Huaguang Homes, Once Sweet Homes

A former resident of a bulldozed community in the heart of Taipei talks about the trauma of forced evictions and her disillusionment with the government

Nearly five decades ago my father, who was among those who retreated to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) army at the end of the Chinese Civil War, used his entire fortune to purchase a tiny little house in Taipei’s Huaguang Community (華光社區). My father bought the house — the only one he was able to afford in his entire life — so that he could give me, a months-old baby, a home, a stable and permanent space to live. This was my home for almost half a century, until the government forcibly evicted us in 2013.

My neighbors, and most of the residents of Huaguang, were so-called second-generation Waishengren, or “Mainlanders.” (Editor’s note: this is the actual term used by the author. We have asked several such descendants whether they regard the term as pejorative, and all confirmed that they do not. Many have told us they identify as Taiwanese of Mainlander descent.) Our parents or one of our parents were from China and had settled in Taiwan after the end of the Civil War. This was the Huaguang Community’s background, a history that goes all the way back to the Japanese colonial period.

[media-credit name=”Ketty W. Chen” align=”alignright” width=”450″]IMG_5039[/media-credit]Residents of Huaguang were mostly economically disadvantaged. Some of them relied on the odd recycling job to make a living. Others worked as part-timers or low-level labor such as construction workers, car repairmen, or street vendors to support their lives. The low wages and financial insecurity were the main reasons why the residents chose to live in that area.

Because of their inability to move, the people of Huaguang remained in the district for 50 to 60 years, some even longer. However, due to government land development projects, the residents of the Huaguang Community were forcibly evicted from their homes, and to make matters worse, the government took legal action against them.

This was a nightmare for all of us. Obviously, the government won its lawsuits against us and punished the residents with huge fines for “illegal profit.” It ordered us to tear down the homes in which we had lived for decades, and with them all the cherished memories, the love, and history. Even though my father passed away several years ago, every time I walked into my home, I still could feel his presence, the objects he used, the appliances he purchased, the chair he’d always sit in. All these reminded me of his love for me. Only with the home in Huaguang could I feel that my father was still alive and had never left me. Now our house has been torn down and I wonder whether my father will ever find his way home…

The city government has refused to address the settlement issue since the central government has ruled that the residents have no housing rights. The government has refused to offer us alternative housing, which is in violation of our basic right to property. Moreover, the huge penalties (in some cases the fines were more than NT$6 million, or about US$200,00) have imposed an extraordinary financial burden on the former residents of Huaguang. Our savings have evaporated, and for those who have jobs, one-third of their salary is deducted due to court injunctions.

[media-credit id=9 align=”alignright” width=”600″]DSC_5116[/media-credit]As we fought to defend our rights and salvage our homes, we held numerous protests to remind the local government of its responsibility to protect people’s basic human rights. Unfortunately, the government turned a deaf ear to our pleas. By August 2013, all the homes in the Huaguang Community had been demolished.

Because of my father’s background, I was taught to believe and to obey the government since it would always take care of its people and cater to our needs. In my opinion, every nation is responsible to look after its people and prevent them from losing their homes and property. More importantly, it should respect and value people’s human rights. However, the Huaguang case proves that the current government’s claims that it defends democracy and human rights are disgusting lies. While it trumpets its adherence to democratic values, the administration simultaneously acts in authoritarian manner and violates the human rights of its people.

The Huaguang Community is not the only case of forced evictions in Taiwan. There will be many more if the current — and highly inappropriate — land development policies and undemocratic approach of the government are not changed. More homes will be demolished; more people will become homeless, and more families will be torn apart. All we ask is for a clear and appropriate permanent alternative housing plan and for the withdrawal of the financial penalties that have been imposed on the people of the Huaguang Community. Let us hope that the government will eventually listen to the people’s voice.

Cheng Wei-hui is a resident of Huaguang. She currently works part-time as an English teacher.

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