As the United States grapples with the horrific events that occurred in Charlottesville, it is clear that the country has a lot to learn about how to handle its Confederate monuments — and it could look to an unlikely place for a solution.
Taiwan can offer us a lesson or two on how to deal with troubling historical figures and their monuments. Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party and Taiwan’s president until his death in 1975, is both celebrated and vilified. He steered Taiwan from the verge of defeat in the late 1940s to becoming one of the “Four Asian Tigers” and resisted Chinese Communist rule. Yet, at the same time, he implemented the “White Terror” and martial law, under which tens of thousands of people were beaten and imprisoned, and between 18,000 to 28,000 died for threatening his rule.
Taiwan is now a thriving democracy, and its people are free to research the atrocities that occurred during the martial law period. President Tsai Ing-wen is working toward achieving transitional justice for the victims by opening archives and promising to write a comprehensive report on government oppression during the martial law era. How Taiwan’s people view one of the most important men in their history is changing, as is popular opinion on whether or not — and how — he should be commemorated.
But Taiwan seems to have arrived at a potential solution. It has established a park populated with more than 200 “rejected” statues of Chiang. The Cihu Memorial Sculpture Park, built near Chiang’s mausoleum, is funded by the local government and contains statues that were discarded by schools, government buildings and other public spaces. The park serves as one primary location for people who wish to celebrate Chiang’s life — away from those still haunted by his rule.