The first time I came to Liberty Square was in October or November 2002 to watch the annual free show of Cloude Gate, Taiwan’s well known dance theater company lead by Lin Hwai Min. Together with thousands of Taiwanese I watched “Rice” inspired by the landscape and story of Chihshang in Taiwan’s East Rift Valley. I was just taken away by Lin’s powerful language telling about soil, sun, water, wind and fire. The tale about the village Chihshang producing “emperor’s rice” by adopting traditional means bridges centuries of confucian life, buddhism and human struggle with the elements to the presence. With “Rice” Cloud Gates simply portraits Asia and differences to Western culture become obvious which is most visible in the almost “communal” choreography. Check out Cloud Gate’s schedule to see when they come your way.
Ok, let me get back to today’s walk through Taipei and get back to Liberty square that is bounded by the Chiang Kai Shek memorial and the Gate of Integrity to the East and West, and by the National Theater and the National Concert Hall to the North and the South. The square became the place for public events and gatherings shortly after opening to the public in 1975. The square become a hub of the pro democracy movement in the 80s and 90s. The Wild Lily Student movement of 1990 became the most influential leading to deep-reaching political reforms, the first popular election of the parliament in 1992 and the first presidential election in 1996. The square received today’s name in remembrance of the struggle on the way to democracy after almost four decades (1949 – 1987) of martial law in 2007.
The recent Sunflower movement even shows that democracy is not just achieved but an ongoing dialogue between the few people in power and the common folk practicing their right to challenge them. In March 2014 hundreds of thousand Taiwanese protested against president Ma’s deals with China which many Taiwanese believe will open the gates to the mainland’s economic hegemony across the Taiwan Straits. The event was never covered by international media since it mostly reported about the still missing Malaysian airplane and the Crimea crisis.
However, Liberty Square isn’t only important for Taiwan’s democracy but as a place of public life. Everybody meets here. People practice tai chi under the roof of the concert hall. Teenagers trying out their moves for a dance performance. A band plays music and marches along their choreography. On the big stage a theater group rehearses some kind of rock musicals. And in between all this Taiwanese families, Germans taking their Birkenstocks out for a walk, and groups of yapping mainland tourists stroll along creating a unique, dynamic and unmatched atmosphere.
Honestly, Liberty Square in the heart of Taipei is my favorite place. Its history gives me goosebumps. In spite of being dedicated to Chiang Kai Shek who ruled Taiwan with martial law and an iron fist up to his death in 1975, it has become a symbol of Taiwan’s people and their wish for liberty. The square, I visit almost every year, is alive. It’s complex and complicated looking at its symbolic involvement in Taiwan-PRC (people’s republic of china) relations. And finally, the square is simply part of Taipei’s public life and a great tourist attraction.
All images were taken with a Mamiya 645Pro on Shanghai GP3. I developed the film in Agfa Rodinal.