If I had been on a quest in search of the many Chiang Kai-shek statues erected all over Taiwan, my task would have been made easy for me, as the vast majority of the statues have been gathered in Cihu Memorial Sculpture Park near the mausoleum where his body rests. In my thousand miles of bicycling around the country, I had encountered only one of his statues, other than at his huge Memorial Hall in Taipei. It was privately owned in front of a small business.
If my travels had brought me to Taiwan twenty years ago, I would have seen such statues of him everywhere, just as I had seen statues of Ataturk in every town in Turkey and Jose Rizal in every town in the Philippines and Simon Bolivar all over Venezuela. It was always a delight to spot the gallant pose and how it was rendered of these revered national heroes, just as it is to lay eyes upon a town's Carnegie Library as I bike through rural America. I felt deprived not to have Chiang statues enlivening the landscape and quickening my pulse here.
But to have them assembled in one vast park gave a delight of a higher order. It may be the kookiest sculpture park on the planet. They are all pretty much clones of one another, but still have a degree of individuality. They are life-like enough to be on the verge of delivering a speech or marching on out of the park to regain control of the country.
They haven't been brought together so much to honor him, but rather as a place of exile, though not a one of the many plaques around the park telling where the sculptures came from give a hint of the circumstances that caused their removal. Rather they say how kind it was for a community to donate their statue. They'd describe the esteemed spot where he had been and how people would bow to it as they passed. Some were adored with the phrase "The Saviour of the Nation." The plaque beside the statue that once stood beside the southernmost lighthouse in Taiwan gave the story that it was being adversely affected by standing in the intense sun all day and had been brought here to save it.
The statues began coming down in the year 2000, twenty-five years after his death, when for the first time the,party that had been in opposition to Chiang's party came to power. It did not mandate the removal of the statues, but they provided the climate for it. There had long been resentment to Chiang's decades of tyrannical rule and corruption (he was known as "General, Cash My Check"). Now it became fully accepted and people could no longer endure the hypocrisy of honoring him with statues. Local movements were launched to remove their statue, just as a strong local faction prevents the erection of a statue to Margaret Thatcher in her home town.
Unlike other countries where the ebb of history had fully unveiled the ugly truth of a once revered leader, such as Stalin and Lenin and Hussein and Mao, leading to the destruction of their statues, the Taiwanese had enough civility to spare Chiang's statues from the wrecking ball. But not even the exhibits in the Visitor Center have a negative word to say about Chiang. As with his Memorial Hall in Taipei, there was nothing but praise heaped upon him. Both were full of photographs of him with noted world leaders--Churchill and Roosevelt in Cairo in 1943, Gandhi in India, Eisenhower in Taiwan in 1960, then Governor Reagan in Taiwan in 1970.
The bulk of the statues were arranged in thirteen circles with ten statues surrounding one in the middle.
There were also single larger statues scattered about and also several more circles under construction.
The park was framed by two long rows of over thirty busts each.
Most of the statues depicted him bareheaded and holding a cane. In some he held a book or a hat. The one constant was his beatific, benevolent expression.
It was nearly a mile hike past a tranquil small lake with a few swans and surrounded by thick vegetationto his mausoleum. It was guarded by two solders who were changed every hour in a ceremony full of pomp.
As at his Memorial Hall in Taipei, it drew a large audience.
Chiang converted to Christianity, following his wife's conversion, later in his life. His casket contains a Bible, and a cross of flowers stands in front of it.
Chiang's son, who assumed the presidency upon his death, has a mausoleum of his own a mile away. It too has a pair of guards. Even though he is regarded with more favor than his father, ending martial law and opening the way for democracy, I was the lone spectator for its change of guard.
While I was eating lunch, a guy on a motorcycle asked if he could join me. He had grown up during Chiang's rule and had no desire to see his sculpture park even though it was nearby just off the road. As others have told me, he said, "He was a bad man." Along with martial law, he maintained a continual curfew under the pretense that China could attack at any time. It gave the police license to arrest any one any time. "We all know someone who was arrested and was never seen again," he said.
Chiang brought two million others with him, about one million of whom were military and their families, after failing to maintain control of China after WWII, losing out to Mao and the Communists. They increased the population of Taiwan to eight million. My friend could trace his lineage back at least four generations on Taiwan. When he is asked if he is Chinese when he travels the world on business for the tech company's he works for, he quickly asserts that he is Taiwanese, not Chinese.
He and most of his fellow citizens have no desire to be reunited with China. It has been 120 years since Japan seized Taiwan, that Taiwan has been affiliated with China. Japan was a good ruler. It didn't treat Taiwan as a colony, but rather as part of Japan. It made considerable improvements to Taiwan. The Taiwanese were happy to consider themselves Japanese and continue to have a warm feeling for Japan. My friend was proud that his daughter works in Japan for one of its largest companies.
We talked for over an hour. It was the longest and most enlightening conversation I've had here. At last I found someone who could tell me what the small, partially glassed buildings were along the road.
A pretty young woman can be seen sitting at a counter. I've peered in looking for a bed in the back room one can see through an open door, suspecting prostitution might be legal here. One sees slightly more substantial buildings with more provocative woman on display in Belgium and Holland practicing the trade. But I learned that prostitution is illegal here and that these women were selling betel nut for chewing. The large windows are so the women can see customers drive up and entice them with their beauty since they cater mostly to truck and cab drivers to keep their energy up. She can dash out and give them what they want. I hadn't noticed anyone chewing or spitting the betel nut, as was much more common in India, but after discovering what these places are, I began noticing red stains of spit in front of them and then along the road. They are the residue from the cups they spit into as they drive. They'd been there all along, but I had been oblivious to them. I almost wish I hadn't had my eyes opened to them.
I know that I have barely scratched the surface of understanding this world I have been immersed in for the past three weeks, but I have still learned a lot and know that I'll learn a few more things in the few days I have left.