CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 17, March 2009


Discovering a Nationalist heritage in present-day Taiwan | China Heritage Quarterly

Discovering a Nationalist heritage in present-day Taiwan

Jeremy E. Taylor

University of Sheffield


The victory of the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, in Taiwan's presidential election in 2008 raised a number of questions for those of us who make a living from writing about and teaching on Taiwanese history. The return to power of the KMT meant that many of the 'milestones' upon which we rely for structure when making sense of the Taiwanese past had to be rethought. Until recently, the coming to power of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000 had been assumed by many to mark a final departure from the Nationalist Chinese past in Taiwan, the end of the KMT as a political and ideological force and, perhaps, even the demise of the Republic of China itself.[1] Now, with the KMT once again ascendant, such assumptions have to be set aside, as new milestones—such as 2011, in which the Republican Chinese state will celebrate its centenary—begin to attract attention. How will the government of this state, which has spent more than half of its existence ruling its republic from the island of Taiwan, and which until very recently was believed to have no future worth speaking of, reflect on its own past?

Far from being redundant then, the Nationalist past is once again being openly discussed and debated in Taiwan. The KMT has already set to work in repairing its interpretation of history, after having been marginalised from the nation-building project that Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party had championed for eight years, and public celebration of the Nationalist past has been high on the agenda since Ma Ying-jeou's assumption of the presidency.

This may not sound surprising to anyone familiar with the KMT's much-documented attempts to impose a monolithic version of the Chinese past upon Taiwan following its retreat to the island in 1949.[2] Yet the context today is markedly different from that of earlier decades. The KMT is now trying to reclaim a (Republican Chinese) national (and Nationalist) history which was largely deconstructed and attacked for eight years, and is doing this following a period in which the party itself was forced to reflect on its very raison d'être. It is also rediscovering its own past just as Republican history has become decidedly fashionable on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, with a shared Republican heritage now even being used to lay the foundation of 'inter-party dialogue' between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party. Most importantly of all, however, is that the KMT—once so staunchly adamant that its place on Taiwan was temporary, and that the only real 'history' that mattered (or could be openly discussed) was that which occurred prior to 1949—is, in its current phase of national history writing, embracing and recognising (certain aspects of) the role that it has played on Taiwan over the last five decades. In other words, rather than simply commemorating the mainland and looking to some future return to Nanjing, the KMT is now excavating the Taiwanese landscape for sites and artifacts which can be used to help illustrate and rewrite a post-1949 Nationalist history of the island.

It is these efforts which I shall explore below. How and why has the KMT attempted to start writing the history of its own presence on Taiwan (and its own existence overall) since returning to power in 2008? How have such efforts been played out in Taiwan's built environment? And what have been the implications of these developments for Taiwan, for the cross-Strait relationship, and indeed for those of us engaged in the study of the Chinese-speaking world?

Creating a Nationalist heritage

Until the victory of the DPP in the presidential election of 2000, the period during which Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo ruled Taiwan was not often viewed in Taiwan itself as 'history'. With few exceptions, 'national history' as it was practiced at Taiwanese universities or taught in Taiwanese schools referred overwhelmingly to Chinese history in the period prior to 1949. 'Taiwanese history', which emerged as a discipline in the late 1980s and early 1990s, concentrated primarily on the era of Japanese colonialism on Taiwan and the immediate postwar years.[3]

All of this was reflected in what officially counted as 'heritage' on the island: prior to the 1990s, it had almost always been sites associated with Han Chinese settlement which were chosen as officially-listed 'historic relics' (guji 古跡); during the 1990s, government heritage lists were expanded to include sites built during the era of Japanese colonialism.[4]

In KMT doctrine, however, the 'current era'—i.e., that which began with Taiwan's 'retrocession' to Chinese rule in 1945—remained virtually frozen outside of historical time. Until the removal of the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion (Dongyuan kanluan shiqi linshi tiaokuan) under Lee Teng-hui in 1991, the Chinese Civil War was still officially being fought, the sojourn of the Republic of China's government on Taiwan was temporary, and the official history of the Republic would not be written in its final form until communism had collapsed on the mainland.

