as last month, the Taiwanese rallies in support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. But ultimately, the controversy remains. Less than a year ago pro-independence student activists stormed the hall and threw paint over the statue of Chiang Kai-Shek. It’ll be very interesting to see what the future holds.
What to see
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
This is why people visit. I could go into a lot of detail about the symbolisation attached to its design, but you’d do much better to read about it on the website here. Ultimately, every detail was planned to memorialise Chiang. The 89 stairs leading up to the temple – one for each year Chiang was alive; the ridges of the room are supposed to look like the Chinese character for “person” – because Chiang was the man of the people; the blue octagonal shape of the roof – eight is the Chinese number associated with good fortune, blue is the colour of the KMT. This list goes on.
National Concert Hall
I think this was probably the first time I’d visited that I hadn’t been greeted by groups of teenagers practising their dance routines. I guess that only happens on weekends or school holidays.
Democracy Boulevard and Park
Walking through the park which flanks Liberty Square is actually one of my favourite things to do in this area. There are a couple of great spots for catching glimpses of the Memorial Hall, Theatre or Concert Hall, as well as an awesome couple of ponds filled with fish.
Changing of the Guard
This impressive show of discipline and skill takes place on the hour, every hour, whilst the lowering of the flag ceremony takes place at 17:00 everyday. It’s worth watching, but get their early if you don’t want someones selfie stick getting in your face.
I strongly recommend a visit to Liberty Square. The size alone is awe-inspiring, whilst the design of the buildings are undoubtedly magnificent. However, I would also strongly encourage you to read up on Chiang Kai-Shek himself – find out as much as you can about the man whose oppressive regime ultimately shaped Taiwan into the wonderful modern country it is today.
Here are a few more of my favourite shots: