Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cihu: Taiwan’s most surreal tourist site

Taiwan has many traditional tourist sites, loaded with beautiful scenery, monuments, and architecture, which reflect Taiwan's long and varied history. One of its most interest sites, Cihu, is remarkable for a different quality, its sheer air of unreality.

Cihu is a short drive from Taipei City and the Taoyuan Airport, and well repays a visit, but first you must understand a little of the history of Taiwan and Chiang Kai-Shek. When the Chinese Communists defeated the Nationalists in 1949, General Chiang brought the Nationalist government to Taiwan, where he served as President until his death in 1975.

As a result of his importance and long reign, statues of him were put up everywhere, including virtually every park, school and public building. However, in recent years, Chiang Kai-Shek has become somewhat of a political football, and many of these statues were taken down.

That is where Cihu comes in. Cihu was Chiang's home in Taiwan, and in fact his former house has become his mausoleum. There was a small lake and park attached to the house, and when the Chiang statues were taken down elsewhere in Taiwan, Cihu offered to provide a home for them. 

Chiang Kai-Sheks for all tastes and attitudes. (Click on any picture to enlarge.)

The result was the Cihu Memorial Statue Park (慈湖紀念雕塑公園), perhaps the world’s most bizarre memorial, with hundreds of Chiang Kai-Shek statues and busts edging the lake and scattered around the grounds. These statues are of many materials and different poses, and are mounted singly and in surreal conversational groups, all of the same person.

You will first want to visit the Chiang Mausoleum. People line up and wait patiently to file one by one past his sarcophagus in his former living room, where visitors pay their respects by bowing as they pass by. It is a solemn moment, and you wonder what is passing through the minds of the older people who remember Chiang, perhaps even fought with him, and whose lives were greatly influenced by Chiang and the period of Chinese history which he represents.

Chiang's sarcophagus in his former house. No photos were allowed inside, so this is from Wikipedia.

These serious thoughts are replaced by those of amazement as you pass on to the Statue Park. Rather than attempt to describe them, I’ll let the statues speak for themselves:  

Most of these standing Chiang Kai-Sheks are slightly larger than life-sized.

This dashing equestrian statue adds some flair to the mix.

With those beautiful woods and mountains in the background, one can see why Chiang loved his home at Cihu.


A row of Chiang Kai-Shek busts on pedestals borders the lake.


A large bronze seated statue is missing a few parts.

Standing perpetually can be tiring, so these seated Chiang Kai-Sheks are taking it easy.
 
The designers of the park did a very good job. They did not crowd the statues or have so many that it would become overwhelming or like visiting a storage facility. In spite of the surreal aspect, the park retains a pleasant and intimate quality.

That hillside might be a good spot for a picnic.

This bust seems to be sinking into its pedestal.
 
While these statues have been removed from many sites around Taiwan, there has been no major effort to obliterate Chiang’s memory. It is true that the Chiang Kai-Shek Airport was officially renamed the Taoyuan International Airport, and several large-scale memorials were dismantled, including the monumental statue in the National Palace Museum.

However, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Plaza in Taipei is unaltered, and with its concert and exhibition halls, gardens, and spacious plaza, is an important place for both locals and tourists. And there are still many local statues and monuments scattered about. While some sites have been shorn of their Chiang statues, perhaps the mass display at Cihu provides an even stronger focus for remembering Chiang Kai-Shek and reflecting on his life and accomplishments.

A wide variety of poses visible here.

What is the most bizarre tourist site that you have come across? Please let me know what you think of Cihu park—whether you find it insane or an apt memorial.



(All photos except Chiang’s sarcophagus taken by the author.)

24 comments:

  1. Hello Jim:
    The park at Cihu does indeed have a surreal quality to it, we can imagine that one rather expects to bump into the live Chiang Kai-Shek at any moment. Or, perhaps, that one of the statues will spring to life as one passes by!!!There certainly is an amazing variation on a single theme here. One can scarcely believe the number of ways in which Chiang Kai-Shek was depicted and in such a range of colours too!!!

    The Park reminds us very much of the Statue Park in the outskirts of Budapest where communist monuments, especially larger than life Lenins, have been massed together, initially dumped out of sight of public view, and now re-erected as tourist attractions. Solemn music of the era is piped over the area too to add to the atmosphere. Is this the same in the Cihu Memorial Statue Park too?

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    1. Hello Jane and Lance, I agree with you that all these statues so close together do have a zombie-like quality. Luckily, in case they become reanimated, they are mostly smiling or benign in expression. I just looked up some photos of Budapest's Statue Park, and in general they looked more fearsome.

