Archive for the ‘ Taiwan ’ Category

TAIWAN; Forming a Nation in Exile



Forming a Nation in Exile

Keyvan Tabari

Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2016. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.


Table of Contents

Introduction; Lay of the land; Religion; Taiwanese and Mainlanders;  The Kuomintang Narrative  (Memorializing Sun Yat-sen, Showcasing Chiang Kai-shek, National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine);  Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (Falun Dafa); Liberty Square; National Palace Museum; Economic Tiger; Sunflower Movement; Culture; Food (Night Market, Dumpling); People (Doctor, Working Women, Men in Business, Students); Conclusion



For most people, Taiwan brings to mind,  by word association, Chiang Kai-shek, Quemoy and Matsu, two-China policy and Asian economic Tiger. The more politically interested might think of the Sunflower Movement, and the culturally-attuned of the Palace Museum, Ang Lee and Stan Lai. All of these, however, are the present. The future is as important, and that is firmly rooted in the past of Taiwan, as I learned from my investigation during a visit in September of 2015.

Lay of the land

On the bus that took me from the airport to my hotel in Taipei, a young woman sat next to me. She was coming home from California to look after her mother in-law who had recently taken ill. Her husband was too busy at work. “It is Chinese culture,” she said in her perfect American accent, “family is so important.” Ordinarily, this would not have “exemplified” a culture, but as I would find out, to understand Taiwan you need to pay attention to hints and and symbols.

When I, later, looked down from the pool atop my hotel, the Taipei 101 building dominated the skyline. As the city’s signature building, it is meant to make a statement. It towers over other . structures . The next tallest building in Taipei has only 85 floors and the others hardly exceed 50 floors. When finished in 2004, Taipei 101, named after the number of its floors, boasted that it was the world’s tallest building. It remained that until another more pointedly boastful building, Burj Khalifa, was built in Dubai six years later.

At least the Taipei 101 is not in the desert. Far from it; all  around  me there were multi-story buildings in this part of Taipei. This is the new section of the city that has extended eastward recently. “Taipei” is now used to refer to both the Taipei City proper and the metropolitan area which includes the nearby cities of New Taipei and Keelung.  That metropolice with more than 7 million people or nearly one-third  the population of Taiwan is truly the “Center” of the country: its political, economic and cultural capital.

I took the elegant Dun Hua South Road in the eastern Da’an District to walk toward the old western core of Taipei, still considered the town’s cultural heart. The special attention paid to the development of eastern districts was noticeable in the graceful, broad boulevards with islands of trees . Along the way, however, I could see structures from the previous generations of development, multi-story residential units that now looked tired and in need of serious refurbishing . When I turned left onto Zhongxiao East Road, the face of the city changed. Chic stores gave way to shops where the everyday business of the town was carried out. Here was where people could find clothing, along with home wares and electronics. Mixed with smaller establishments were big department stores such as SOGO and Ming Yao. Several lanes of busy traffic replaced the green islands in the middle.

Gradually, the sidewalks narrowed; closer to the crowded center of  town, they were occupied by parked motorcycles. Small eateries with hardly any seatings inside but serving freshly cooked street foods proliferated. Most offered Chinese fare, a few Japanese. When I reached the campus of the National Taipei University there were also some others. I stepped into one called Nolo. It displayed on its wall a large saying attributed to Mark Twain about the kind of food it served: “New Orleans’s food is a crime more delicious than other minor sins.”

The crime that the government feared the students could commit was signified by the barbed wires a couple of blocks away. The wires were coiled, ready for deployment, in the parking lot of the Ministry of Education. This property was stormed by students and other “Anti Black Box Movement” protesters on July 23, 2015. Among the targets of their discontent were the proposed changes in the high school history curriculum, especially the removal in textbooks of Japanese contributions to Taiwan and the “whitewashing past atrocities” in Taipei by the ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT).  The decisions regarding those changes were allegedly made by politicians in the “back rooms,” or Black Box.

This area, where the major government buildings are located, is called the Zhongzheng District, named after the man better known to the world as Chiang Kai-shek, the late leader of KMT. His rule here (1950- 1975) bean after he fled mainland China in 1949, upon defeat by Mao Zedong’s Communists in the Civil War. It followed the Japanese 50-year colonization of Taiwan which ended in 1945 by their defeat in World War Two. Many of the current government buildings in this district are from that Japanese era, including the prominent seat of the Legislative Yuan.

There are several other famous buildings in Taipei which were constructed during the Japanese occupation. Particularly striking was the Presbyterian Church which I was now looking at, in its own modest garden, on Jinan Street. This is a neo-gothic red brick structure with multiple arched windows, designed in 1916 by the man who is considered the father of modern architecture in Taiwan, Ide Kaoru. Today, right next to the Church on Zhongshan street (named after Sun Yat-sen, the founder of both the Republic of China and KMT), there were tents with large signs protesting that Taiwan was an independent country. They were manned by a few who had made the tents home for the duration. These were dissidents in the KMT who were opposed to the party’s policy of closer relationship with the People’s Republic of China.


I did not see anyone going into the Presbyterian Church. About 4.5% of Taiwanese are adherents of Christianity, including Protestants, Catholics, and non-denominational groups. Taiwanese “aborigines” constitute a notable subgroup among them. Nearly 65% of the aborigines profess Christianity.  The aborigines, however, comprise only 2% of the population of Taiwan. They are even less significant in Taipei where they constitute a mere 0.5% of the residents and mostly live in the suburbs. Of Austronesian stock, sharing the same language with the Tagalog of the Philippines and Malay and Indonesian of Malaysia and Indonesia, Taiwanese aborigines were the only inhabitants of the land prior to the 17th century. Since then, and especially after the early 18th century, Han Chinese immigrants have been arriving in dramatically increasing number. They now constitute over 95% of the population. The majority of them are the descendants of the early immigrants: 84% are these “Taiwanese,” while the rest of the Hans are recent “mainland” Chinese.

The different areas of China from which these two groups came are significant not only in determining their language but also their culture. The Hoklo people who constitute 70% of the “Taiwanese,” speak Taiwanese Hokkien, a variant of the speech of the southern Fujian province where they originated; and the Hakka who are 14% of the “Taiwanese,” came from Guangdong (Canton), and speak Hakka. These languages are not mutually intelligible with Mandarin which is the language used by the descendants of the 2 million “mainland” Nationalists who fled to Taiwan following the communist victory on the mainland in 1949.

Many of the principal leaders of the Nationalists had converted to Christianity. Not only Chiang Kai-shek was baptized in the Methodist church of the influential Soong family as a pre-condition for marrying their daughter Mei-ling, but before him, Sun Yat-sen, the first Nationalist President of China had converted . His later marriage to Mei-ling’s older sister did not require it; Yat-sen’s conversion to Christianity was premised on his conviction that China should seek new ways and modernize like the West (Westernize). He thus implicitly rejected the retarding aspects of Confucianism. Chiang Kai-shek who became a faithful Christian, on the other hand, felt that Christianity reinforced Confucian moral teachings.

I had a glimpse of the impact of religion and traditional culture on the life of Taipei in the Lungshan Temple. Located in the southeastern part of Taippei , it is “the center of the town’s spirituality,” according to my guide. Lungshan is the oldest temple in the city, built in 1738 by settlers from Fujian, as a branch of the original Lungshan Temple in that province of China . It was to be both a place of worship and a gathering place. The temple has been destroyed either in full or in part, but has been rebuilt. It is still considered a prime example of Taiwanese classical architecture with Southern Chinese influences, especially from Fujian. The Temple has three main halls of worship, one behind the other as you go back from its main entrance on the street which faces south. All of the halls are surrounded by “protective” dragons, notably on the roof . Additionally, the front hall  has two dragons pillars and the central hall has four  . Inside the halls, the exquisitely crafted wood carving is remarkable , as are the columns and inscriptions.

Lungshan typifies most temples in Taiwan in that “a mixture of deities from Buddhism and Chinese folk religions such as Guanyin, Mazu and Guan Yu are worshipped here,” my guide said.  “There are Buddhist, Tao and Confucian elements, all combined there,” he continued. “People don’t know and don’t care about their different origins; they are there for their own prayers. Two places in the Temple are most popular, one to pray for ancestors and the other to pray for passing exams.”  I saw rows of worshippers at Lungshan. They seemed to comprise a cross-section of Taipei’s residents. There were older people but also young ones , folks in work clothes but also stylish women . They bowed at the entrance, put their hands together in reverential greetings and lighted the candles which they had bought here.

