Heart of Taiwan democracy reflects nation's complexity
By Alan Fong, The China PostTAIPEI, Taiwan -- Democratic movements, like plants, grow from the ground up and receive their distinctive characteristics from the terroirs that cultivate them.
August 27, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
To better know the soil of Taiwan's democratic movements is to better understand Taiwanese democracy itself.
Some democratic movements got their names directly from their ground of origin. Tahrir Square in Cairo has become synonymous with Egypt's democratic revolution in 2011. A similar phenomenon happened to Turkeys' Taksim Square in a series of recent protests.
In Taiwan, the garden of democracy is undoubtedly the strip of land in front of the Presidential Office. Nowadays when activists call for supporters to show up at a rally, they would say “See you at Ke Tao.”
“Ke Tao” is short for Ketagalan Boulevard (凱達格蘭大道), a 10-lane road between the Presidential Office and the East Gate. True to the complexity of Taiwan society, the boulevard serves seemingly irreconcilable purposes. The heartland of democratic rallies has also been the center of the nation's political authorities for decades. The same asphalt road that had seen protesters screaming “down with the government” is also the one where presidents yelled “Long live the Republic of China” during National Day ceremonies.
Ketagalan Boulevard is an interestingly named road. First of all, the road can be hardly called a boulevard as it is merely 428 meters long. Only three buildings bear the road name in their addresses: Taipei Guest House (formerly the house of Governor-General of Taiwan during Japanese rule, address: No. 1, Ketagalan Blv.), the Foreign Ministry building (No. 2) and the 228 Memorial Hall (No. 3). The road was formerly named Chieh-shou Road (介壽路). The name literally means “Long live Chiang Kai-shek.” Chiang was R.O.C. president and Taiwan's authoritarian ruler for nearly three decades.
In his campaign to “deauthoritarianize” Taipei's road names, then-Mayor Chen Shui-bian renamed the road Ketagalan Boulevard in 1996 in honor of the aboriginal tribe that first lived in the area. With that Chen transformed a symbol of government authority into Taiwan's favorite venue for democratic demonstrations. Ironically for Chen, who served as president from 2000 to 2008, some of the largest demonstrations Ketagalan Boulevard has seen were the ones in 2006, in which protesters called for him to step down due to alleged corruption.
The ironies go on. Perhaps sensing a political opportunity, the Taipei City Government under the then-opposition Kuomintang added the name “Anti-corruption Boulevard” to the road in 2007, inspired by a slogan used in the 2006 anti-Chen protests. Some saw the move as a snub of the Chen administration's decision to rename the nearby Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Taiwan Democratic Memorial Hall.
The contest of party politics and ideology waged by politicians in the naming war has mostly faded but the spirit of anti-corruption and democracy remains. Now, Ketagalan Boulevard and the (re-renamed) Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall have become the go-to places for protesters who are increasingly looking beyond party lines and are directing their fire at injustice and politicians' abuse of power in general.