This being the case, the Nationalist state on Taiwan continued a practice it had started on the mainland. It used 'monumental architecture', as Charles Musgrove puts it, '…to construct a new symbolic template for transforming [the Republic of] China's people from "loose sand" into citizens'.[5] This is something that continued well into the 1980s, as Taiwan's cities were filled with monuments which commemorated Nationalist leaders or martyrs, the Nationalist concept of 'China' or Nationalist ideologies. In fact, as Roger Selya reminds us,[6] sites which are now deemed to be most representative of monumental Nationalist architecture and which were designed to reflect KMT claims to stewardship of Chinese civilisation—such as the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (Guoli Zhongzheng Jiniantang 國立中正紀念堂) and its adjoining National Concert Hall and National Theater—were built relatively recently, despite sharing much in common with other examples of 'faux-traditional' or 'palace-style' architecture of 1950s and 1960s vintage, such as the Grand Hotel (Yuanshan Da Fandian 圓山大飯店) and the Chungshan Hall (Zhongshan Lou 中山樓).[7] Despite making clear references to the grand architectural traditions of 'old China', such sites were not deemed fit to be gazetted as guji because of their relative recentness and because most still functioned as government offices or places of commemoration.[8]

This state of affairs was not widely questioned on Taiwan throughout the 1990s, perhaps because it suited both 'sides' of the political divide on the island. During the years of Lee Teng-hui's rule, the KMT found it convenient to move slowly away from the martial-law past without ever actually disowning it.[9] Pro-independence groups saw no value in calling for the protection of the remnants of Nationalist rule (with many instead calling for the removal or restructuring of such sites). And historians, conservationists and cultural workers all over Taiwan continued to find themselves besotted by the far more exotic and hitherto taboo subject of Japanese colonialism to worry about the mundane aspects of Republican Chinese rule. Indeed, even when the longevity of monumental architecture which had been constructed on Taiwan by the Nationalists and their clients was threatened—as was the case with Taipei's Grand Hotel when it was severely damaged by fire in 1995—there was little sense that such sites needed to be legally protected in the way that genuine 'heritage' had been.[10]

Fig.1 Entrance to the Shihlin Residence
Fig.1 Entrance to the Shihlin Residence
[J. E. Taylor]

With the rise of the DPP as a viable contender to executive power, however, all this began to change. Upon winning the mayoralty of Taipei in 1994, for instance, Chen Shui-bian began to purposefully shift the centre of that city's gravity away from the symbolic sites of KMT dominance—the Presidential Palace, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the KMT's party offices—which were clustered at the western end of Taipei (in the Zhongzheng district—a neighbourhood which took its name from the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall)[11] and towards areas of new development in the east.[12] Sites such as Chiang Kai-shek's former residence in the Taipei suburb of Shihlin (the Shilin Guandi 士林官邸), which had been closed to the public under the KMT, were partly opened. And the names of streets which had been christened in honour of Chiang Kai-shek were changed.[13] [Fig.1]

The KMT's role on Taiwan since 1945—and particularly the legacy of Chiang Kai-shek—was openly attacked by the DPP, with debates over the origins of the KMT's party assets, its involvement in the events of February-March 1947 and the White Terror all being openly encouraged by the new government. At the same time, the removal of remnants of the Chiang Kai-shek personality cult from the Taiwanese landscape (a process which had commenced, ironically, under Lee Teng-hui) was accelerated under a set of parallel processes which the Taiwanese media referred to as 'qu-Zhonghua' 去中化 (de-Sinification) and 'qu-Jianghua' 去蔣化 (de-Chiang Kai-shek-ification). Names of public institutions that made reference to China or Chiang Kai-shek were changed, and many sites or objects which had been constructed for the purpose of revering Nationalist leaders or ideologies removed or re-invented.[14]

As I have argued elsewhere, however,[15] de-Sinification and de-Chiang Kai-shek-ification resulted in anything but the erasure of the Nationalist past from Taiwan's landscape. Instead, attacks on the Nationalist past forced the KMT to begin—effectively for the first time—to defend the record of its rule on Taiwan, while at the same time affirming that it was indeed the Chinese Nationalist Party (Zhongguo Guomindang). As the DPP sought to 'rectify the names' (zhengming 正名) of government-run enterprises which had long been closely affiliated with the KMT Party-state—China Airlines, for instance—those same institutions began to claim pride in their distinctly post-1949 Nationalist Chinese heritage.[16] And when the DPP encouraged schools, factories and military institutions to discard the statues of Chiang Kai-shek that adorned their courtyards, a KMT county magistrate urged the same institutions to donate such residua to a newly-established sculpture park in the county of Taoyuan, where they could be stored and protected.[17]