Lungshan is in Wanhua District. Called Bangka in Taiwanese Hokkien, this is Taipei’s oldest area. It is a place which has largely escaped the city’s architectural modernization. Right next to the Temple, I walked through a narrow alley  still called Spice Alley .  Four women were squatting on the floor and cleaning herbs, clad in black T-shirts. In the late Qing era, around the middle of the 19th century, Bangka was the center of trade in Taiwan. It was the largest and most important city of northern Formosa, as the island was called at the time.  I crossed the street from Spice Alley into the Bo-Pi-Liao area  which has survived from the   Qing Dynasty part of the old Bangka district. In the period of Japanese occupation, this area was largely subjected to benign neglect  . Taipei has recently undertaken a project for its renovation . Its revived old curved alleys   were attractive . In the empty room of a restored house, this day I noticed a hairdresser working on a bride in full wedding dress while the husband- to- be was patiently observing the grooming .

On the other side of Lungshan Temple was a street with blocks of stores which sold busts and statutes of Taipei worshippers’ many deities.  Some were familiar, like the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy , called Guanyin, along with other Buddha representations . One statue was of Mazu . She is the much revered sea goddess, protector of  fishermen and sailors, said to have been born in Fujian in the year 960 and ascended to heavens at the age of 26. There were several statues of Guan Yu, also called Guan Gong, a general who died in 220 and was deified in the late 6th century. He looked fierce with his red face and long beards . There were other, less famous, frightening deity figures with black beard  , red beard  or masks ; they were counter-balanced by some benign looking  and even happy deities .

As I walked up the street in this neighborhood, I found small  shrines  to local deities so common in all of Taipei. In front, the shrines had many red lanterns and yellow ones with red inscriptions, strung from side to side. This was in accordance with the Taoist tradition which says that the “Official of Heaven” enjoys bright and joyful objects.  Presently, I came to a storefront which had a table covered with oranges, kiwis and wild lilies at its doorstep. There were several women in saffron color robes sitting around a table inside . Outside, there was a cauldron of burning fire. I asked a man what this was about. He said “Bye-bye.” I was later told that this was a ceremony for a recently deceased person. The fire was to burn in it brown “Joss” papers to render them as money bills available for the departed loved ones.

A few steps away, I noticed another store- front gathering. Outside, there was a small crowd surrounding a table laid with cakes and other foods , while inside, a man was addressing another group seated at a long rectangular table. There was an election soon to be held, as I was told, and the speaker was campaigning for a candidate. Politicians of all Taiwanese parties use temples for political gatherings, appearing at them, especially, during campaigns. The Kuomintang has long used traditional Chinese religious ceremonies. Chiang Kai-shek believed that the deceased witnessed events from heaven. When the party’s founder, Sun Yat-sen, died, Chiang led Kuomintang Generals to pay tribute to Sun’s soul in heaven with a sacrificial ceremony at a Beijing temple in 1928.

There are no reliable counts of the number of gods and goddesses in the Taiwanese pantheon; there have been estimates of up to 36,000. Some of the worshiped supernatural entities may more accurately be described as saints, demons or even ghosts. Many were once mortals on Earth; in a temple or two, sacrifices are made even to icons of Chiang Kai-shek. There are three major categories of folk deities: protective gods of land and town and a group of spirits who would cause harm if not given offerings.

Taiwanese folk religion is an umbrella covering various elements from Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Confucianism is more a philosophy dealing with ethics underpinning the Taiwanese culture. Most Taiwanese combine its teachings with whatever religions they associate with. There is a Confucius Temple in Taipei, with elements of southern Fujian-style architecture, which was established in 1879. The main Buddhist Temple I found was in Keelung, with a prominent statue of Avalokitesvara in front of it . That bodhisattva, and a few others, are often also worshipped along with various Taoist deities in Taipei’s Taoist temples, which are far more numerous. Although 35% of Taiwanese are counted as Buddhist, while only 33% are Taoist, more than 78% of all registered temples are Taoist temples. Taiwanese Taoism, of the Zhengyi school, is different from northern Chinese Quanzhen Taoism as it lacks “a contemplative, ascetic and monastic tradition.” It is thoroughly entwined with folk religion, with the priest functioning as the ritual minister of local community’s cult.

The constitution of the Republic of China explicitly provides for freedom of religion. The government now recognizes 26 religions. There is a street in Taipei, Xinsheng South Road, which is known as the “Road to Heaven” because of its concentration of temples, shrines, churches, and even mosques. Noteably, Chiang Kai-shek was attentive to Chinese Muslims. His government provided the financial support for building the Taipei Grand Mosque. Chiang deemed all the minority peoples as well as the Han Chinese as the “Five Races under One Union.” That was the principle upon which the Republic of China was originally founded in 1911. Accordingly, the five-colored official flag represented the Hans, Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans and Hui Muslim Chinese. Chiang Kai-shek considered all the minority peoples and the Han Chinese as the descendants of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, the semi- mythical founder of the Chinese nation. There were other considerations as well. In his rise to power before coming to Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek developed close relationships with several Muslim Generals who supported him. He became a sworn brother of one whom he appointed to high ranking position. Later, he even appointed another, General Bai Chongxi, to be the Minister of National Defence of the Republic of China.

Taiwanese and Mainlanders

The Republic of China’s relationship with the Chinese who had lived in Taiwan (Taiwanese) was far less cordial. Their unhappy fate under mainland rulers who in 1945 replaced the Japanese occupiers of Taiwan, is recorded in the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum . The museum in on the site of a radio station, originally established by the Japanese authorities in 1930 as an arm of their propaganda organization. In 1945 the radio station became the broadcast organ of the Kuomintang government. In 1998, soon after Taiwan entered its modern democracy period, the building was dedicated as the current museum.

The choice of the site was directly related to the fact that in 1947, a group of protesters, aroused by brutal police action, temporarily occupied the station and employed it to broadcast charges against the Kuomintang government. This was part of a series of events which have come to be referred to as the 228 (February 28) Incident which was firmly suppressed by the government. Quickly regaining control of the radio station, the Kuomintang ushered in a period described as White Terror, to indicate the toll it took on the Taiwanese. Tens of thousands lost their lives in the months following the Incident.

Many of the displays I saw in the museum were accompanied by signs describing them in English as well as Chinese.  They reflected the free discussion of the Incident which was encouraged by the authorities following President Lee Teng-hui’s official apology in 1995.  A particularly plaintiff sign depicted the intense cultural pressures that the Taiwanese felt just before the Incident:

“During the 10 year of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937and the 228 Incident 1947, Taiwanese people experienced critical historical changes. The intention of the Kominga Movement (Japanization) was to completely trying (sic) to uproot Han culture in Taiwan, while the “crackdown on traitors” by the National Government in 1946 was aimed at eliminating any remnant of Japanese culture and influence in Taiwan. Most people who experienced the 228 Incident lived through two different eras, learning two different languages, swearing loyalty to two different flags, and holding two different identities.

How were the Taiwanese people supposed to deal with the fast identity switch as they moved from one regime and culture to another, going from relative self government before the war, colonization during the war, and tyranny after? How to adjust themselves of (sic) successive regimes that were equally violent, my Taiwanese people ?”

The reference to “relative self government before the war” was amplified by comments about the “The First Political Party in Taiwan-Taiwanese People’s Party” in 1927  and a picture of a group of well-dressed men and women representing the Taiwanese Communist Party, which dated back to 1917 . There were pictures showing aspects of “Kominga Movement (Japanization)”  ; and others depicting “Autonomy in the Political Vacuum Period,” “Learning Mandarin Chinese …from Japanese to Chinese,” and “Homecoming to build a new Taiwan  .”

A display explained in some details the reason for 228 Incident:

“What caused Taiwanese people who were welcoming the motherland country from the joy to dissipate so rapidly that after just one year later the 228 Incident broke out?

Taiwanese people were excluded from the political power. Among the 21 key positions in the Provincial Administrative Executive Officers, only one was held by a Taiwanese, and out of the 17 county and city mayors, only 3 were Taiwanese.

Economically, the National government continued the Japanese monopolistic system of controlling high-profit enterprises such as alcohol, tobacco and sugar …etc, leaving nothing for private businesses. Oppressive economic control, plus rampant corruption amongst government officials, soon made the people refer to the National government’s arrival at Taiwan as something of a hostile takeover and a form of plundering.

