Living History in the Liuzhangli Cemetery in TaipeiHuang Shihhan | May 17, 2011
Cemeteries are like time capsules. The people may be no more, but their stories live on.
Many intriguing remnants of history can be seen in a tucked away corner of Taipei’s Liuzhangli, especially in the cemetery in the hills. The cemetery is populated by the Chinese refugees who moved to Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940s, and also victims of the White Terror period (mainly 1950s-1960s).
One of the most famous “residents” of the cemetery is General Bai Chongxi (1893-1966). Bai’s massive grave is a monument in the Liuzhangli Cemetery’s Muslim graveyard. About 2,000-3,000 Muslims were buried here, making Liuzhangli the biggest Muslim graveyard in Taiwan.
General Bai was a hero during the Chinese Civil War and also arguably the most well-known Chinese Muslim figures. A Kuomintang symbol and Arabic scriptures can be seen over his coffin. Seen close up, the grave is now in sad repair.
Apart from General Bai, the Liuzhangli Cemetery is also the last resting place of less prominent military men. The majority of the servicemen who retreated to Taiwan with the Kuomintang government following the Chinese Civil War did not bring wives.
Before 1965 they were not allowed to marry either, because they were supposed to be ready for taking back China from the Communists. Many of the servicemen died without descendants or families at hand. Some of the servicemen’s headstones say that they were buried by their friends or colleagues (see picture on the right).
Further up the hill are graves of people who were executed during the White Terror period. Some of the people killed were leftist thinkers, while others were people who dared to speak out against Chiang Kai-shek’s repressive regime. Not all those who were buried here had even the tiniest headstones detailing who they were or when they were executed. In those days, sometimes bodies were dumped here, and families were too afraid to claim the graves.
Among those who did have names, the most famous is Huang Rungcan, a journalist/artist whose woodblock paintings recorded the horrors of the February 28th Incident of 1947, when up to tens of thousands of Taiwanese people were killed by the government. Huang was executed in 1952. He was 37.
The trip to the Liuzhangli Cemetery was an eye-opener for me. I was lucky to be guided through the cemetery by Dr Linda Arrigo, who has been researching the cemetery and the surrounding area. On May 21 Dr Arrigo is set to hold an all-day workshop meeting at Taipei Medical University. The meeting will be bilingual (English and Chinese), but probably mostly in English. In the morning there will be a tour of the Liuzhangli Cemetery (accessible by metro). If you’re interested in joining the meeting and/or the tour, please contact Dr Linda Arrigo at firstname.lastname@example.org