【Museum Link AP】The Challenges of Cultural Heritage Preservation Post-National Emblem: Reflecting on the Difficulties of Revitalizing Yangmingshan Chungshan Hall

2017 marks the 30th anniversary of End of Martial Law in Taiwan. As we come to a critical moment in the construction of our national and ethnic identity, we must contemplate on how to preserve our critical cultural heritages, create a form of historical consensus, and try to explore the possibility of an imagined community for the future.
In recent years, the historical exploration and museum construction centering on negative heritages, such as the 228 incident and white terror period, continued to generate discussions, with hope that, after reflecting on our history, we can try to mend the differences between ethnic groups, and reshape our national identity. However, it seems that as of now, we have not yet begun to discuss the preservation and revitalization of cultural heritages from the time of authoritarian regime, with the cultural value of these historical sites often overwhelmed by the rise of creativity industry and museum management. With the pressure of operation cost and the sensitivity of the subject, how should these cultural heritages from the authoritarian regime present itself to the public?
This article will use Yangmingshan Chungshan Hall as an example, examining the cultural value of Chungshan Hall based on cultural economist David Throsby’s six cultural values, reflect on the difficulty and possibility of revitalizing cultural heritages from the time of authoritarian regime based on the conclusion, then finally faces the challenges of ideology and cultural value re-evaluation beyond transitional justice


Author: Yin, Pao-Ning (Professor, Graduate School of Arts Management and Cultural Policy, NTUA)

Editor: Sally,Tian, Sz-Yu


Judgement on the value of cultural heritage

When you think of cultural issues, you are actually evaluating cultural value. This is a tough but essential mission referring to the practice of cultural heritage preservation in Taiwan. However, unlike price of a commodity is based on the market status, the value of cultural heritages has a structural dilemma with difficult evaluation from exchange value and reference price. And the bigger challenge comes from the value measurement of symbolism, meaning and ideology. For example, this is the 30th year Taiwan has ended the practice of martial law. Our land, which had experienced colonial rule and authoritarian regime, is also in the critical moment of constructing national and ethnic identity just like many other Asian countries. On the one hand, how to take perspective and preserve our cultural heritages to have some degree of historical consensus; on the other hand, in the process of building consensus, and then we can explore the possibility of an imagined community for the future. In other words, although many researchers have dedicated to connect and evaluate the value of cultural heritages with economic concept and methods in recent years, the value and the assessment still have to be derived from cultural discourse studies.


Review and introspect of negative heritage

Recently, the concept of “negative heritage” is popular in museums and field of cultural heritage preservation in Taiwan, focused mainly on the truth of the 228 incident and the white terror in order to try and reach salvation and forgiveness. The intention of museums including National Human Right Museum, 228 Memorial Museum and the on-site museum in Jingmei and Green Island is to review and to introspect this history from the memory of victims and their family. These memories of history are gradually recalled by investigation report, exhibitions and education, expected to heal the pain. Nevertheless, it seems that as of now, the discussions of relative elements remain veiled and the historical sites are even overwhelmed by the rise of creativity industry and museum management.


The difficulties of revitalizing Yangmingshan Chungshan Hall
Yangmingshan Chungshan Hall (photo credit: Chungshan Hall Facebook fanpage)


Yangmingshan Chungshan Hall was shrouded in mystery under the authoritarian regime in Taiwan and in the name of 50th commemorative ceremony in 2016; it seems that Chungshan Hall is revived again at this activity after revoked by National Assembly long time ago. If we read relative documents from the operating team, we can notice that the marketing strategies are based on “Opening the Mysterious Box" to attract people to lay eyes on this cultural heritage. For example, they emphasize on revealing daily lives and work areas of Chiang Kai-Shek and Soong May-Ling or the Feng-shui tales surrounding the spectacular building and the great dictator, the stories telling the difficulties while building Chungshan Hall with limited resources and insufficient technical equipment but succeed eventually.  But these simplified strategies narrow down the value and position of the essential historic relics and even use symbolism to discuss the meaning of contemporary space and architecture in Taiwan society with obviously disorganized planning.

The 50th Chungshan Hall commemorative ceremony in 2016 (photo credit: Chungshan Hall official website)


Facing the trend of neoliberalism worldwide, cultural heritages and museums face much higher pressure on making their own operation costs than before. Since Yangmingshan Chungshan Hall was not used for National Assembly after 2005, the public have doubted the costs for maintenance and manpower hence requested the hall to run profit-oriented business. For a period of time, Chungshan Hall was once transformed into a renting venue for wedding or year-end banquet etc., causing different dispute from people thinking it’s shameful that a historical site with high cultural value becomes an entertaining place. After supervision unit changed from Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall to National Taiwan Library in 2012, the operating team changed strategies to revitalize Chungshan Hall as it was. At present, the operation is relies on a team of five with 30 million NTD annual budget; however, this cost is only sufficient for basic operation such as cleaning, security and maintenance etc. Other budgets, such as restoration for historic buildings can only count on program grant from authority. Under this situation, it is easy to understand the reason why the operating team needs to increase profit by cultural marketing and creative industries to support the business. But an existence of a museum or cultural relic memorial hall should not only be a space for visiting but a site demonstrating historical value that can bring us together with a precious, mutual and acceptable culture, history and aesthetics. And that is a role that good public museums should play in terms of social education and claim the legitimacy in the use of official budget. That is to say that being a museum, especially those that was historical heritage, must be criticized with its cultural value.