The illegal, disorderly, and outrageous behavior of soldiers and policemen was an insult and humiliation for the Taiwanese people. Furthermore, the cultural difference and language barriers, contributed to the collective buildup of resentment against the Nationalist government .”

The rather fortuitous cause of the February 27 event that led to the Incident was described as follows:

“People suffered from corrupt politics. Unemployment worsened everyday, so some people had no choice but to sell smuggled cigarettes to make a living, yet the police and investigators from the Monopoly Bureau continued to relentlessly crack down on them. On February 27, 1947, a citizen was shot dead accidentally by the authorities while contraband cigarettes were being seized, and this led to the outbreak of the 228 Incident. The long-suppressed resentment of the people against the administration of Chen Yi was ignited, and like wildfire spread through the island, resulting in the voices of Taiwan uniting and clamoring for political reform .”

For emphasis, another display pointed out that “The 227 Incident Bloodshed (was) amid the Crackdown on Smuggled Cigarettes,” and that it was due to “Problems Derived from the Monopoly System  .”

The Taipei 228 Memorial Museum is in the southern corner of Taiwan’s oldest urban public park, established in 1908, which has been rededicated as The 228 Peace Memorial Park . At the center of the park stands the 228 Massacre Monuments , erected on the 50th anniversary of the Incident, in 1997. It was designed by the Taiwanese architect Cheng Tsu-tsai who had submitted his plan from prison. He had been put in jail for a 1970 assassination attempt on Chiang Ching-kuo, Chiang Kai-shek’s  son and eventual successor. After finishing that sentence he was kept in jail for illegal entry to Taiwan.   At the Monument this plea for peace and unity is inscribed:

“Mistrust between Taiwanese and mainlanders, and the argument on whether Taiwan should declare independence or be united with China, have become hot issues with potentially worrisome implications. … [T]he task of healing a serious trauma in a society must depend on the whole-hearted collaborative effort by all its people. … Henceforward, we must be one, no matter which communal group we belong….”

The Kuomintang Narrative

It is doubtful that such wish can be easily achieved in Taiwan, even by the greatest “unifier” in modern Chinese history, Dr. Sun Yat-sen. He is referred to as the “Father of the Nation” by the Kuomintang and the “forerunner of democratic revolution” by the People’s Republic of China. When the Democratic Progressive Party ruled Taiwan (2000-2008), however, its Ministry of Education declared, in November of 2004, that Sun Yat-sen was not the father of the independent country of Taiwan; instead, Sun was just a “foreigner” from China. In the furor that this decaration caused among other citizens of Taiwan, eggs were thrown at the Education Minister in protest and a retired 70-year-old soldier mainlander slit his own throat.

Memorializing Sun Yat-sen

The loyalists like that soldier are still commanded to “Salute, please” before the immense sitting statue of Sun Yat-sen  in the Memorial to the great man in Taipei. Completed in 1972, the building is literally called the “National Father of the Nation Memorial Hall.” It is a place to retell the history of Sun’s life and, especially, the complex and complicated story of the 1911 Chinese Revolution which he led. That was the revolution that culminated in the overthrow of China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing, and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911. The summary of Sun’s life is presented in big banners in the Hall with significant numbers in bold: Born in 1866 in a village in Guangdong Province; graduated from Hong Kong’s College of Medicine for Chinese in 1892; founded the first revolutionary organization – Hsing Chung Hui (Society for the Revival of China)-  in 1894; provisional president of the Republic of China in 1912; died in Beijing in 1925; the National Government issued an order to all to address him as the “Father of the Nation” in 1940 . Another banner summed up his revolutionary accomplishments:  led 11 “revolutions” over a 17 year period before establishing the Republic of China, devoting 40 years to revolution .

Dramatic occasions of Sun’s revolutionary activities were recorded in several massive framed reliefs with descriptions under them. They were numbered chronologically. No. 1 was “Organizing the Hsing Chung Hui  and Advocating Revolution”  which said: Dr. Sun Yat-sen, on November 24, 1894 established the Hsing Chung Hui at Honolulu with the solemn pledge of “expelling traitors, restoring the Chinese , and establishing the republican government.” On February 21, 1895, the Hsing Chung Hui in Hong Kong was founded. The revolutionary Army Flag with a white sun set against blue sky was approved at the meeting held on March 16. Dr. Sun then launched the first uprising at Kwangchow in October  . Relief No. 5 was titled “Toppling the Manchu Government and Founding the Republic .”  No. 8 was about “Building the Armed forces, Passing on the Revolution .”  It read: “Under the instruction of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek (established) the Huangpu (Wharmpoa) Military Academy on January 24, 1924… and was appointed as the Commander of the Academy. On June 16, Dr. Sun presided over the dedication ceremony … and gave a speech on the profound knowledge of the revolution. He encouraged all cadets to develop the spirit … and to fulfill their assigned mission of defending the nation. Dr. Sun also determined that the school motto for the Academy should be its esprit de corp .”

A sign in red summed up Sun’s efforts toward the 1911 Revolution: “After 10 failed attempts and revolution over 17 years Sun finally succeeded after the Wuchang Uprising and the Xinhai [the Chinese year equal to 1911] Revolution that followed … .”  The turning point was the Wuchang Uprising on October 10, 1911 (now commemorated as the Double Ten Day). The irony was that Sun Yat-sen had no direct involvement in the Wuchang Uprising -in Hubei province, in the easternmost part of Central China- as he was in one of his frequent foreign exiles (which placed him in a variety of places such as Japan, London, Canada and the United States). The uprising was led by Huang Xing. He was a revolutionary with military training and experience who had joined Sun Yat-sen in 1905 to found the Tongmenghui (United League) -a group of revolutionary Chinese students which sponsored uprisings to overthrow the Qing Dynasty- and became Tongmenghui’s second most important leader, after Sun.

Sun learned of the Wuchang Uprising’s success from press reports and immediately returned to Hong Kong from the United States in December of 1911 .   On 29 December 1911, some 44 representatives from various “Recovered Provinces” which had “separated” from the Qing government’s control met in Nanking (Nanjing) and elected Sun Yat-sen as the “Provisional President” of a new central government, the Republic of China .  Huang Xing was appointed the minister of the army. The 1911 Revolution culminated in the abdication of the six-year-old Puyi, Qing’s “Last Emperor” on February 12, 1912, which symbolized the end of 2,000 years of imperial rule in China and the beginning of the country’s early republican era (1912–16).

This narrative of the Sun Yat-sen Memorial building in Taipei needed explanation and completion. From other accounts of the history which I read, success in the last mentioned phase, ending in the abdication, was typically the result of Sun Yat-sen’s achieving the cooperation of yet another powerful person. In response to the dire situation created by the growing power of the new Republic of China, in 1911 the Qing government had brought back General Yuan Shikai, who had been dismissed in 1909 from his position as the commander of Qing’s most effective military force, the Beiyang (literary “North Ocean Army”) Army. Yuan Shikai, with the loyalty of the Beiyang Army, soon came to dominate Qing politics. He now reasoned that going to war with the increasingly powerful government of the Republic of China would be unreasonable and costly. Yuan Shikai began negotiating with Sun Yat-sen, who decided that he could allow Yuan to step into the position of President of the Republic of China as a condition to bringing about the abdication of the child emperor Puyi, on 12 February 1912.

Sun Yat-sen is credited for the funding of the Revolution, largely by contributions from overseas Chinese, and for keeping the spirit of the revolutionaries up in the face of numerous failures of uprisings. His political genius was in successfully merging minor revolutionary groups in a single front of those who shared the same goals. He also articulated those goals in ideals to which those diverse groups could agree: what he called the Three Principles of the People, independence from imperialist domination, democracy and the people’s welfare.

When Yuan Shikai’s ambitions clashed with Sun’s ideas, his Tongmenghu group merged with a number of new small parties to form a new political party called the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party, commonly abbreviated as KMT) on 25 August 1912. Losing an armed conflict with Yuan’s forces in 1913, Sun sought asylum in Japan.  In 1915 Yuan Shikai proclaimed the Empire of China (1915–1916) with himself as Emperor of China.

