A cemetery’s destruction highlights Taiwan’s systemic lack of cultural preservation.
Date: February 22, 2018
By: James X. Morris
Taiwan has a problem with preserving its cultural assets. Despite a rich documented history spanning nearly four centuries of European, Ming, Qing, Japanese, and
The destruction of the front section of Xindian First Public Cemetery, 2016. Several tombstones from the Qing and Japanese periods were salvaged with the help of the demolition crew.
Image Credit: James X. Morris
Republican conquest, each successive administrative government sought to stamp out traces of the previous regime while establishing its own. Understandably many of Taiwan’s cultural assets and heritage sites have been lost due to activities in the past. But today, 30 years after the end of martial law, and 20 years after democratization, in a period where the Taiwanese are free to proudly discuss and display their heritage, there is still a systemic attempt to destroy its ancient, colonial, and cultural artifacts.
Today’s destructive force is development, and the perverse tragedy of modern Taiwan is that in its push to be recognized as a great modern nation, priority is taken away from the cultural assets that give it its identity. The forces of local planning and popular consumption have framed a path that a small but growing voice of preservationists are attempting to pull the island away from, highlighting a split in the debate over Taiwan’s future.
The latest battleground over Taiwan’s future is a cemetery in New Taipei City’s Xindian District. The cemetery was once home to more than 5,000 tombs, many dating to the Qing Dynasty and Japanese colonial period, which, due to terrain constraints, has preserved the traditional worship practices of local families for nearly three centuries. The cemetery is in the process of being demolished to make room to expand Xindian’s industrial cluster, a move that preservationists argue will destroy the district’s anchor to its past. A devastating flood in the early 20th century destroyed much of the district’s buildings from the Qing Dynasty and Japanese colonial period, leaving Xindian First Public Cemetery as one of the area’s oldest remaining sites. [FULL STORY]