The more the Nationalist past appeared to be threatened by the DPP, the more the KMT and its allies expressed concern about protecting the physical evidence of that past. In effect, (perceived) attacks on the remainders of Nationalist China on Taiwan—be these bronze statues of Republican leaders or the Sinic names of public institutions—turned the post-1949 Republican Chinese past of Taiwan into history. When, as mentioned above, Taipei's Grand Hotel had been damaged by fire in 1995, there had been little sense that this represented damage to a 'Nationalist landmark'; when fire destroyed one of Chiang Kai-shek's former residences in Taipei twelve years later (after the site had been refurbished by a KMT-controlled Taipei City Government), KMT leaders expressed outrage.[18]

Fig.2 The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Fig.2 The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
[J. E. Taylor]

Interestingly, however, it was the DPP which first began to systematically transform Nationalist monuments and sites associated with KMT rule into officially-recognised 'relics' during its time in power, not in order to commemorate the Nationalist past, but often as a means of wresting control of such sites from the KMT, or putting KMT authoritarianism on display. The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was listed as a national-level guji by the DPP (something which the KMT had never felt the need to do despite commissioning the monument in the first place) after a decision was taken to rename it the 'National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall' (Guoli Taiwan Minzhu Jinianguan 國立台灣民主紀念館).[19] Similarly, it was the Chen administration's Ministry of Education which called in 2003 for the Chungshan Hall—built on Yangmingshan in 1966 to commemorate the centenary of Sun Yat-sen's birth, and used for government and diplomatic meetings—to be renovated and opened to the public.[20] And the Shihlin Residence was listed by the DPP as a national-level guji in 2005, ostensibly as a means of opening the site to the public.[Fig.2]

Since returning to power in early 2008, the KMT has unexpectedly benefited from these developments. In 2000, Taiwan had largely been devoid of Nationalist guji. Yet in 2008, the KMT inherited a Taiwan that was full of officially listed 'historic sites' that dated from the era of Nationalist rule. In turn, the KMT has set about renovating such sites and opening them to the public. In July 2008, for example, government-funded renovation work commenced on the Shihlin Residence to repair damage caused by years of neglect. Exhibits on Chiang Kai-shek have been restored to the (now protected) Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall—a topic I shall explore further below. And plans are afoot to transform Chiang Ching-kuo's former home in Taipei, the Qihai House (Qihai Yusuo七海寓所), into a 'cultural park'.[21] For the first time since its arrival on Taiwan, the KMT is acting to protect the heritage of its own past—thanks, in large part, to DPP efforts to relegate the KMT to 'history'.[Fig.3]

Fig.3 Renovation work at the Shihlin Residence
Fig.3 Renovation work at the Shihlin Residence
[J. E. Taylor]

Nationalist heritage and the cross-Strait relationship

Heritage and history are not the only concerns to have exercised KMT leaders since the party's return to the presidency. Another major issue on which the presidential election in 2008 was fought, and one which has since come to fruition, was the restoration of regular direct transport links between Taiwan and the mainland after a hiatus of six decades. These links commenced within months of Ma Ying-jeou's victory, with direct flights now operating on a regular basis.

Yet while cross-Strait ties and a new appreciation of the Nationalist past are rarely mentioned in the same breath, the two are, in many ways, interrelated. During its years in opposition, the KMT not only took to discovering and acknowledging its own heritage on Taiwan—it also started to recast itself as an organisation which could lead Taiwan on negotiations with Beijing (after decades of spurning contact with the mainland). In this new role, sites of Nationalist significance on both sides of the Taiwan Strait were central.