China had now become divided between different military leaders without a proper central government. Sun returned to China in 1917 to advocate Chinese reunification. Soon he became convinced that the only hope for a unified China was in a military conquest from his base in the south which, he hoped, would usher a period of political tutelage to pave the way for democracy. Characteristically, to hasten such conquest, Sun Yat-sen adopted a policy of active cooperation with the Communist Party of China (CPC).  He accepted the communists as members of his KMT. He sought and received help from the Soviet Union which enabled him to develop the military power needed for the Northern Expedition against the military foes in the north of China.

Showcasing Chiang Kai-shek

Sun Yat-sen directly involved himself to “supervise the Northern Expedition”, as a framed picture in his Memorial, dated April 20, 1923,  showed him with “his chief of staff, Chiang Kai-Shek .”  Chiang had returned in 1911 from Japan  where he was a student for 4 years at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, serving in the Imperial Japanese Army in the last two. In 1908 he had joined the Tongmenghui.  In June 1924 Sun Yat-sen inaugurated the Huangpu (Whampoa ) Military Academy  -on Changzhou Island offshore from the Whampoa (Huangpu) dock in Guangzhou.  He took the honorary title of the  “Premier of the academy” himself  but appointed Chiang Kai-shek the first commandant of the academy. The Soviet Union provided the money for the construction and support of the Academy in 1924-1925.  When Chiang also became the commander of the First Corps of the newly formed National Revolutionary Army’s (NRA), which was led by Whampoa graduates, he personally appointed the already prominent Communist Zhou Enali director of the Corps’ Political Department.  This full collaboration, called the First United Front, did not last long.

Sun Yat-sen died in March 1925.  In June 1926 Chiang became Commander-in-Chief of the NRA. In July he addressed 100,000 soldiers of the Army in a ceremony which was the official commencement of the Northern Expedition. Within months, half of China was under the NRA control.  In the ruling Kuomintang party, however, the growing division between the Communist bloc and the other factions surfaced.  In early 1927 the split in the revolutionary ranks resulted in the Communists and the left wing of the Kuomintang moving the seat of the Nationalist government from Guangzhou to Wuhan. Chiang, in turn, used his successful Northern Expedition forces to “massacre” the Communists in Shanghai and establish an anti-Communist government at Nanjing. China now had three capitals, as foreign powers continued to still recognize the warlord regime in Beijing. Chiang’s forces occupied Beijing (restoring its old name which means “Northern Capital”) in 1928, but kept Nanjing as their capital until 1937.  The Japanese who invaded China in 1937, made Beijing the capital of their puppet regime in China. That invasion which led to the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 to 1945) suspended the Chinese Civil War from 1937 to 1941 and created a brief alliance between the Chinese Nationalists Kuomintang and the Communist Party called the Second United Front to resist the Japanese.

All that drama documented in the Father of the Nation Memorial Hall largely bypassed Taiwan, as it was under unshakable Japanese occupation, indeed a Japanese colony, all this time. The two exhibits relating to Taiwan which I saw in the Memorial Hall punctuated this point. One was a relief  about Sun Yat-sen’s “Sojourn in Taiwan to Lay Plans for the Huichow Uprising” in October 1900. He came to ask for the support from Taiwan’s “Japanese Governor-General Kodama Gentar.” He was not successful .  The other exhibit was about a Taiwanese general, Lee Yui-Hang and his wife.  A picture shows them at a party in August 1945, after “China defeated Japan,” with “friends on the mainland gathered to give the couple a sendoff on their return to Taiwan .” Next to this is another picture of the couple  with a caption that said his wife, Madam Yen Hsiu Fang “was arrested and imprisoned for the crime of joining the communist organization” after this photo was taken .

National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine.

It was not surprising that I did not find many visitors in the Sun Yat-sen Memorial. The Taiwanese were even less interested in what their city’s National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine had to offer. This was a memorial dedicated to the war dead of the Republic of China, built in 1969, even before the Memorial to Sun Yet-sen.  It has incorporated modern technology by offering a computerized Searching System of Martyrs . Among the earliest martyrs noted in its many framed remembrance of the various “Revolutionary Wars,” are “the 72 martyrs of Huanghuakang” who died in one of failed uprisings about six months before the celebrated Wuchang uprising . Those martyrs were mostly youths with all kinds of social backgrounds and their uprising is now observed in Taiwan on March 29, as the Youth Day.

I observed some youths of Taipei in the town’s celebrated modern subway on my way to the Martyrs’ Shrine. It was hard to engage them in conversation as most had their eyes glued to their cell phones , or their faces covered with masks against airborne viruses . A couple got off with me at the same station which was near the Shrine. I asked them for direction. They were helpful but said that they never had gone to the Martyrs’ Shrine themselves. They were typical of many youths in that they had studied in American colleges in the 1980s, one in North Carolina and the other in Georgia –long and far away from the Martyrs.

In the Shrine one martyr was specially honored by a rare bust, Yang Kuang-Sheng, “an American PhD holder,: killed in 1942 for his anti-Japanese activities Two Chinese-speaking guides who saw me reading the English inscription on this unique item, immediately called in Tiger. He was their English-speaking colleague. Tourists from America were welcome but also unique in the Shrine as Tiger spent quite some time just with me, introducing the Shrine.

The American Ph.D. holder was among the latest martyrs remembered. Another unique martyr, the only woman I found here, was among the earliest. The inscription under her bust said: “Chu Chin…  full of national conviction and renowned for… her poetries,” died upon a failed attempt against the Manchu Dynasty  in 1907. “She was nabbed and simply wrote ‘wind and rain in autumn season made me sorrowful .’” The other references in the Shrine were to the events in between these two dates, mostly to the years of Chiang Kai-shek’s activities, 1924-1949.

The mention of Sun Yat-sen was exceptional here. His 1899 ordering of the earliest of the uprisings in Hueichow is recalled, which failed because “the Japanese government did not support the revolution in China by prohibiting the export of weapons from Taiwan to the revolutionaries in the mainland .”  As in the Sun Yat-sen memorial’s reference to the Huichow (Hueichow), in the Martyrs’ Shrine this is the only time Taiwan’s involvement in the revolutionary history is mentioned. Sun Yat-sen is mentioned once more in connection with ordering the attack on Canton in 1911 which eventually led to the successful uprising in Wuchang . He is recalled as instructing “Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek” to “establish” the Whampoa Military Academy  (WMA) in 1924 . Henceforth, it is the Generalissimo who is the dominant figure of Chinese history as told in the Martyrs’ Shrine.

In February 1925 Chiang personally led the Eastern Expedition, by 3000 students of WMA, twice defeating two warlords . On June 5, 1926, the Executive Committee of Kuomintang appointed Chiang as the commander-in-chief of the revolutionary forces. On July 9 Chiang ordered the start of the Northern Expedition to unify the whole of China. In less than two years the mission was completed and the whole of China was unified . However, in May 1927 the Chinese Communists “created (a) government situation” in Wuhan which they controlled and another in Nanking where “the KMT had driven them out of the party.” Chiang “retired… for the sake of national unity… and the situation became worse immediately”

The ensuing “Suppression Campaign against Chinese Communist Rebellion” was described as follows:  From 1927 the Chinese Communists began “several riots” which were all “suppressed by the Nationalist Army.” Then they fled to the border areas in Hunan, Hupei, Anhuei and Kiangsi Provinces and “established the so-called ‘Soviet’ regimes.” In less than two years the Communists expanded their influence widely. The Central Government decided to “extirpate” the Communist “rebels.” From December 1930 the Nationalist Army launched 5 “suppression campaigns but failed 4 times.” In the 5th, it conducted an economic blockade as well.  Suffering setbacks, the Communist troops fled to southwest China into northern Shensi Province. The Government was stopped from pursuing them because of “the sian incident and the Japanese invasion of China .”

The “sian incident” referred to the arrest of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in Xi’an on December 12, 1936 by Marshal Zhang Xueliang, a former warlord who had been assigned by Chiang to suppress the Communists. The Marshal’s army suffered great losses and did not receive the support he expected from Chiang, hence he came to believe that Chiang was taking advantage of  the Communists’ resistance to eliminate his army which was not of Chiang’s own “Whampoa Clique.” He contacted the Chinese Communist Party secretly, reached an agreement with it for temporary peace, and covertly opposed Chiang’s leadership.  Meanwhile, Japan had invaded northeast China in 1931 and now more of northern China was at the risk of conquest by the Japanese, something which was to happen  in 1937 with the Second Sino-Japanese War. Chinese nationalism had been roused by the Japanese invasion, and the desire to strengthen potential Chinese resistance turned the Xi’an Incident from Chiang’s arrest into his release and a mutually beneficial pact for the Second United Front of Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party. The Communist Party benefitted as Chiang’s campaign had damaged them immensely, forcing them on the Long March to retreat and set up base in Yan’an, Shaanxi.

