Sunday, August 9, 2009

Me, Freddy Lim, Chiang Kai-shek, Art and Taiwanese Identity: Confessions of a Rainbow-Chaser

By Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Taiwanese will not find their true identity as an island nation until they fully realize the indoctrination and brain-washing they endured under Chiang Kai-shek (CKS). They will not find their true identity until they realize that he had nothing to do with them except to take advantage of them in their hour of need and to exploit them in his hour of need. It is for this reason that one of the saddest and most disappointing things to recently happen in Taiwan has been the changing of the name of Democracy Hall back to that of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. This move is a step backwards for democracy in Taiwan and symptomatic of Ma Ying-jeou’s attempts to fabricate past credibility for his Sino-centric (not Taiwan-centric) government.

Allegedly there was to be a discussion of the matter of this name change (read that a move typical of Ma’s lip service hypocrisy). However, totally lacking was any detailed record or publication of this discussion and its proportion, i.e. who specifically was for the re-naming and who was against it, what polls were taken, what percentage of the people supported it etc. No, before Taiwan knew it and while the Kaohsiung World Games distracted the country, the name was changed back. Perhaps Ma felt a discussion with Taiwan-basher Kuo Kuan-ying was sufficient.

For this reason I found myself drawn into a strange but real threesome, between myself, Freddy Lim and Chiang Kai-shek. Strange? Here was I a university professor, writer, and former Manager of Technology Transfer on Taipei and Kaohsiung’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Systems, Freddy Lim the lead singer of Chthonic a popular Taiwanese black metal band, and CKS the dead dictator responsible for bringing the latest group of beggars that wanted to take over the temple of Taiwan (乞丐趕廟公).

It was during this same name restoration that I imagined Freddy stole a thought from my mind. For when I first heard that the name of the dead dictator (CKS) was going to be restored to the memorial, I pondered. If Taiwanese could not stop this name from being forced down their throats, then how could they protest it? What could they do particularly with the huge statue of CKS there?

First I imagined that teams of loyal followers of Su Beng would periodically and symbolically douse the walls of that white marble mausoleum with red paint to symbolize the numerous deaths that CKS was responsible for in both 2-28 and the subsequent white terror period. This constant red stain on the marble walls would be a steady reminder of the barbarism of that man. If a more dramatic action was desired, I pictured some loyal Taiwanese getting a bazooka or shoulder missile launcher and from a distance placing a shot right through the chest of the statue of CKS. A statue with its guts blown out; now that could be a possible solution.

Then symbolic expressions flitted through my mind. What would be the way for a more symbolic criticism? The statue is gigantic; it could not be removed by simply lifting it by crane. When installed, the memorial had been built around it. In Kaohsiung, which had a smaller statute, it had to be cut up and taken away in pieces.

But what if the statue did not need to be removed entirely? What if the head were simply cut off and the body of the statue left there decapitated. That would be a more practical solution and yet highly symbolic. A large sign could be put in the lap of the statue stating “Let this be the end of all dictators and enemies of Taiwan’s democracy.” What could be a more fitting sign of Taiwan’s developing democracy coming to terms with its past than the headless statue of a past dictator?

It was at this point that in reading the news, I found out that Freddy Lim had already stolen my thoughts. Stole them? Well alright, this heavy metal singer didn’t really steal my thoughts; he probably doesn’t even know who I am. Instead, he simply beat me to their expression. Recently Freddy and the band had produced a new video cum song featuring the beheading of CKS and the burning of appropriate flags to boot.

This was a blending of art and reality. I knew Freddy and Chthonic from various sources and had heard them at the Free Tibet concert in Taipei this past July. They put their money where their mouth or where their music is. Heavy metal may not be your cup of tea, but whether one is into heavy metal or not, one cannot dispute Chthonic’s loyalty to Taiwan and making it a part of their art. There are no current Taiwanese musicians who feel and simultaneously express their sense of Taiwanese identity more stridently than Freddy and his band. Many singers and musicians may be Taiwanese at heart but not wanting to offend the China market they will keep their thoughts to themselves or play them low key.

Chthonic’s music on the other hand expresses the myths and history of the country. They see it as a nation with its own identity. They even make it part of their art. True, art does not always need to make such protest statements. Art can and often exists without them, but in these troubled and tumultuous times, Taiwan needs more artists like Freddy and Chthonic.

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