When the then KMT chairman Lien Chan traveled to the mainland in April 2005 to discuss cross-Strait ties, for instance, he made a highly-publicised visit to the KMT's spiritual capital of Nanjing, touring historic sites such as the Sun Yat-sen mausoleum and Sun's former residence in that city. Similarly, it was Taipei's Grand Hotel—a building of 1950s vintage which has always been closely associated with KMT rule, and specifically with the Chiang family—that was chosen as the site for high-level talks between Taiwan officials and representatives from the PRC's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) when the latter visited Taipei in 2008. In both cases, sites in the Taiwanese and mainland landscapes which were known for their specifically Nationalist association were utilised by the KMT (and, indeed, the PRC government) to suit particular political ends.

Fig.4 The Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in Singapore
Fig.4 The Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in Singapore
[J. E. Taylor]

Interestingly, it appears that the immediate precedent for the use of a shared concern for Republican (if not strictly Nationalist) Chinese heritage by governments on either side of the Strait can be traced to sites outside of China altogether. As Huang Jianli and Hong Lysa point out, some years before Lien Chan was visiting Nanjing or ARATS officials were visiting the Grand Hotel in Taipei, the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in Singapore was being used to present that country as 'a neutral but sympathetic site for cross-(Taiwan) Straits [sic] relations and negotiations on the reunification of China', after the building was gazetted as an historic site in 1994. Through this 'off-shore' instance of Republican heritage, the ROC and PRC governments were being encouraged to build on a shared reverence for Sun and his republic in order to negotiate with one another. Indeed, this villa (where Sun had stayed during three of his visits to Singapore in the early 1900s) was even adorned with calligraphy by the same cross-Strait negotiators from Taipei and Beijing who had met in Singapore for the first time in 1992.[22] [Fig.4]

This is not to suggest that cross-Strait visits to sites of Nationalist significance around Asia is something that was initiated by politicians. Taiwanese tourism to mainland sites associated with the same Nationalist party and its history has been going on for some years now.[23] Cities such as Nanjing, Chongqing, and to a lesser extent Guangzhou—all of which can claim a substantial number of sites associated with the Nationalist past—have benefited from the trade in Taiwanese tourism that has developed in the years since the lifting of travel restrictions. Guangzhou-based media, for instance, has reported the prevalence of Taiwanese tourists to the graves of Republican martyrs at Huanghua Gang 黃花崗 in that city.[24] And in Chongqing, government funding has gone into the renovation of sites of Nationalist wartime heritage, so that 'Taiwan compatriots', who 'will never forget that period of blood and fire', can visit the former residences of Chiang Kai-shek and other Nationalist leaders.[25]

More recently, growing numbers of mainland tour groups availing themselves of direct travel to Taiwan are reciprocating and visiting sites related to the Nationalist past in Taiwan that have been gazetted and/or renovated since 2000. The KMT-controlled Taoyuan County Government has been open about its belief that Chiang Kai-shek's mausoleum (located in Taoyuan) will attract large numbers of mainland tourists, and has structured some its marketing of the mausoleum around such expectations—a topic to which I shall return below.[26] Mainland media has been keen to report on the popularity of Chiang-related activities undertaken by PRC visitors to Taiwan [27]. And Taiwanese television has noted the rising numbers of mainland tourists at sites such as the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall over recent months.[28]

For those in favour of cross-Strait rapprochement or the idea of eventual unification, such developments must seem promising. Conversely, for those who favour the creation of an independent Taiwanese nation-state, such developments might be viewed with great concern.

One must wonder, however, just how far the concept of a shared Nationalist or Republican 'greater Chinese' heritage can be taken. If KMT chairmen, ARATS officials and tourists from both the PRC and Taiwan agree that mausoleums and memorial halls are significant, does this necessarily mean that they do so for the same reasons? And even if all parties concerned agree on the need to recognise, protect and celebrate such sites, does this necessarily mean that they also agree on the actual significance of the sites themselves?

The revival of scholarly, government and public interest in the PRC in the Republican period, and the role of the Nationalists, has already been well documented [29]. Yet recent scholarship also hints at just how different the PRC view of the Nationalists has become from that currently being developed (by the Nationalists themselves) in Taipei. In the PRC, the Nationalists are 'acceptable' now because they play a crucial role in what Rana Mitter has referred to as a 'new historiography' of the War of Resistance.[30] Other commentators have suggested that the revival of interest in Chiang Kai-shek on the mainland has come about simply because the modern PRC is not all that different from the China that Chiang had once sought to create from Nanjing.[31] In any case, the Nationalists can be safely studied and appreciated in the PRC today because—like most museum pieces—they no longer pose a threat, and the relics associated with them can easily be worked into acceptable historical narratives.