The defection of Marshal Zhang was not the only one that confronted Chiang in this period. The Martyrs’ Shrine also remembers Chen Mingshu who was sent to suppress the Communists but, instead, broke with Chiang and negotiated peace with the rebels and in November 1933, proclaimed a new government, “People’s Revolutionary Government of the Chinese Republic” in Fukien. Chiang destroyed that regime in 1934  The Eight-Year War with Japan (1937-1945) was an entirely different story. As the Martyrs’ Shrine tells it, it comprised of “more than 40,000 battles… with casualty of more than 3 million soldiers and 20 million citizens on the Chinese side.” China, however, survived and, according to the Shrines, became “one of the four major powers of the world .”

Chiang’s leadership in this “victory” over Japan is depicted at the Shrine in a painting of him mounted on a white horse with this inscription: “In Oct 1944, the late president Chiang Kai-shek summoned his fellow countrymen with a call of ‘an inch of land, an inch of blood; one hundred thousand youths, one hundred thousand soldiers.” As a result of this calling “intellectual youths” joined the Army and the war against Japan and the efforts for “national reconstruction .” The Shrine skips details of Chiang’s resumed Civil War with the Communists which immediately ensued and ended with Mao Zedong’s proclaiming the People’s Republic of China with its capital at Beijing in December of 1949, forecing Chiang Kai-shek and approximately two million Nationalist Chinese to depart for Taiwan in December.

The biggest memorial in the Shrine is called Victory over Kuningtou. It is a freeze with heroic figures of soldiers in action . The inscription below reads: “On October 25, 1949, the Chinese Communist [attempted]… a forced landing … on Kimen,” better known as Quemoy. “Our armed forces bravely repelled the invasion … and destroyed all the aggressors in the following day. This … crashed the Chinese Communists’ attempt to take Taiwan and Pescadores, and this laid a firm foundation for our National recovery and the ultimate triumph .”

That freeze is on the side of the central building of the Shrine. On the opposite wall of the building is another big freeze commemorating Chiang’s first major victory a quarter of century before . It depicts his “Victory over Meinhu” on March 13, 1925 when he personally led 3000 Wahmpao cadets in a victory which lay “the firm foundation for our later success of the northward expedition .”

The Shrine is an impressive structure with its Chinese palace style architecture .  It is in a garden with a green hill as a background . Two carved marble lions stand in front of it, the male with a foot on a ball and the female embracing a lionet. It is also guarded by two soldiers at formal pose . There is a periodic changing of these guards. My guide, Tiger, said enthusiastically that the Shrine and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall were “the only two places outside of England” where there is a formal changing of the guard ceremony. While he might have been exaggerating the uniqueness of the ceremony, undoubtedly it attracted crowds. The group I noticed here was small , compared to what I saw at a much more impressive Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Beyond the rope that separated them, some 300 people stood and watched as three honor guards in shiny boots and helmets, and carrying rifles, smartly marched  across the marble floor of the immense Chiang Memorial Hall. They were relieving and replacing three  of the five guards  attending the much bigger than life sitting statue of Chiang Kai-shek, clad in traditional Chinese clothing . The visitors were a combination of local students  and tourists . The ceremony, my guide said, was repeated every hour; the honor guards alternated among the three services. These were from the air force as their blue uniform indicated. The flag of Republic of China was on the poles to the sides of Chiang; its blue background and white sun also graced the ceiling of the hall .

The Hall is on the second floor of a building; the ground level houses a museum about Chiang’s life and career. To reach the Hall one had to take 89 steps, representing the number of years he lived. This Memorial was almost immediately planned upon Chiang’s death in April 1975 and was inaugurated five years later.  The design incorporates many elements of traditional Chinese architecture to recall the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing. Symbolism abounds. The octagonal shape of the roof recalls the number 8, traditionally associated with good fortune. The Hall is on three foundations with a square platform, representing the idea of upright and honest, my guide said, “which is the literally meaning of Chiang Kai-shek’s name.” The Memorial Hall is located on the east end of what was named the Memorial Hall Square, with three gates:  the Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness, the Gate of Great Loyalty, and the gate of Great Piety. Like uprightness, loyalty (for the country) and filial piety (to the nation) were attributes of Chiang Kai-shek, my guide continued.

Falun Dafa

At the gate named for uprightness and honesty, which is the main entrance to the Square, I saw a woman earnestly discussing a newspaper she had in her hand with two young visitors . When she moved a few steps away, I spotted her umbrella stand with a banner that said “Falun Dafa is Good .” Presently, a younger colleague of her engaged in a conversation with me I asked her if Falun Dafa was a religion. She said “No, it is an exercise.” She pointed to the pictures on the board set up before her to illustrate. The pictures on the other side of the board, however, told another story. They showed what appeared to be people being tortured. She explained: “They are killing people in China.” When she gave me the English version of the newspaper which the first woman had in her hand, Epoch Times, it became clear that this was the organization also known as Falun Gong.  In 2014 Taipei was host to the organization’s Experience Sharing Conference that was attended by “7,500 practitioners… from Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, America, and Europe,” as well  as Taiwan.  In the conference, they shared their experiences of living according to Falun Gong’s “physical exercises and a moral foundation” based on “truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.”  Additionally, they “spoke about how they went about telling people about the ongoing persecution of people from all walks of life in China who practice Falun Dafa.”

According to Epoch Times, Falun Gong “appeared” in 1992 as a “spiritual practice” encompassing “the the essence of Chinese culture and gives the Chinese people an opportunity for rebirth.” Initially the Chinese Communist Party  “supported Falun Dafa…but in 1999 the then head of the CCP, Jiang Zemin, launched a campaign to eradicate this practice.” He thus made “enemies of an estimated 100 million Chinese people and their families… in essence Jiang sought the extinction of the Chinese people, to end their best chance for reviving China’s culture.”  The current President of China, Xi Jinping, after assuming power has shown “strong determination and careful political judgment… with the deliberate and systematic dismantling of Jiang’s vast network.”  Xi was commended by Epoch Times for his speeches that show “he disapproves of not including classic poems in elementary textbooks. He refers to this as ‘de-sinification,’ recognizing that it is China’s traditional culture that makes the Chinese a people.” But that is “not sufficient, the newspaper said, “ Xi and the Chinese people must abandon the CCP.”

Taipei’s Falun Dafa is doing its part for that goal. One of its members is quoted by Epoch Times as saying “It would be wrong if no one goes to clarify the facts of the persecution to the Chinese tourists.”  He claims that as a result of his efforts “15 to 16 mainland Chinese people quit the Chinese communist party (CCP).” To find such responsive candidates, he travels every day to Cihu, another place associated with Chiang Kai-shek, where he is buried. Falun Gong’s “movement” (called Tuidang) to make the Chinese quit the CCP began in 2004.  It claims that as a result “over 180 million Chinese” renounced their ties to the CCP “with public or online statements.”

The young woman from Falun Dafa was vague in her response to my question about the source of funding for its activities.  Epoch Times approvingly mentions the New York based non-profit company Shen Yun “that has traveled to over 20 countries and 100 cities since it embarked on world tour beginning in 2006, with a mission to revive traditional Chinese culture.”  An audit of the revenues of that cultural instrument of Falun Gong does not reveal much more to its critics. It just shows that Shen Yun has been “using the man-power of all followers” of Falun Gong to sell its tickets “voluntarily,” and receiving huge amounts of donations from Falun Gong members. The marketing brochure for Shen Yun I receive at home is sent by San Francisco Falun Buddha Study Association.

