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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 01:36 GMT
Taiwan divided over Chiang's memory

By Helen Leavey
BBC, Taipei

Twenty or so bronze busts of Taiwan's former president Chiang Kai-shek stand on makeshift shelves in a small whitewashed room just off a community centre's basketball court.
Old unwanted busts of former president Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang ruled Taiwan for 25 years

Several other statues can be seen a couple of minutes' drive away, among boxes, papers and bits of junk, in a storeroom near the mayor's office in the town of Dashi, a few miles southwest of Taipei.

Showing a smiling Chiang in a variety of poses and sizes, all will eventually stand in a new park being built by the Dashi Township Government.

Set in lush green mountains, it will be just a short walk away from the late dictator's tomb.

The idea for the park came a few years ago when Tzeng Rung-chien, the mayor of Dashi, heard of an argument at a university in Taipei over what to do with a statue of the former president.

Now Taiwan is democratic, every leader has to be evaluated by the public in this way
Mayor Tzeng Rung-chien of Dashi

Some students wanted to move the statue from its prominent position, but were opposed by more conservative elements at the institution.

Dashi's Mayor Tzeng hopes the park will help people to reflect on Chiang Kai-shek's history and achievements.

"It will help promote a fair discussion and evaluation of Chiang's leadership," he said.

"Now Taiwan is democratic, every leader has to be evaluated by the public in this way. Also, each of the statues was made by a different artist so it's like an art exhibition. In that sense, it will be something to educate the public."

The park, which will cost more than US$1 million to construct, has already been promised 100 statues from around the island, statues that once graced public buildings, open spaces and schools.

A lone statue of Chiang Kai-shek looks over the land near Dashi
Chiang has an enduring legacy

When complete, it will be home to 200 unwanted statues of the Kuomintang (KMT) leader, who ruled Taiwan with an iron fist for 25 years.

Chiang fled to Taiwan with his Nationalist army in 1949 after being defeated by the communists in China's civil war. He locked up and even executed opponents while in power.

The dismantling of his statues is just another sign that democratic Taiwan neither wants nor needs so many reminders of its authoritarian past.

Last year, the government told schools and government offices to take down its pictures of Chiang, allowing them to have portraits only of the revolutionary Chinese hero Sun Yat-sen and the incumbent president.

But despite this, Chiang's memory still lives on.

Every morning at 9am, a song written to mark his death in 1975 blasts out from loudspeakers in Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Only last year, his face appeared on new NT$200 bills.

Chiang is a great figure in our modern history... He made a big contribution to our country. When I have children I will bring them here
Taiwanese man

And although it wasn't until Chiang's death that Taiwan really began its move towards democracy, National Taiwan University sociology professor Chiu Hei-yuan believes the majority of people on the island still have respect for their former leader.

"Some ordinary people here have changed their attitude, but a lot of them haven't. Maybe 30 or 40% have a bad feeling about him, but maybe 60% of them say he was a respectable national leader. Many still think he is a hero."

The professor said this was not unusual, given that many Taiwanese people were educated during the martial law period when the KMT controlled everything and promoted Chiang as a hero.

Some young people, who grew up after the ex-president died, also respect him, believing he did a good job bringing law and order to the island and developing the economy.

One man in his 20s, visiting Chiang's tomb at Dashi, said: "Chiang is a great figure in our modern history, the period I am most interested in. He made a big contribution to our country. When I have children I will bring them here."

Enduring legacy

Chiang might not be the revered figure he used to be.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of unwanted statues prove that. But it is clear he is not completely forgotten.

And perhaps the former strongman's most enduring legacy is the political mess he left Taiwan's current leaders.

Chiang's flight to Taiwan in 1949, an act that severed the island's political links with China, is the root cause of today's frosty relationship between Taipei and Beijing.

Their disagreement over Taiwan's future status - will it become officially independent or reunite with the mainland - is Taipei's number one problem.

And until that situation is resolved, the people of Taiwan will not be able to draw a line under the Chiang Kai-shek era.

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