Calls to Auction Off the Sun Yat-Sen Portrait in Legislature?

by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Jiang/WikiCommons/CC

AT A TIME in which calls to remove authoritarian symbols have more often led to proposals for the removal of the Chiang Kai-shek statue in the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, pan-Green legislators have recently called for the removal of the Sun Yat-sen portrait in the legislature. 

Pan-green legislators that have called for the portrait’s removal include DPP legislators Tsai Yi-yu and Fan Yun, among others. Traditionally, when taking office, legislators swear their oath to the portrait, but this has been criticized as an authoritarian legacy.

Sun is remembered as the founding father of the ROC in the historiography of the former KMT party-state. While Sun is not as controversial a figure as Chiang Kai-shek or his son Chiang Ching-kuo, given that the two ruled over Taiwan for decades in an authoritarian manner, pan-Green politicians would see Sun as a foreign figure imposed on Taiwan and another figure that the KMT erected a personality cult around. 

Quite memorably, Tsai has sent a letter to Legislative Yuan secretary-general Lin Jih-jia calling for the portrait to be auctioned on Sotheby’s. In particular, Tsai cited damage caused to the portrait by the KMT during protests against the Accounting Act as potentially adding to the value of the work. 

The damage came from a water bottle that hit the protest. Members of the KMT were protesting that the changes to the Accounting Act cleared former president Chen Shui-bian of some of the charges dating from his presidency. 

Chen, the first non-KMT president in Taiwanese history, was imprisoned on corruption charges after the end of his second term. Some in the pan-Green camp view charges against Chen as political retribution from the KMT, though the veracity of the charges is disputed even among the pan-Green camp. Yet, ironically, in this way, damage to the portrait ultimately returns to contestation over political antecedents. 

It is unlikely that Tsai’s proposal would be taken up in earnest. Nevertheless, one notes that the KMT’s efforts to rebrand its narrative of Taiwanese history to appeal to young people has, in recent times, included minting Chiang Kai-shek NFTs. Perhaps this could prove another avenue for Sun memorialization in the future? Or perhaps, similar to Banksy’s self-destructing artwork “Love is in the Bin,” that could prove another way forward for the Sun Yat-sen portrait in the legislature.