Liberty Square

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Square, which is located close to Taiwan’s Presidential Building in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District, soon became the city’s venue of choice for mass gatherings. In the early 1990s, the square was the center of events that brought Taiwan into its “era of democracy.”  For that reason it came to be dedicated as Liberty Square in 2007, by President Chen Shui-bian.  Opposition by the Kuomintang party prevented the intended changing of the name of the Memorial Hall as well, but the inscription on the main gate of the compound now carries the Liberty Square designation

One gathering here was truly transformative for Taiwan’s politics. On March 16, 1990, students from the National Taiwan University began a sit-in at the Memorial Square. Within six days 22,000 more people joined them. The demonstrators’ demands were direct election of Taiwan’s president and popular elections for all representatives of the National Assembly. A new president was set to begin his six-year term, having won an election in which only the 671 members of the National Assembly had the right to vote.  The original members of the National Assembly, elected in 1947 to represent mainland China constituencies had held the seats without re-election since then. They had re-elected Chiang Kai-shek President every six years until his death, and thereafter elected as President the only candidate nominated by the only recognized party, the Kuomintang.

The 1990 protesters wore white Formosan lilies, evoking a long tradition native to Taiwan. Taiwanese poets had employed this flower as a symbol of grace and resilience. For the student demonstrators “Wild Lilly” became the icon of struggle for Taiwanese autonomy.  On March 21, the first day of his term, President Lee Teng-Hui received a delegation of students and promised full democracy beginning with initial reforms that summer. Six years later, he became Taiwan’s first popularly elected President. In 2006, the National Assembly voted to disband itself. Multiple political parties have since become legal in Taiwan.

The liberalization of the political system in Taiwan owes much to Chiang Kai-shek’s son,  Chiang Ching-kuo,  who became his successor both as the leader of the Kuomintang party and the ruler of  the ROC .  In 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed as the first opposition party. The following year martial law was lifted. Chiang Ching-kuo, who died in 1988, is mentioned more than his father in current political discourse in Taiwan.  Chiang Kai-shek’s legacy, however, lingers in other spheres of life.

National Palace Museum

In the lobby of Taipei’s National Palace Museum I must have appeared lost to a middle-aged woman who pulled me away from the midst of a crowd of visitors  “Come,” she said, “I have some free time, otherwise was going to the library.” She took over as my guide. “Our Generalissimo brought with him 30% of the Forbidden City Palace Museum, but these are the masterpieces,” she began.  A plaque next to a large statue of Sun Yat-sen furthered this narrative:

“The National Palace Museum was inaugurated in 1925…by Dr. Sun Yat-    sen. With the take-over by the Chinese Government of the art collection of the Ch’ing court successfully administered, untold numbers of precious treasures that had been locked away from the common souls and kept to the imperial family came at last before the eyes of the world, to be shared and appreciated by the public. In the aftermath of the incursion by Japan…of 1931, the late President Chiang Kai-shek resolved to protect China’s cultural heritage represented in the Museum’s holdings by relocating them       southward to safe haven…. [T]he collections were again forced to move to Taiwan in the wake of the Chinese civil war. On November 12, 1965… the National Palace Museum was reinstated  in…Taiwan, and the new facility was named Sun Yat-sen Museum… to affirm Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s ideal of  ‘the world is a commonwealth shared by all’ as the guidepost for the National Palace Museum .”

In its many galleries, Taipei’s National Palace Museum now displays other arts, but the main attraction for the visitors is still those ancient Chinese artifacts. “There is too much to see here,” my guide said, “but there are three things which everybody wants to see.” She rushed me through the crowd, first to “the jade grasshoppers, male and female for fertility,” then to “the 3rd century cauldron and bell in bronze,” and finally to the ceramic collection.

The Museum described the importance of each genre.  “Jade more than anything else holds the deep feeling and profound [knowledge] of the Chinese people.”  Its section on Bronze spoke of “The Mystery of the Bronze,” while also boasting that its ancient Chinese bronze pieces were “The first signs of the application of high technology.” The ceramics evoked this in their curator: “Ceramic: Dialogue between humanity and earth.” The most evocative, however, was the collection of Chinese paintings, introduced by this rhapsodic sign: “The history of Chinese painting can be compared to a symphony. The styles and traditions in figures, landscape and bird-and-flower painting have formed themes that continue to blend to this day into a single piece of music. Painters through the ages have made up this ‘orchestra,’ composing and performing many movements and variations within this tradition.”  The Museum Guide Map featured “Peacock Spreading Its Tails” by Lang Shining, from Qing dynasty.

The part of what Chiang moved from the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1933 which was later transferred to Taiwan constitutes one of the world’s largest collections of artifacts from ancient China. The original Palace Museum in Beijing still retains an equally impressive collection. Relations regarding these cultural artifacts have improved recently. The Beijing Museum now refers to both collections as “China’s cultural heritage jointly owned by people across the Taiwan Strait.” According to my guide, most visitors to the Taipei Palace Museum’s collection of some 650,000 pieces of ancient arts are from mainland China.

Economic Tiger

Arts from the Beijing Palace Museum were not the only treasures that Chiang Kai-shek brought with him to Taiwan.  As his side was losing in the Chinese Civil War, many of the intellectual and business elites of China came along with him, as well as much of China’s gold reserves and foreign currency reserves.  The KMT government was thus able to stabilize prices and reduce hyperinflation, and institute many laws and reforms such as import-substitution. It was further helped by public works development during the Japanese rule which had enabled rapid communications and facilitated transport throughout much of Taiwan. The Japanese also had improved education, and made it compulsory for all residents.

In 1950 as a result of the outbreak of the Korean War, the United States, which had  initially abandoned the KMT and expected that Taiwan would fall to the Communists, intervened militarily to prevent the conquest of Taiwan by mainland China and began an aid program.  American funds and the demand for Taiwanese products, as another consequence of the Korean War, helped in the rapid economic growth of the island. In the 1952-1959, agricultural production increased substantially. In the 1960s and 1970s the economy became increasingly industrialized and technology oriented. In the 1970’s Taiwan’s economy was growing faster than any other state in Asia with the exception of Japan.  Following this period of “Taiwan Miracle,” Taiwan became one of the ”Four Asian Tigers,” along with South Koran, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Chiang Ching-kuo’s “Ten Major Construction Projects” of 1974 is credited with laying the foundations for transforming Taiwan into its current export driven economy.  Beginning in the 1990s, a number of Taiwan-based technology firms have expanded their operations in other countries. Taiwan now ranks as the 21st largest economy in the world.  In 1962, Taiwan’s GNP (per-capita gross national product) was 170 (U.S.) dollars, comparable to that of countries such as Congo. By 2011, it had risen to 37,000 dollars, on par with developed countries.

In the meantime, economic ties between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China have been growing sharply. By 2008, Taiwanese companies had invested over 150 billion dollars in the PRC; they employed most of the over 10% of the Taiwanese labor force that worked there. This development has given rise to a major political controversy in Taiwan. In the opinion of some, the island has become too dependent on the mainland, while others see close economic relations as making a military intervention by the PRC costly and thus less likely.  The prominence of the issue was manifested in the 2004 presidential election. The context was the impact of the economic relationship with mainland in the form of causing unprecedented unemployment in Taiwan. A decade later, however, the Sunflower Movement made clear that the impact was much wider.

Sunflower Movement

The crowd of students, academics and members of civic organizations that occupied the Legislative Yuan on March 18, 2014, was protesting against a pending trade agreement with the PRC, called the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement. In fact, the issue was broader, as the fast evolving full expression of their Movement showed.  It was ultimately about Taiwan’s independence vs. its unification with the mainland.  Based on my reading, it seems most of the Movement’s followers are not so much opposed to interaction and trade with China as they are concerned that moving too close to China would threaten their “identity.”  They consider Taiwan as their home with a culture and lifestyles unique to them. A part of their perceived identity is civic: being a supporter of “Taiwanese democracy,” with the core elements of accountability and transparency in governance. The adoption of sunflower as the symbol has come to illustrate their passion for the heliotropic nature of that flower, a metaphor for requiring continuous sunshine on decision-making by the rulers.

In this, the Sunflower Movement has come into conflict with both major parties, the KMT and the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party), as they prefer to cut deals behind the doors. The conflict underlies the clash about tactics. The Sunflower followers justify theirs as protest against the “Black Box” where politicians make decisions, while the latter condemn the occupation of government offices as against the rule of law and corruption of democracy. President Ma expressed the sentiment of both parties when he asked on March 23, 2015:  “Is this the sort of democracy we want? Must the rule of law be sacrificed in such a manner?”

