Friday, June 28, 2013

Razing Huaguang - Another round of Demolition

The Taipei Prison in 1945
On June 7th, Ministry of Justice (MOJ) temporarily suspended demolition of HuaguangCommunity (華光社區) pending evaluation of the remains of the Taipei Prison by the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Taipei City Government.  The Department's Cultural Assets Review Committee then decided the southern wall of Taipei Prison (台北監獄), the residence of the Director of the Prison (典獄長宿舍), the public bathing house (公共浴場) and twenty additional Japanese-style houses eastward of the public bathing house to be historical sites and should not be demolished.  

The director of the Office of Secretary for the Ministry of Justice Yang Jin-he (楊進合) expressed his disbelief, "Of course we were shocked by the decision, because in 2008, the Ministry of Culture already said that place has no historical values and shouldn't be salvaged".

Although parts of the Huaguang Community have escaped the fate of being razed, other demolition proceeded as schedule.  Yesterday, six more homes were destroyed.  It was a short notice, but I decided to go by to witness the demolition.  

Ms. Feng
As I arrived the small alley leading to the Feng's (馮) home, members of the Student Survey Association of Huaguang were already there, along with the young sister of Mr. Feng, the owner of the house and a few reporters. The Feng family has also lived in the tiny, raggedy house for decades.  Ms. Feng said their application for poverty status was denied by the Social Welfare Department, so they receive no public assistance.  Ms. Feng also told us that her nephew is mentally challenged and her sister-in-law has been suffering from mental illness since they were forced out of their homes.  Her older brother is a taxi driver.  

"He now drives day and night but still can't afford the living expenses of his family", she said, "How are we going to be able to afford the NT$1,1900 monthly rent for public housing and the addition NT$900 maintenance fee the Taipei City government charges us!?  And we could only live at that apartment for the maximum of three years.  Then, we have to be displaced again!"

Ms. Huang and colleague
Ms. Huang (黃) of the Taipei District Court also arrived at the scene shortly after me.  She seemed to be in a much better mood compared with the two previous demolitions I observed, where she was seen berating and hassling the residents to move out and sign the paperworks, while ordering the police to arrest the student protesters. 

As Ms. Huang saw me getting eaten alive by mosquitos and scratching myself like a money, she called out to me, "Hey, you want some bug spray?" 

She handed me the spray and also gave me some minty ointment to apply to my arms and legs, now were full of red bumps of all sizes.  "These people were cooperative", she said in a small voice, "When they received the final the eviction notice from the court, they left".  

A small argument ensued as one of the community residents attempted to take photographs of Ms. Huang and her colleague from the Agency of Correction of MOJ.  Law enforcement was then called to the scene.  

Mrs. Wu
As everyone waited for the machinery to arrive, I circled around the plot onto Hanzhou S. Road, where other houses were also being demolished.  As I walked around the bulldozer, I saw Mrs. Wu, the owner of a small stir-fry restaurant, sitting across the street, with her eyes close and obviously praying.  She looked as if she is in deep distress, wiping her tears several times as she continued to pray.  Her restaurant was demolished in May, and she still owes the government a few million NT dollars for "illegally profiting" off the land for the past 45 years.  

"Ah-yi (Auntie)!" I called out to her, as I ran across the three-lane traffic to get to her, "What are you doing here?"  "Namo Amitabha (Praise Buddha/南無阿彌陀佛)!" she said, "they are destroying everything, taking everything from us". This is the first time I've seen Mrs. Wu looking so depressed, as she has always been the lively and feisty one.

She then started to rant about anything and everything from her current living condition to the stress she suffered over the years due to the constant fear of eviction and the exorbitant amount of fine she now owes the government. Mrs. Wu exclaimed, "I paid my water bill, gas bill, electric bill for the past 45 years, and I paid taxes. I have a door number, and we received mail at the restaurant, so how is that that we were there illegally? I'm going to take to the streets every chance I get now. I really have nothing else t lose".

I bid farewell to Mrs. Wu and got to the Feng's house in time to see the demolition. As the Feng's home was being raze to the ground, I moved toward other demolition sites, where Mr. Chao's (趙) carwash and detailing service and Mr. Wu's tailor (吳) store were also being demolished. Mr. Chao sat on a small stool across the business and home he resided for decades observing the demolition crew. He moved out a few days prior but was seen going back to his old home almost everyday, just standing and pondering.

I left the sounds of heavy machinery behind soon after to continue with the rest of my day.

At the Two Covenants Evaluation hearing yesterday (兩公約結論性意見審查會議), on the
controversy surrounding the Huaguang Community, it was decided that the Ministry of Interior would include the demands of the residents on its meeting agenda and request the involving government agencies to send representatives to yet another conference to resolve the respected issues, a conclusion the residents and advocates considered as merely tactics to prevent further protests.

Hearing (Photo by 施逸翔)
Lastly, I recently read in an article critical of the Kuomintang's policy toward China. While suggesting the Taiwanese should demand a KMT Taiwan Policy, the author argued the civil society in Taiwan can play a significant role but then suggested the demonstrators against media mergers (The Anti-Media Monopoly Movement is not only about against certain media mergers) and the advocates of Huaguang Community to somehow "elevate" their protests to "questions about cross-strait policies and the future of Taiwan".

This interpretation of both movements is an erroneous one. Both movements should not be considered as merely domestic without cross-strait, international implications. One of the permanent slogans of the Anti-Media Monopoly movement was "Reject China's Blackhand (拒絕中國黑手). The members of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters consistently contended that the reason for their activism is to safeguard Taiwan's freedom of speech and press, "because we are free right now, and we have democracy. We also don't want to return to authoritarianism and experience what our parents have experienced". (Excerpt from an interview with a PhD student from Soochow University, January 4th, 2013).

For Huaguang, the government is seeking to raze the plot to make space for a glitzy, posh, clubbing and shopping district resembles Tokyo's Roppongi district, aiming to please tourists, namely from China. As the protesters and residents of Huaguang often said at demonstrations, Taiwan's government should never behave as the government of China, as Taiwan is a democracy. One Huaguang resident even used the similarity of pronunciation of "China" with the verb "Tearing down (拆啦!)" to urge the government not to destroy her house on March 27th (I've written in greater detail on the government's plan in my other entries on the Huaguang community).

I look forward to examining the Executive Yuan's altered plan for the Huaguang Community, now that parts of the plot is protected.

The Feng's house

Mrs. Wu praying 

Mr. Wu, whose tailor shop was demolished on June 26th.

Mr. Chao watched as the demolition crew worked to raze his carwash business 

Government workers waiting for the demolition to finish

1 comment:

Mike Fagan said...


I hope there are people in Taipei who are willing and able to help these poor souls relocate and set themselves up again.