|Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is one of Taipei‘s most famous and characteristic landmarks. The white structure with the blue roof may look like an edifice from old times, but in fact, it was built in 1980, five years after the death of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Guomindang and of the Republic of China from 1927 until 1975.
Chiang’s son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, ordered the construction of the the memorial hall to honour his father. The hall is 70 metres tall and was built in Ming palace style. It is surrounded by a large park and entry gates, and its architecture is full of classical symbols and inscriptions. This makes it one of the best examples of the neoclassical style of the Chiang era. The Memorial Hall cost around 25 million US dollars (Logan / Hsu, p. 132).
Chiang is a controversial figure both in mainland China and in Taiwan. In mainland China, because he lost the civil war to the Communists in 1949. In Taiwan, because Chiang relocated the government of the Republic of China to the island, and ruled it dictatorially for decades. He gave the highest ranks and positions in the government as well as in the military to those mainland party cadres who had followed him to Taiwan, virtually excluding the local Taiwanese population from any participation in political affairs.
Moreover, Chiang felt that his power was constantly endangered, and feared both a Communist attack and a Communist infiltration in Taiwan. He inaugurated a period of repression known in Taiwan as the “white terror”, and ruled under martial law, which was lifted by Chiang Ching-kuo only in 1987. In 2007 the Chen Shui-bian administration renamed the building into National Taiwan Democracy Hall, a decision reversed by the Guomindang administration in 2009.
Inside the hall there is a giant 25-ton statue of Chiang Kai-shek. The changing of the guard in the statue hall is one of the must-sees for tourists in Taipei.
|Statue of Chiang Kai-shek (source: Lord Koxinga)|
Inside the Memorial Hall there are exhibitions about the life of Chiang Kai-shek. These exhibitions tend to portray Chiang in a positive light, emphasizing his successes and downplaying his failures. One should not forget that the personality cult around Chiang was still practiced until the 1990s. Just to give you an idea, this is how the official website of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall introduces the history of the building:
In April, 1975, the entire nation mourned the passing of President Chiang Kai-shek. In June, in response to suggestions from all sectors, the funeral committee members decided to build the CKS Memorial Hall in Taipei, in order to commemorate the memory of our great leader.
This is obviously the typical, hagiographic language a personality cult requires.
No matter what one may think about Chiang Kai-shek as a political figure, the Memorial Hall has become one of the most important sites in Taipei, also thanks to the surrounding 250,000 square metre compound that includes a park and two well-known buildings, the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall, which are important centres for theatrical and musical performances.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was also the stage of one of the most important events in recent Taiwanese history. In March 1990, students gathered in the square in front of the Memorial Hall to demand democratic reforms. The protests happened only a few months after those in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, by which the students in Taipei were inspired. But other than in Beijing, in Taipei there was no suppression of the movement.
Then President of the Republic of China Lee Teng-hui rather seized the opportunity to win over the hardliner within the Guomindang and continued the process of democratization (Chu / Wong 2010, p. 51; Wright 2001, pp. 95-128). In memory of the pro-democracy movement in 2007 the square has been renamed Liberty Square (formerly Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Square).
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is open from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Entrance is free. It can be easily reached by undergroud (Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station of the blue line).