At the root, this dialogue might well be about the philosophical problem of the limits that participatory democracy might impose on effective representative government. Such abstract conversation, however, yields to the facts of the real world, even in a polity as relatively small as Taiwan. For one thing, captains of Taiwan’s industries virtually ignore the debate. Many have already voted for joining the mainland with their feet, moving their operation there. They are thus, in effect, treating as mute the foundational issue of independent “identity.” Indeed, there may not be an alternative but to look to mainland China for economic development in the foreseeable future. It alone offers a big enough market for Taiwan’s exports and investments.


Similar logic has been moving Taiwan’s cultural icons to mainland China.  “Stan Lai’s place in Taipei is an administrative office now; the workshop will move to Shanghai with a new play directed by Lai,” the concierge of my hotel reported the results of his looking into my request to visit Stan Lai’s workshop in Taiwan. I had heard much about the Performance Workshop which Lai and his wife had founded in 1984. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival which staged Stan Lai’s play, Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land, translated from Chinese into English and directed by the playwright himself, in the summer of 2015, heaped praise on both Lai and the play. As Lai explained in the program materials, the play, written in 1986, had been repeatedly produced and improved upon in the Performance Workshop. On the occasion of the play’s first authorized performance in mainland China, in January 2007, The New York Times called it “an iconic play in contemporary Chinese theater … [which] has been performed hundreds of times.” As to this authorized performance, “The response has been a bit overwhelming,” Lai had said, “And, I may sound arrogant, but kind of to be expected.”

A well-dressed Taiwanese man, waiting to talk to the concierge, who heard our conversation, volunteered that he knew Stan Lai. “Stan is for the Chinese name Sheng Chuan,” he said, “meaning River Song.”  He said “Lai has written some 30 plays, has revitalized theatre in Taiwan, and has received Taiwan’s highest award for the arts.” He added, for most Taiwanese Lai’s Secret Love is his best “because it speaks to them.”

Some American critics of the production at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival did not have the same positive reaction.  Indeed, to one of them, from the Portlad Theatre Scene, the play was “Unwatchably dull … feels like a thrown together improv of extremely gentle, old-fashioned (and boring) commentary.”  Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land combines two unrelated plays on the same stage. “One of the stories (Secret Love) follows a young couple about to be torn apart by the communist revolution in 1949 Shanghai, and the aftermath 40 years later as the man lies dying in a hospital bed in Taiwan, remembering his young love. The other (Peach Blossom Land) is a traditional fairy tale about a fisherman whose wife is unfaithful.” To this American critic “the entire framing conceit of the play… with slight and inconsequential script.… makes little sense.”  To the Chinese, however, the mixing of a tragedy and a comedy on the same stage allows a pleasing combination of seriousness with banters in the form of bits of silliness.

At first glance, Stan Lai’s background seems promising for bridging these two conflicting sensibilities. He was born in 1954 in Washington D.C. where his father was serving in Chiang Kai-shek’s Embassy. He came to Taiwan 12 years later and graduated from a Catholic university there in 1976, before returning to the United Stated to attend the University of California, Berkeley and receiving a Ph.D. in Dramatic Art in 1983. He came back to Taiwan and founded the Performance Workshop in 1984. The exilic experience that underpins his story of the Secret Love was thus not so much firsthand as it was reflective of similar personal tales often recounted by the mainland émigrés who constituted his segment of Taiwan’s population.  Among them, Chinese classical opera also was the standard fare.  Peach Blossom Land came to Lai, similarly, from that source. A fable written in 421, during the time of political instability and national disunity, it inspired many later poems, eventually turning into a well- known period comedy called The Peach Blossom Spring about a lost fisherman who stumbles into a utopian land where all people live in harmony because they have no historical memory.

Trying to traverse and reflect on these two stories – with their multiple themes of exile and longing for home, love and loss- in order to create a play was not easy, and Lai should be commended for honesty in projecting his confused state of mind. He still grappled with the problems of connecting the two unrelated stories, until he found the solution in the conceit of playing them simultaneously on the same stage due to a scheduling mistake.  That solution he had learned as used by the work in progress of a fellow director while at Berkeley. The workshop format then gave Lai also the opportunity for improving on his own evolving play.

Lai has complained that too few plays are written in mainland China and that creativity is often lacking. He criticizes the timidity of those who argue that “We’re waiting for the Communist Party to die.” He boasts that “Our play was very taboo in Taiwan when we made it. The stage is a place where anything goes.” This is rather disingenuous. While Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land was, indeed, first performed in Taiwan when the island was still under martial law, its stories and messages were favored by those who had established and maintained the martial law. It drew upon the memories, stories and mores of that group which came to exile in Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek.

Lai condemns the mainland Chinese artists’ current preference for the “jazzy show.” Alas, that kind now sells in China. In Beijing, a few days later, I saw one such show, called The Golden Mask Dynasty. The huge theater was full; people had lined up for a long time to buy tickets. The show was billed as “an original Chinese drama play,” featuring “Chinese dances, acrobatics, costumes, and lighting and acoustics.” It was “sponsored” by Overseas Chinese Town, which had invested over 50 million dollars to build the theater. There were many foreign visitors as well as Chinese in the audience. The show has been running for several years now. On the, Golden Mask was receiving over 70% Excellent from reviews. As one British reviewer described the show: “The story is a simple love story but each scene is an explosion of colour and beauty and typical Chinese dance and acrobatics at its very best. The music is beautiful and you will not have a problem understanding the story, there are a few amazing scenes but the flood scene is unbelievable, WOW IT IS AMAZING!!!”

The appeal of the Golden Mask Dynasty reminded me of the success of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That film by director Ang Lee won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000. Stan Lai’s adoption of his play into a film, The Peach Blossom Land in 1992, was rejected as a nominee for the same award. Ang Lee is a contemporary of Lai whose background is very similar to Lai. He was born in Taiwan from parents who left mainland after the Nationalists defeat in 1949, studied in American universities. Unlike Lai, however, Lee considers himself an “outsider” in Taiwan, as well as in China and in the United States. His many movies, in addition to Crouching Tiger, have all been widely successful outside the Chinese-speaking world. Lai also has been commissioned to create new works outside of Taiwan, but in Chinese communities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Beijing. It is far more rewarding to probe for the culture of Taiwan in Stan Lai’s work than in Ang Lee’s.

In his famous play, Lai turns the fisherman hero of the classic Peach Blossom into a hapless, cuckolded husband, thus allowing the addition of elements of slapstick comedy which is popular with his Chinese audience. This, however, perverts the old opera style. I was reminded of this change at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Green show which preceded his play’s performance, on the lawn before the playhouse.  The Green show was a Beijing Opera program of the Monkey King, the classic that symbolized the genre; it was Chairman Mao Zedong ’s favorite. On a visit 10 years ago, I had gone to the old Beijing Opera house where I enjoyed the traditional performance of two short operas. Colorful customs and a cast of characters made the experience enjoyable while the super-titles in English made the story comprehensible. Back in Beijing now, I tried the new Opera House.

The room was much bigger with rows of seats. The front rows also had tables in the form of boxes. I sat virtually alone in front where I was served tea, candies, cookies and tomatoes on the table . The rest of the audience sat several rows back.  Almost all were Westerners . They had come in their tour buses. In the lobby, the Opera House featured an old picture of Steven Hawkins sitting in his own chair . The program was also posted in the lobby. It consisted of three short operas for the one-hour performance: “Killing the Clam; Autumn River; Female Kill four.”  There were virtually no props on the stage, only actors. In most scenes there were one  or two who sang   or talked , but in a few they were accompanies by several extras .  In one scene a group of warriors, in colorful costumes, with drawn swords staged a battle, while a couple of musicians at the end of the stage provided the accompanying music . There were surtitles in English as well as Chinese.  They said thing like “I have left the nunnery secretly in a hurry,” and “Oh, there is a boatman. I have to call him .” I stopped looking at them as they did not help much in understanding what was going on. I did not notice any signs that the others in the audience felt joy or sorrow or any particular emotion in reaction to these operas.  Evidently, the new Opera House’s production was not successful with its intended foreign customers; having already forsaken the Chinese audience.


Night Market

Taipei has a National Theater  and a National Concert Hall , with imposing buildings facing each other in the Liberty Square. The Concert Hall was featuring the program “Jazz 2015,” and publicizing yet another western program for the fall as “Dancing in Autumn; I’m moving, I’m moved .”  When I asked what one does for fun in Taipei, however, often I was told: “Try the night market.”  There are several night markets spread over Taipei. The one I was directed to was “the most famous” of them in the Shilin District.  It opens in the late afternoon and operates well past midnight. When I arrived early in the evening, the surrounding area was teaming with people. Small stores selling clothing and consumer goods encroached onto the streets which had narrow sidewalks. The main attraction, however, were food stalls and game counters. I walked into a cavernous warehouse with many of these crowding the isles. The game  counters were doing a brisk business . There were several poker tables as well.

