Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Dec 07 2007

Barbarians at the Gate

protest gateI was going to name this post “20 years at CKS Hall”, but it hasn’t quite been that long since I sat for four days and three nights in the large square between the opera house and the concert hall as part of the “Wild Lily” student protest in early 1990. Of course, your perspective changes as you get older, but I couldn’t help but recall those times when I saw the protests against President and DPP Chairman Chen Shui-bian’s moves to change the name of the hall and remove the inscription from the main gate in the run-up to legislative and presidential elections.

I knew about the appropriation of the inane title “Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall” (is Democracy spread out on a slab inside now? Maybe they’ll put it where CKS’ Cadillacs used to be), but I didn’t know about the latest developments in the DPP’s campaign to remove the characters “Da Zhong Zhi Zheng” that allude to the formal title of late President Chiang Kai-shek until the government announced that it now had jurisdiction over the hall and would commence with the move on Thursday. The DPP’s choice to replace the offending inscription is the painfully unoriginal title of “Liberty Square”.

protestI noticed a few protesters sitting under the massive gate as I walked by on Tuesday evening after badminton practice, so I went over to talk to them. A couple of them were dressed in red from head to foot, and they had improvised a small fake “shrine” to Chen Shui-bian with a cardboard sign predicting that anyone who took down the inscription would suffer a stroke, just as controversial Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu did after doing something similar down there. They huddled in the cold wind and sat on cardboard, waiting just in case the DPP was planning to jump the gun and tear down the inscription in the middle of the night.

I didn’t have my 20D on me at the time, so I went back the next evening with it and took some pictures. The number of protesters had grown, but it was by no means a massive crowd. The media practically outnumbered them. The protesters were a motley group and included serious young men, dumpy middle-aged housewives and one dapper elderly gentleman with white hair wearing a black overcoat and red scarf, looking not unlike a Chinese Peter O’Toole. Another man wore camos and boots. “The Second-wave Anti-Chen Movement: Now is the Time for a Million People to Bravely Take to the Streets!” read his placard. Police barricaded the main memorial stairs and milled around, apparently not sure what they were doing there. I went up to one officer and asked, but he looked away, ignoring me. I picked out another, apparently senior officer, and asked him what the workmen were doing. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve just got orders to be here to ‘assist’.”

There weren’t even a hundred protesters, much less a million, of course. Most people know that the move is purely for election uses, to gain the support of our deep-green friends down south as well as goad the deep-blue contingent into making themselves look bad on TV. At one point yesterday a small truck ran into the crowd, which had spilled out onto the streets after police put up a barbed-wire barricade around the gate, seriously injuring a cameraman. Police are investigating whether or not it was on purpose.

forbiddenI went back to the gate last night to take another look, and the gate was still behind barbed wire and barriers reading “Safety First”. The politically incorrect characters had been torn off in the afternoon by a couple of workers who took hours and many tools to wrest them from the gate, though their imprint could still be seen on the stone surface. The workers had painted over the company name on the crane before the job.

That night, police and reporters still lingered on the scene, chatting and playing chess on makeshift tables by the TV trucks. Only a handful of protesters remained, however, moving a single ROC flag around in front of the wall of barbed wire and taking pictures of the empty space.

posted by Poagao at 12:20 pm  


  1. The Wild Lily protest was a heady time. I remember it too, because I was also there. At the time I remembered wondering if Taiwanese students just wanted a Tiananmen to call their very own.

    But one thing everyone could agree on was the absurdity of the octogenarian Mainland relics remaining in the legislative yuan-at least it was a legitimate protest, in other words.

    I fear you are correct that this one is all about the upcoming elections, and one wonders if the KMT wins will they keep the silliness alive and put the old phrase back.

    If someone really loves Taiwan, they’ll come up with a better name than 自由廣場.

    Comment by Prince Roy — December 8, 2007 @ 6:04 am

  2. […] have also published their opinions and photos. Alton writes about the change. Poagao also has his say. And there were plenty of comments on my post about the issue […]

    Pingback by David on Formosa » Freedom at last — December 8, 2007 @ 9:03 am

  3. These are some great shots of the CKS Gate and the happenings there. Thank you for bringing us these awesome shots and commentary!

    Comment by Joe Gray — December 9, 2007 @ 10:24 am

  4. […] Poagao: Barbarians at the Gate Poagao reflects on the CKS gate name change. (tags: Politics) […]

    Pingback by links for 2007-12-10 | bent — December 10, 2007 @ 2:19 am

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