Fig.5 Abandoned bust of Chiang Kai-shek at the Cihu Memorial Sculpture Park
[J. E. Taylor]

What is being recognised and celebrated in post-DPP Taiwan, by contrast, is a very different view of the Nationalists—one which still traces the KMT's roots to the monumental architecture of Nanjing, but which is being promoted by a party that now acknowledges the significance of its post-mainland past. Moreover, and problematically for policy-makers in Beijing, the Nationalists' Republic on Taiwan was one that, until recently, defined itself as everything that the People's Republic was not (i.e., communist, opposed to 'Chinese civilisation' and, crucially, mainland-based).

One sees this illustrated in sites such as the Cihu 慈湖 Memorial Sculpture Park (Liang Jiang Wenyuan Yuanqu ming 兩蔣文化園區) in Taiwan's Taoyuan County—an institution which adjoins the mausoleum in which Chiang Kai-shek's body still lies. Officially founded in 1997 (but only beginning its collection of Chiang sculptures in 2000), this park is essentially a repository of the physical remnants of the Chiang Kai-shek personality cult. It displays a large range of disused bronze and stone statues of Chiang (and other Nationalist leaders) that have been donated by institutions throughout the island, and re-arranged with the help of local artists. It also includes a small exhibition hall which details aspects of Chiang's life (predominantly in Taiwan) and a gift shop where deliberately 'tongue-in-cheek' Chiang-themed souvenirs are sold.[32][Fig.5]

Fig.6 Disused statue of Sun Yat-sen on show at the Cihu Memorial Sculpture Park
[J. E. Taylor]

Chiang and other Nationalist leaders are not worshipped here as patriotic heroes, and unlike mainland museums which feature Chiang, the park has little to do with the War of Resistance. Instead, it is the Nationalist personality cults of post-war Taiwan which have been turned into history, and their products into artifacts (and souvenirs). The statues which were once used to encourage praise of Chiang are now used to document a social history of authoritarianism on the island—with each individual statue being catalogued according to its site of origin, its creator and, in some instances, its significance to particular communities in Taiwan (e.g., schools, factories, government departments). In other words, this is a reading of the past which favours a Taiwan-centric interpretation of Chiang Kai-shek and his reign, which encourages an acceptance of the existence of his personality cult without necessarily endorsing it, and which presents the Nationalist leadership as something unique to Taiwan's modern historical experience. Indeed, in the very act of collecting statues of Chiang which were made in Taiwan, and for a Taiwanese audience, one could surmise that this site represents an attempt by KMT county cadres to claim ownership over Chiang and his memory—especially given the presence of Chiang's mortal remains in the adjoining mausoleum.[Fig.6]

An artistic or commercial re-interpretation of the relics of Nationalist authoritarianism, or an attempt by a Taiwan-based KMT to lay claim to Chiang's memory, is not something that supporters of stronger cross-Strait ties in Beijing would necessarily welcome or even understand. It is the physical remainders of the KMT's legacy on Taiwan which now form the basis of the Nationalist revival in Taipei—those which point to a time when the Republic of China was closely allied to the United States, when the KMT was at virtual war with the 'communist bandits', and when Taiwan was ruled by a family that was vehemently opposed to the very idea of interaction with Beijing.

The future of Taiwan's Nationalist past

In the course of my writing this article, it was announced that the name of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall would be officially restored in the northern hemisphere summer of 2009—only months after the Chen administration had rechristened the site the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, and shelved many of its exhibits. For some commentators, this announcement represented a return to a pre-2000 Taiwan. Paul Katz, for instance, has described the restitution of the hall's original title following the KMT's victory (and the return of the hall's honour guard) as representative of 'things… [beginning]… to move in reverse' since Ma Ying-jeou's accession to the presidency.[33]

Fig.7 Scultpture of Chiang Kai shek by Chung Ming on display at the Chiang Kai shek Memorial Hall
Fig.7 Scultpture of Chiang Kai-shek by Chu Ming on display at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
[J. E. Taylor]