The food court was on the floor below. Seafood  dominated the offerings but there were dim sum and vegetable dishes , steaks and sausages too. Cooking was done right before you. There were simple tables set for dining , but the experience would not have been complete unless one sat on a metal stool at a counter and felt the heat of the large, flat cooking pan. It was hard to make a decision among many choices of such eateries; I made mine on the basis of the framed picture for prize  “NO. 1” hanging over the pan of a certain stall . The winner was eating his own bowl of rice, with his legs stretched on a stool ; one of his two sons who had helped him was cooking now, assisted by a middle age woman from the team in the picture . It was his girlfriend, however, with adequate English, who took my order . The menu was in Chinese but with illustrations.  I followed her advice and had some of the best sea scallops I ever tasted, with a verity of vegetables, some served on the plate and some on an aluminum foil spread on my edge of the cooking pan . You had to ask for fork and water, but tea and soup were served at no charge. Watermelon juice was available, but I had local beer in a plastic cup.


Most customers of the Shilin food court were local residents; a few were western tourists.  One, an Australian who was attending a Hewlett Packard Company’s regional meeting, insisted that I should also try a dumpling place he had discovered in the Taipei 101 building. It is a contrast, he said. Indeed, it was. Taipei 101 had its own food court for the city’s stylish who shop at its chic boutiques. The dumpling place was a highly organized operation. You took a number  and waited in a long line with other eager customers, while an electronic sign updated the minutes before you would be seated . Remarkably close to the promised time, a uniformed waiter took me to my pre-assigned table in the dining room. There were actually several dining rooms, all in modern architectural design with clean lines Recognizing me as a foreigner, presently two English-speaking “interns” came to attend to me. They were meant to provide me with information, as companions. Maria was indeed “a language interpreter to foreigners” from Barcelona. I asked her how she was learning Chinese, especially the writing script. She gave me a professional’s answer: “I treat the characters as music notes.” Beatriz from Brazil offered her Portuguese expertise: “Young people here don’t know that Taiwan was called Formosa, which means ‘beautiful bay.’”

My food was served with a written step by step instruction called “Guide to enjoy the dumpling (XiaoLongBao).” Mine was in three languages, English, “TC” (Taiwanese Chinese) and Korean. There was another version in French and Japanese  . As I was executing “Step 3” of the guide which directed: “Place XiaoLongBao in the spoon and poke a small hole to release the broth,” Maria asked if I wanted the “chef to show how to make dumpling?” After finishing my tasks and washing down the exquisite dumpling with the traditional oolong tea, which is produced “by a unique process,” I approached the open kitchen with Maria and Beatrice. The chef and his assistant cooks, all wearing white uniform and mask, looked more like surgeons in an operating room. We stood at the marked “photo spot” in front of the kitchen  and had our picture taken  by another intern, from Norway. The sign at the exit from the restaurant boasted of its expanding global reach in listing its many branches all over the world .



That restaurant was called Din Tai Fung. “It literally means ‘Old Gold Wine cup,’” the Doctor told me. “The young don’t know the exact meaning of this saying because that would need traditional cultural understanding,” he added. We were in the whirlpool bathtub of the spa on the top of my hotel. This was a club open to membership of those who were not guests at the hotel. My interlocutor was one such member. Our conversation began about the temperature of the water we were soaking in. His English was halting. “My patients and their families only speak Chinese,” he explained. But the physician was friendly and, warming up, his comments about Taiwan allowed me a perspective for reflecting on some of my own observations during this brief visit.

The Doctor was born in Taipei 62 years ago, spent some time in Toronto, Canada on a pediatrics fellowship. He was married to his second wife; “it is important to have company,” he said. They lived in Keelung, the far western corner of the Taipei metropolitan area, and he worked there at a hospital. He wanted to retire in the fashionable area of Taipei but doubted that he could afford it. “Small, 100 square meter condos here sell for one million in US dollars.” His salary was 6,000 per month, compared with young college graduates who made 850 dollars.  “Physicians at one time were at the economic pinnacle, now that position is occupied by the entrepreneurs.”  He said “they are the real estate owners, bankers.” People in the high tech are no longer in this group; “they were ten years ago,” he said. But he included “hospital owners, and the owner of the toll- taking machines.”

Personal experience, similarly, influenced the Doctor’s comments on the general subject of economic gap which he said was “the big issue” in the May 2014 Sunflower Movement. “The upcoming January 2016 election for president will be around this issue: oil prices have not declined as much as the drop in the crude oil, government is blamed because it has oil monopoly.” Therefore, he predicted, “the opposition will win.”

The Doctor was quite familiar with the current trends in the U.S. presidential race. He was also sophisticated culturally. He had seen plays directed by Stan Lai who was “famous” in his milieu.  When I asked about Taiwan’s incumbent president’s policy of “friendly relations” with China, he corrected me by emphasizing the nuance:  “closer ties.” Then he added emphatically: “this election will not be political or ideological but economic.”

Working Women

After the physician left, I had a chance to measure an aspect of the “economic gap” in a brief conversation with a Taiwanese from the other end of the spectrum. The 24 year Judy was the pool attendant. She came from a “small town” south of Taipei “five hours by car.” She said her hometown was “smaller than Taipei, half its size.” She liked her life in Taipei. She lived with two others in a rented house, had her own room but shared kitchen and bathroom. She biked to work. The bicycle which she picked up and left in the rental stations cost her 5 Taiwanese dollars (30 U.S. cents) for half an hour.  I asked her if she had been to Din Tai Fung and knew what the name meant. It just means “a place to eat,” she said. “What do you do for fun?” She said: “Nothing, movies, riding my motorbike.” She was a life-guard and had no “plans” for the future.

In comparison, Tina had shown ambitions. She had also come from outside of Taipei, but in four years she had risen from being a waitress to managing the main bar in the hotel. She was an unusually active hands-on manager. With only a novice waiter, she did almost everything herself: welcoming guests, taking orders, being in constant contact with the cooks by phone and, occasionally, running to the kitchen. Tina knew most of the regular customers at this bar which had a piano player and a woman who sang American songs but took many breaks to resume absorption in her cell phone. Tina filled in for her too and carried on conversations with new visitors. She told me that she had just been appointed the manager of the hotel’s main restaurant as well.

Men in Business

I shared my impressions from these chance encounters with my fellow passenger on a tour of the northern coast of Taiwan. He had several years of experience in dealing with the Taiwanese workforce. A businessman from Sweden whose company sold heating systems for single family homes, he came often to maintain and promote relations with Taiwanese distributors. I asked him what he thought of them. This could help me in understanding Taiwan’s economy which is dominated by small and medium-sized businesses.  The Swede gave a deliberate answer: “They are good to work with, trustworthy, but have to be shown the tasks step by step.”  We discussed the connection of this problem with Taiwan’s educational system which has been blamed for eschewing creativity in favor of rote memorization.


That system has also been criticized for putting excessive pressures on students. The ones we were about to see presently,  however, were on a fun trip  to Yehilu Geopark . This was a major seaside attraction of the Metropolitan Taipei. It receives many foreign tourists  as well; they are “50% from China and Hong Kong, 15% from Japan, the rest from U.S., France and other countries,” as our guide said. Yehilu is a long cape stretching into the ocean on which geological forces have created many rock formations. Some are shaped like familiar objects such as mushroom, candle, ginger and a queen’s head, and are called by those names for the visitors .  I caught up with one group of Taiwanese students as they were finishing their tour. They told me that they were from Lukung Junior High School. I stood for a picture with them  at the end of my trip as they were the future of Taiwan.


Taiwan’s history has made it a place worthy of special attention for students of international relations, democracy and economic development. This is a place to find the story of the Chinese civil war as the Nationalist side wished it to be remembered and to examine its impact on a diasporic society. It is also a place to observe the emergence of a nation with distinct culture , economy  and politics in the face of uncommon foreign threats and opportunities. The future of the Taiwanese promises to be no less a subject of interest as the differences among them remain unsettled.