Chungshan Hall under the perspective of cultural value

It is true that cultural value itself is hard to be examined, and in order to raise profile to public for discussion and bringing up ideas, helping to connect individual with community to view culture as “public goods". Particularly, issues such as cultural heritages or similar topics can make up a field for communication and discussion. Cultural economist David Throsby delineates six different types including aesthetic value, spiritual value, social value, historical value, symbolic value and authenticity value to arouse attention and discussion for cultural value. With these six dimensions, how do we examine the entire cultural value of Yangmingshan Chungshan Hall?

From the aspect of aesthetic value, this building has its historical value and has witnessed the process of Chinese architecture modernization. However, under the period of authoritarian regime, classic Chinese palatial architecture implies a certain kind of imperialism to represent the “Chinese cultural revitalization", fighting against Cultural Revolution at that time. How do we treat these symbols and ideologies? In terms of spiritual value, the water source of Yangmingshan hot spring, where Chungshan Hall is located, have always been speculated as a Feng-Shui treasure-land for an emperor; also, Yangmingshan was just like a backyard garden of Chiang’s family in their reign. Compared to Chungshan Hall, which had been long controlled by Ministry of National Defense, the spirit of Yangmingshan National Park can more easily arouse spiritual identity of Taiwanese citizens.

National Assembly in Chungshan Hall (photo credit: Chungshan Hall official website)


From the perspective of society, Chungshan Hall was proud of itself as a place used by National Assembly, symbolizing the greatness of people sovereignty. However, public can easily feel alienated from its classic palatial style, not to mention that it still preserves an area that used to be private to Chiang Kai-Shek and Song Mei-Ling which are still not opened to people to this day. It is such an ironic icon towards direct democracy in Taiwan. Taking perspective from historical level, the monumental value comes from opposition movement. As a place for protests gatherings for a certain issue after breaking through the security cordon, or the building of those who attended meetings after actively campaigning for delegate to the National Assembly in order to reform the system, these are the crucial moments for the development of present democracy. If one really wants to concentrate on the history of Chungshan Hall, these past events and stories are actually the ones with true value in our history. From the above discussions, what does this great building printed on the NTD$100 bill represent to us in an abstract-symbolic dimension? Or just because it has a similar grandeur of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Chungshan Hall can simply be claimed its value and needs no verification by means of cultural heritages registration system?

Chungshan Hall is printed on the NTD$100 bill (photo credit: Chungshan Hall Facebook fanpage)


Last but not least, in the point of authenticity value, this building definitely is an impossible achievement regarding the poor quality of construction engineering in that time, but perhaps no one has ever mentioned the cost of Chungshan Hall is NTD$ 200 million equivalent to the luxury pulic construction costing about NTD$ 19.3 billion today based on the level of national income. Among them are many cultural goods of wood, stone, jade and pottery; moreover, plenty of rare painting and calligraphy from famous artist including Ji Kang, Huang Jun-Bi, Zeng Hou-xi, Ou Hao-Nian, Wang Zhuang-Wei, Lin Yu-Shan and Jiang Zhao-Shen etc. are all collected in Chungshan Hall. There are 20 pieces of them are classified as valuable museum collection after evaluated by experts. Besides, according to researchers’ inference, many cultural goods in Chungshan Hall were introduced by Song Mei-Ling. However, even those collections do have their artistic value, but when they are placed in this historical site, there is a grey area of how we view and understand their values and preserve them well?

Chungshan Hall living room with Ji Kang’s artwork (photo credit: Chungshan Hall official website)


The chain of ideology and reconsideration of cultural value

The operating team now focuses on the architecture itself and the cultural goods inside, fully representing their passion and emphasis. But the members can only get the appropriation of digital archive from Ministry of Science and Technology to precede the plan of digitization and imitation. In the short term, even though these cultural goods are masterpieces of the time with certain value and reputation, they are facing the challenge and difficulties in presentation while they are connect with ideology and aesthetics of governor in authoritarian regime.

Yangmingshan Chungshan Hall is listed in Docomomo International as a representative work of Taiwan modernism architecture for its outstanding construction operation. It also witnesses the postwar development of constitutional and political system in Taiwan. Yet, just like other Asian countries, we also encounter the process of decolonization and democratization after World War II along with the inevitable trend of political liberation movement. Obviously, we still have a long way to go in challenging present ideology and reconsidering the cultural value beyond the transitional justice in cultural heritage preservation and museum management.