Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chiang Bei Bei (蔣伯伯) - An unexpected Acquaintance

Chiang Bei Bei - Courtesy of BitanPhotos
Chiang Bei Bei (蔣伯伯/Uncle Chiang) of the Huaguang Community is someone I didn't expect to become acquainted with before I embarked on my research journey to Taiwan.  An 85-year-old mainlander from Jiangsu Province, China, a staunch supporter of the Kuomintang and former radish cake vendor, Chiang Bei Bei fled to Taiwan with the Kuomintang troops when he was in his early 20s.  He has never been married but has since returned to China for visits a few times. But, he always comes back, back to the Huaguang Community, where he is most familiar and most comfortable.  

At 6am on this Wednesday, the bulldozers and workers hired by the Ministry of Justice will come to demolish the humble little house Chiang Bei Bei calls home for decades.  The Ministry of Justice claims the land and is accusing Chiang Bei Bei, along with other residents of the Huaguang Community, of illegally occupying its land, a piece prime real estate located behind the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial.  Some even accused Chiang Bei Bei and the residents of Huaguang Community of standing in the way of modernity, as the government sought to remove all the houses to make room for a flashy, glitzy neighborhood that resembles Tokyo's Roppongi Community.  The government made no relocation plans or offered any assistance until late last week.  The Taipei City Government with MOJ begrudgingly offered a few public housing units, located in Nankang, for the residents on a first-come-first-serve basis and the requirement of signing a promise note.  The promise note is the residents' guarantee that they will not apply for any rent assistance (Rent for these units  is NTD$13,000/USD$433 per month) and agree to a two-year contract with one year extension.  The notice was posted to the community on April 13th, and the residents had to apply by April 17th.  The government also sued some of the residents for illegally profiting from the land, as some of them owned small shops and food stands in the community.  

Notice to apply for public housing
Most residents of Huaguang Community caved under the extreme finance and legal pressure.  Some decided to demolish their houses on their own to avoid demolition fees, and others settled with the government for lesser fine.  The residents of Huaguang Community are by no means against modernization and progress.  They also agreed their houses were built on public land.  On the other hand, the government allowed them to live on the land for decades.  Some residents have been living on the property since they fled to Taiwan from China, and some residents were already living on the land during the Japanese Era.  They paid property taxes and received electric, water and gas bills from the government.  To these people, moving is not an option, because they simple cannot afford and do not have the means to move.  They live at the poverty line and most of them are elderly and ill.

Chiang Bei Bei is one of the residents who decided to stay until the very last minute. 

Courtesy of BitanPhotos
Politicians love to laud Taiwan's democracy and development.  President Ma Ying-jeou often mentions in speeches that the democracy and development stories of Taiwan can serve as example for China and other countries.  What the politicians should be more aware of and acknowledge, is a high-quality democracy possesses certain criteria.  Humanity, compassion and protection of the most helpless are essential elements of such democracy, along with rule of law, a robust civil and political society.  One also must not forget (and I remind myself often), it's one thing to write and read journal articles, to sit on panels and engage in grand political and social issues discussions, but for every social and political issue, there are real human beings behind it.

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