      The Egyptians sometimes had alleys of statues, but nothing like the close-set groupings seen here. I don't recall any music, but since the people in Taiwan love noise, let's not give them any ideas!

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  2. Hello Jim,
    (I hope I am not being too forward in joining with others and calling you that?)

    Anyway, when I saw the first photos I thought they were statues of men playing golf and leaning on the sticks, appraising the other player's shot!

    I enjoyed this post and I think that surreal really is the mot juste for the park.

    I like it. I like the colours and the groupings. \i like the setting as well and yes there is something vaguely akin to the Egyptian penchant for rows of clone like statues but I think that the set up works. I particularly like the ones seated in what look like comfortable arm chairs but I presume are state thrones or some such.

    I must say that Taiwan looks to be an interesting place.

    As for bizarre tourist sites. I can't really think of any. I have seen the giant rainbow trout statue in the middle of Adaminaby in New South Wales and I think that the Latona fountain at Versailles is fairly bizarre with all those country people being turning into frogs... I will have to have a think about it.

    Kirk

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    1. Hello Kirk, They do look like golfers, especially posed on the grass like that. I also like how they were cleverly arranged, rather than just serried together, although the fact that there are several of those brick rings becomes confusing.

      I just looked up the NSW Giant Trout and found it very amusing. The small fountain that it rises from really makes it look like "a fish out of water". You were lucky to tour Australia.

      The Latona Fountain is even better; the French seem to have a way with frogs--have you seen Starewicz's Les Grenouilles?

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  3. Oh, how strange! Really eerie with the endless repetition of the same figure / face. At first, I thought those were figures of actual people / tourists. Too bad because the park looks lovely.

    Jim, why has Chiang Kai-Shek's popularity gone down? I thought he was highly regarded in Taiwan. --Loi






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    1. Hello Loi, Taiwan is very political and strongly bipartisan, an arena I try to stay away from. Chiang represented the Nationalist KMT (Kuomingtang), or Blue Party, so when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), or Green Party, gets into office, they attempt to remove symbols of the opposition.

      Since you live in America, this basic system should be endlessly familiar to you!

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  4. Hello Jim - that is both weird and bizarre. It seems to be a trait of some leaders to perpetuate themselves in statuary and be viewed in their mausoleums. I have seen both Lenin and Mao Zedong in their sarcophaguses, some say that they are actually wax.
    This is not a bizarre tourist site but H had a bizarre experience when he travelled to Iraq at the invitation of Saddam Hussein's government to attend a conference. This was years before the troubles. He was sent a first class ticket for Iraqi Airways, and never one to sit around he decided to explore the plane and stretch his legs. He opened the door at the rear of the second class and nearly stumbled into the body of the plane. There were no seats, nothing, just a vast empty expanse which looked as it if it was lined with tinfoil.

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    1. Hello Rosemary, The Roman and Egyptian leaders were also adept at the statue strategy, and a lot of the art that adorns museums today was discarded or buried when that ruler or dynasty ended. The severe damage seen on ancient statues is not always due to the ravages of time, but often deliberately inflicted by successors who resented the previous reign.

      What a strange story about the Iraqi flight. It reminds me of the stories of steerage passage on old boats to America, a horror that had to be endured not only by the slaves taken from Africa, but also anyone from Europe that could not afford the better (in this case Human) service. Some things apparently don;t change, even in the jet age.

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  5. I think it's fabulous. Definitely surreal, but strangely apt--it will make people pay much more attention than they would if they were in their typical locations. This is like a grand art installation. I love it.

    Right now, I can't think of any strange tourist sights I've been to, but I'll return if I do.

    This was fun!

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    1. Hello Jen, I like your attitude towards this site. How many times do we walk by statues in some park or town green, and not even notice them, let alone recall who they represent. It is certainly impossible to ignore these statues.

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    2. I think it's called Bronze General Syndrome.

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    3. The odd thing is that very few of them are bronze--most of them are made of cheap materials like cement, painted to look like more expensive stone or bronze.

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  6. I like this idea very well indeed, and it can be applied to many countries which have overexposed their past leaders. However in most cases of that, the personality cult was of someone pretty hideous - Saddam Hussein, Stalin to name a couple, so their fate on a rubbish heap, or melted down for scrap is no bad thing. The people of Turkmenistan, North Korea etc etc will have their work, (or welding) cut out from them.