Yet is must be clear to those who have visited the hall both before and after its short-lived transformation under the DPP that things are not quite the same as they once were. To be sure, much of the hagiographic material has returned. But there is also a far stronger emphasis on Chiang's life in Taiwan now. And most crucially of all, unlike in the heyday of the Chiang personality cult, the statues, paintings and photography that decorate the exhibition halls are all now authored.[34] It is not simply Chiang who is on display anymore, but also the products (and producers) of the Chiang cult itself.[Fig.7]

In essence, what has happened at this memorial hall in recent months is indicative of wider trends. The KMT has returned to reclaim the national-history-writing agenda, but the histories it is now inscribing into Taiwan's landscape are tempered by what has happened during the party's years out of power. Just as importantly, such efforts—like the exhibits at the memorial hall itself—are being watched curiously by visitors from the PRC, many of whom may expect to find in Taiwan a shared Chinese reverence for a much earlier, and mainland-focused, Chinese Nationalist Party.

It is not then a case, as Christopher Hughes has argued, of the KMT successfully 'casting off its identification with the authoritarian past and Chinese nationalism' in recent years.[35] Rather, the KMT has managed to present its own history of authoritarianism and, indeed, its own brand of Chinese 'Nationalism', as things that are unique to the Taiwan context, and which deserve to be appreciated as part of Taiwan's historic built environment. Bronze statues, monumental architecture, opulent residences, and the bodies of dead Nationalist leaders—all have themselves become artifacts of a time when Taiwan was presented to the world as the defender of Chinese tradition and a bastion against communism.

It is significant that certain, more troublesome, aspects of Taiwan's Nationalist past have been left out of the current trend towards rediscovering a KMT heritage on the island. And future research may explain why it is that in post-authoritarian Taiwan—as in many other post-authoritarian societies—the nostalgic reinterpretation of a recent period of single-party rule has so far gone widely unchallenged by much of society.

Yet regardless of what we might think of the record of KMT governance on Taiwan since 1945, or even the ways in which that past is being repackaged by the KMT today, there are, I believe, aspects of this current trend which might prompt us to reconsider just how we frame our own study of Taiwanese and Chinese history. Why does it largely remain the case, for example, that so much 'Taiwan history' focuses on the pre-1949 past, and that until recently, the political culture that the KMT brought to Taiwan is simply ignored in much of this scholarship? Why, conversely, do figures such as Chiang Kai-shek still seem to belong largely to the realm of 'Chinese history', despite Chiang having spent so much of his life on Taiwan? And does a belief in the need to preserve the physical remnants of KMT rule on Taiwan (and to treat these remnants as texts which are both unique to Taiwan and worthy of serious study) necessarily mean that we condone the nature of Nationalist rule during the martial-law years, or accept the notion of a shared cross-Strait 'Republican heritage'?

Significantly, developments in public history since 2000 do seem to be prompting historians in Taiwan to ask, and respond to, these very questions. There have been attempts, for example, to explore continuities in the uses of monumental architecture and the manipulation of the landscape for patriotic purposes by the Nationalist state (e.g., through the foundation of martyrs shrines) both before and after the relocation of the republic to Taiwan.[36] And even journals such as Taiwan Historical Materials (one of the main vehicles for the promotion of 'Taiwan history') are now publishing studies of Nationalist political slogans and their use in Taiwan's landscape—all be these studies which remain overtly 'nativist' in tone.[37] The appearance of these and similar studies promise to contribute much to our understanding of the workings of the Nationalist state, but also suggest that the scholarly division between 'national history' and 'Taiwan history' may be starting to break down, just as the recent Nationalist past begins to be reclaimed by a Taiwan-based Chinese Nationalist Party.

My view is that the change of power in 2008, and the KMT's recent attempts to locate and celebrate a Nationalist heritage in Taiwan, should encourage us to look afresh at how we think about Taiwan's history and historic built environment, and indeed, how we think about Republican Chinese history. As the Republican state approaches its one hundredth year, and enters a new period of interaction with the mainland, it may be time for us to start doing what the KMT itself now appears to be attempting in the Taiwanese landscape—revisiting, and re-appraising, Taiwan's Nationalist past.

