An Unusual Cemetery Houses Many of Taiwan's Forgotten Dead

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Sunday May 03, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Situated on a small mountain overlooking Taipei Medical University and in the shadow of Taipei 101 is a cemetery. That there would be a cemetery there is not necessarily unusual but what makes this cemetery unique is the strange and unusual mixture of graves within it recalling different periods of Taiwan's historic and often tragic past.

The most prominent of the graves is that of Chiang Wei-shui (1891--1931) the founder of the Taiwanese Cultural Association and the Taiwanese People's Party during the Japanese era. Chiang was originally buried in Guandu near Tamsui (1931) but was moved here after World War II partly for political reasons and partly because his original large monument was destroyed by the Japanese. It appears that Allied planes had been using it as a marker when following the river up towards Taipei.

Chiang's legacy is claimed by both the blue and the green camps of Taiwan politics. The blues see him as one who was strongly anti-Japanese and therefore sharing sympathy with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) that fought Japan during World War II. The greens see him as anti-Japanese but anti-Japanese in the colonial sense of supporting Taiwanese nationalism. He was after all a developer of the Taiwanese Cultural Association and Taiwanese People's Party. His thoughts on Taiwanese nationalism would have probably gotten him executed in the KMT White Terror period.

Nearby Chiang's grave is an area for those soldiers who fought under Chiang Kai-shek and were either evacuated or forced to evacuate with him in 1949. Many of these soldiers had to leave their families and loved ones in China and come to Taiwan alone. When they died, there was no one left to care for their remains or honor them and so they were buried in what are the equivalent of pauper's graves; they have a simple headstone bearing their name and the name of the province they came from.

Another nearby area is reserved for those who were victims of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) White Terror period. They too have the equivalent of pauper's graves with simple headstone etc. For many of these, their families never knew what happened to them and even where they were buried until many years later when records were open and available. Among them is the artist Huang Rung-tsan accused of being a Communist spy and executed November 14, 1952. Huang's woodblock print of 2-28 with KMT soldiers shooting Taiwanese civilians is known to many acquainted with Taiwan's past.

Another section is reserved for Muslims and within it are buried many of the Republic of China (ROC) soldiers who were Muslim. The most famous in that group is General Bai Chongxi or Pai Chung-hsi (1893--1966). Bai was a brilliant military strategist with a long history of victories; he was one of the few successful generals under Chiang Kai-shek, something which would automatically pose a threat to Chiang's megalomaniac leadership.

A different but related story linked to the cemetery is the mortuary there run by Mr. Qian De-rong. Qian came with his family in 1949 to establish a branch of a Shanghai business under the well-known gangster "Big-Eared" Du Yuesheng. Du had remained in Hong Kong after the war and until his death in 1951, but the mortuary's job was to take care of the burial of the ROC soldiers with no relatives; later in 1991 when cross-strait hostilities had lessened, this mortuary helped ship the bones and ashes of several of these soldiers back to relatives in China. Bai Chongxi was military overseer of Shanghai when Du helped carry out the "Shanghai Purge" of communists and labor activists in 1927.

This cemetery is a treasure trove of history for those interested. To see some photos of it go either to the bar marked Protest Art on the left and click on it. Then go to the section marked "Graves of Political Prisoners from the White Terror Period" or click here.