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    1. Hello Columnist, I see what you mean about a memorial that might honor recognized villains such as Hussein, etc. However, it is interesting that enough time has passed that the ruler is disconnected from direct memory, they might be viewed in a more historical context. For example, I imagine that most museums would be happy to get a bust or statue of Caligula, and would not hide it in storage. Even so, I bet that an entire museum or gallery devoted to him would draw some objections of impropriety.

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  7. Hello Jim,

    I like the idea of this park, though I could see it as the subject of a Twilight Zone episode! I would think that the tourists who pay their respects here, especially those who thought well of Chiang kai-Shek, would be feel a tinge of sadness. It's a reminder of so many sites that have elected to move into a new age. The statues also remind me a little of the poem "Ozymandius."

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    1. Hello Mark, You have come up with the perfect literary reference for Chiang Kai-Shek: Ozymandian, indeed, although coming to Taiwan was a major setback for him during his life.

      I don't think that there is any sadness here over his fate. As I mentioned, Chiang's image is still everywhere, including on Taiwan's money, so he won't be forgotten anytime soon.

      I love your idea of filming a movie there--there are lots of young, idea-laden filmmakers here who could do a lot with that incredible atmosphere; the film could be apolitical or not.

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  8. Very interesting ! I wonder how many of them are they ? Does anybody counts these ? The human desire to remain deathless at the passage of time ...
    It is a park full of the history .Thank you for sharing this !
    Have a nice day !
    Olympia

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    1. Hello Olympia, I don't know the exact number, but it appears to be in the hundreds. If I go back there, I will try to get a count, or at least an estimate. Your comment about the park containing history is very astute--in its most unusual fashion, it not only dramatizes the holding of power, but its decline as well.

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  9. Dear Jim,
    What a strange and wonderful place Cihu is! It's so interesting to see all of the Chiang Kai-Sheks together, and so telling that the majority are slightly out of scale... It seems to me that being there, with the statues and the visitors, would provide opportunity for insight into how the Taiwanese grapple with their own history. I'd love to see it for myself-- thanks for sharing it!
    Warm regards,
    Erika

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    1. Hello Erika, I'm guessing that statues in public places would have to be at least slightly larger than life-sized, otherwise at even a small distance they would look shrunken and unimportant.

      When I was at Cihu, it seemed that the local people were very serious when visiting the nearby mausoleum, but they took the statue park mostly in a spirit of fun.

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  10. Hi Jim,

    I actually was not aware such a park existed, though I have definitely heard of the name 慈湖. The depiction of Chiang as an equestrian figure intrigues me the most. There is a definite resemblance to the sculpture of Marcus Aurelius (even in Chiang's hand gesture). I would also compare and contrast Chiang's horse to the terra-cotta horses at Emperor Qin's tumulus. Chiang's horse has that same alert and military quality, but not as disciplined or posed as Qin's horses. What do you think?

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    1. Hello Yvonne, Cihu is very close to (perhaps part of) Daxi (大溪, another popular tourist site), so visits can be combined. I would go while it is still relatively new and well-maintained; it is a great photo-opportunity.

      Those are very apt remarks about the equestrian pose, I also think it would be interesting to study parallels for all the statues--they do seem to have Western and Classical counterparts. It's funny you mention Emperor Qin's terracotta army. There definitely are some parallels, but one feature of the terracotta army is that every figure is different.

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  11. This reminds me of Statue Park outside of Budapest, where many of the Soviet era statues from the center of the city were placed after the dissolution of the USSR. They layout of the park is a subtle commentary on the Soviet-dominated era. A grandiose entrance proves to be nothing more than a thin facade, promising a grand edifice, but delivering nothing. The paths are laid out in such a way that no matter how you plot your course you end up in the same place - with one exception that leads to a high blank wall. Perhaps most bizarre are a pair of gigantic boots at the entrance - all that remains of an enormous statue of Stalin. When a frenzied crowd pulled it down it broke at the boot line and smashed. The founders of the park thought it a fitting emblem and retrieved the empty boots for display.

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    1. Hello Bob, Thank you for your comment. It is interesting how these parks form their own commentary--perhaps the concentration of Chiang statues echoes a shrinking sphere of influence. I would very much one day like Budapest's Statue Park. That is a very interesting detail about the giant book--it reminds me some of the colossal fragments that exist in Egypt, and of the line from the Horace Smith poem: "In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone, Stands a gigantic Leg...."

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I would love to know what you think. Please feel free to comment--no tricky security words required! Any difficulties or questions, email at: clavicytherium@yahoo.com