EDITORIAL: Taking a
nosedive from the gorge
Taroko Gorge is one of the wonders of the natural world and Taiwanese are justly
proud and protective of it. The establishment of the Toroko National Park in
1986 was a major step forward in the preservation of the park¡¦s beauty and
The Ministry of Culture, and doubtless many others in Taiwan, would like to see
the park included among UNESCO¡¦s World Heritage Sites, along with other sites.
However, it appears too willing to sell out the nation¡¦s sovereignty if that is
what it takes to get places in Taiwan on the list.
Since the establishment of the World Heritage Sites list, following UNESCO¡¦s
adoption of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and
Natural Heritage in 1972, the list has grown to include 981 sites.
The catch-22 is that a country has to be a signatory to the convention in order
to nominate sites for the list, and only UN member states are eligible to sign
the treaty. The Republic of China is no longer a member of the UN. However, the
People¡¦s Republic of China signed the convention in December 1975 and now has
more than 40 sites on the heritage list.
Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (ÀsÀ³¥x) on Thursday said the ministry was
interested in working with China to nominate places in Taiwan and had asked if
the idea could be discussed during cross-strait talks. She said cultural
heritage supersedes ideological differences and is distinct from politics.
¡§We hope to collaborate with Beijing on the basis of mutual respect and spirit
of cooperation,¡¨ she said, adding that Taiwanese sites would ¡§absolutely not¡¨ be
listed under the Chinese government.
Leaving aside the issue of whether Beijing has ever shown ¡§mutual respect¡¨ to
Taiwan, it is clear that Lung needs to take a course in politics and history.
Beijing has long appropriated icons that do not belong to it to press its
sovereignty claims. In late 2003 there was an uproar in Taiwan after the
People¡¦s Bank of China issued ¡§The Chinese Island of Taiwan¡¨ set of collectable
coins, which featured Chaotien Temple in Yunlin County and Chihkan Tower (Fort
Provintia) in what is now Greater Tainan. Tainan¡¦s cultural affairs department
labeled the coins ¡§an act of cultural appropriation.¡¨
Looking at the list of sites in China on the heritage list, one cannot help but
be struck by the cruel irony of the descriptions of the Potala Palace in Lhasa,
which was added in 1994 for being an ¡§exceptional symbol of the integration of
secular and religious authority.¡¨ The Potala ¡§inscription¡¨ was later expanded to
include the Jokhang Temple Monastery and the Dalai Lamas¡¦ summer palace,
The description of the Potala Palace says that it ¡§symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism
and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet.¡¨ As for
Norbulingka, there is a note that ¡§since the departure of the 14th Dalai Lama in
1959,¡¨ the palace has been managed by the Cultural Management Committee and
Bureau of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
¡§Departure¡¨ is such a benign word, as opposed to ¡§fled for his life.¡¨ And while
Beijing is happy to promote the Potala Palace to prove its ownership of Tibet,
for decades it has done everything it can to destroy Tibetan Buddhism and take
the ¡§Tibet¡¨ out of Tibetans. Perhaps the cadres in Beijing forgot to tell UNESCO
that the Jokhang is frequently closed to Tibetans and others who would like to
Beijing has repeatedly proven itself unhelpful when it comes to interactions
between Taiwan and world organizations, including demanding that information
during the SARS epidemic be routed through it to pass on to Taipei.
Seeking Beijing¡¦s ¡§help¡¨ to get Taroko on the World Heritage Sites list to
preserve it would do little to help preserve Taiwan¡¦s sovereignty or identity on
the world stage. For the rulers in Beijing, nothing supersedes ideology and
nothing is distinct from politics. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.