Author's Note: Some of the research for this article was undertaken with the assistance of a devolved funds grant from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield. I also benefited from discussions on the topics explored in this paper with members of the 'China's War with Japan' project (led by Rana Mitter) at the University of Oxford. I thank Geremie Barmé for encouraging me to explore the themes raised in this piece, and for his comments on earlier drafts.


[1] 'With the election of Chen Shui-bian as President of the state of Taiwan', wrote Frank Muyard in mid 2004, 'we may therefore wonder whether we have witnessed the penultimate step in the formation of a new Taiwanese nation'. See Frank Muyard, 'Taiwan. The birth of a nation?', China Perspectives 53 (2004.5-6): 60. For another example of such speculation, see Thomas B. Gold, 'Is the Party Over? Taiwan's KMT from Power to Opposition', in J. Megan Greene and Robert Ash, eds., Taiwan in the 21st century: Aspects and Limitations of a Development Model, London: Routledge, 2008, pp.249-271.

[2] A topic which has been examined at such length in recent studies of Taiwanese history that it does not bear repeating here.

[3] Q. Edward Wang, 'Taiwan's search for national history: a trend in historiography,' East Asian History 24 (2002.12): esp.100-106.

[4] Jeremy E. Taylor, 'Reading history through the built environment', in John Makeham and A-Chin Hsiau (eds), Cultural, Ethnic, and Political Nationalism in Contemporary Taiwan: Bentuhua, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp.159-183.

[5] Charles D. Musgrove, 'Monumentality in Nanjing's Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park', Southeast Review of Asian Studies 29 (2007): 1.

[6] Roger Mark Selya, Taipei, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1995, pp.43-44.

[7] I borrow these terms from Joseph R. Allen, 'Reading Taipei: Cultural traces in a cityscape', Harvard Studies on Taiwan 3 (2000): 18-19.

[8] There were, of course, exceptions. The Dr Sun Yat-sen Memorial House (as opposed to the National Dr Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall) in Taipei, for instance, represented one example of a site which had been officially granted guji status as a result of the fact that Sun Yat-sen had once stayed on its premises. See Taibei Shizhengfu Gongwuju (Taipei City Government Bureau of Public Works), Guofu Shiji Jinianguan [The Dr Sun Yat-sen Memorial House], Taipei: Taibei Shizhengfu, n.d., pamphlet.

[9] A process which has been detailed in Stéphane Corcuff, 'The symbolic dimension of democratization and the transition of national identity under Lee Teng-hui', in Stéphane Corcuff, ed., Memories of the Future: National Identity Issues and the Search for a New Taiwan, Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2002, pp.73-101.

[10] On the links between the Chiang family and the building of the Grand Hotel, see Laura Tyson Li, Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's Eternal First Lady, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006, pp.385-387.

[11] Hua Songcun, ed., Taiwan xiangtu quanzhi: Di san ce [Complete local gazetteer of Taiwan: Volume 3], Taipei: Xinwenju, 1996, p.188.

[12] Sue-Ching Joe, 'Domestic politics in urban image creation: Xinyi as the "Manhattan of Taipei"', in Reginald Yin-wong Kwok, ed., Globalizing Taipei: The Political Economy of Spatial Development, London: Routledge, 2005, p.132.

[13] Helga Leitner and Peter Kang, 'Contested urban landscapes of nationalism: the case of Taipei', Cultural Geographies 6.2 (1999): 214-233.

[14] Jeremy E. Taylor, 'QuJianghua: Disposing of and re-appraising the remnants of Chiang Kai-shek's reign on Taiwan', paper presented at the Association of Asian Studies Annual Meeting, Atlanta, April 2008.

[15] Ibid.

[16] By opening, for example, the China Airlines Museum. 'Zhonghua Hangkong Bowuguan quanxin luocheng: Hua Hang de lishi yu biange' [The China Airlines Museum opens: the history and reform of CAL], press release, China Airlines, 1 November 2004:

[17] Amber Wu, 'Sculpture park preserves generalissimo's legacy', Taiwan Journal 26.6 (6 February 2008).

[18] This is not to suggest that the Grand Hotel and the Caoshan Xingguan (i.e., the former residence on Yangmingshan that was destroyed by fire) are entirely comparable. Yet it is noticeable that even for a site such as the Grand Hotel—i.e., an institution which still operates as a hotel—a connection to a high Nationalist past is now a more central aspect of its public image than it had been a decade ago.

[19] Han Baode, 'Rethinking historical monuments', Taipei Times, 12 November 2007, p.8.

[20] Li Weiqing, 'Zhongshan Lou ni zhengxiu gong wenhua yongtu' [The Chungshan Hall is to be renovated for cultural purposes], Zhongguo shibao [Chinatimes], 27 January 2003, p.14.

[21] 'Jingguo xiansheng guju Qihai Yusuo jiang cheng Qihai Wenhua Yuanqu' [Chiang Ching-kuo's former residence, the Qihai House, to become the Qihai Cultural Park], press release, Central News Agency, Taipei, 13 January 2009.

[22] Huang Jianli and Hong Lysa, 'History and the imaginaries of "Big Singapore": Positioning the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall', Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 35.1 (2004.2):73.

[23] 'Zhonghua Minguo zai Nanjing: lüyou da maidian' [The Republic of China in Nanjing: a major selling point for the tourism industry], Lianhebao [United Daily News], 29 September 2003, p.A13.

[24] Virgil Kit-yiu Ho, 'Martyrs of ghosts? A short cultural history of a tomb in revolutionary Canton, 1911-1970', East Asian History 27 (2004.6): 134.

[25] The quotation is taken from Liao Qingyu, 'Foreword', in Liao Qingyu, Chongqing Geleshan: Peidu yizhi [Geleshan in Chongqing: Ruins of the wartime capital], Chengdu: Sichuan Daxue Chubanshe, p.4.

[26] Andre Huang, '101 ways to raise government revenue', trans. Chris Nelson, Taiwan Panorama 33.8 (2008.8): 88-95.

[27] 'Taiwan welcomes mainland tourists warmly', China Daily, 7 July 2008.

[28] When, in January 2009, reporters from ETTV (Dong Sen) asked visitors to this site about the restitution of the honour guard, it was predominantly mainland tourists—presumably ones who had come to Taiwan care of direct flights—who expressed their excitement. News report, ETTV Asia, 25 January 2009.

[29] A summary of scholarship on this area can be found in Wang Chaoguang, 'Recent research on Republican Chinese history', Journal of Modern Chinese History 2.1 (2008): 89-97.

[30] Rana Mitter, 'Behind the scenes at the Museum: Nationalism, history and memory in the Beijing War of Resistance Museum', The China Quarterly 161 (2000.3): 279-293 at p.293.

[31] Jonathan Fenby, Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the China he Lost, London: The Free Press, 2003, pp. 499-505.

[32] Andre Huang, op cit, p. 89. Details about the park can be found on the Taoyuan Government Web site at

[33] Paul Katz, 'Everything old is new again', The China Beat, 28 January 2009.

[34] The 'theft of agency' (in which hagiography is not accredited to particular authors or artists, and hence made to appear spontaneous) is a common trait of personality cults. The very fact that many more exhibits in this memorial hall now (i.e., since 2008) focus on the producers of the Chiang cult rather than purely Chiang himself—e.g., by providing details about the history and origins of particular statues of Chiang, and thus returning agency to the cult's craftsmen—suggests that something increasingly removed from 'traditional' hagiography is emerging here. On the 'theft of agency' see Jeffrey Brooks, 'Stalin's politics of obligation', Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 4.1 (2003): 47-8.

[35] Christopher R. Hughes, 'The 2008 Legislative Yuan election and the complex nativisation of the KMT', Taiwan Perspectives 118 (2008.2): 3.

[36] For an instance of such work, see Cai Jintang, 'Zhonglie ci 'yingling' tanxi' [A study of the 'noble spirits' in matryrs shrines], Danjiang Shixue [Tamkang Historical Review] 14 (2003.6): 139-152.

[37] Li Xiaofeng, Gao Kaijun and Chen Jinxing, 'Jiuwei de fuhao: cong zhengzhi biaoyu kan liang Jiang zhengzhi' [Symbols unseen for many years: Examining the reign of the two Chiangs through political slogans], Taiwan Shiliao Yanjiu [Taiwan Historical Materials] 27 (2006.8): 2-56.