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Friday, July 1, 2011

Taiwan professor lobbies to honor engineer


TAIPEI — When President Ma Ying-jeou dedicated the $4.2 million Yoichi Hatta Memorial Park in Taiwan last month, he took credit for a project meant not only to honor the late Japanese engineer's contributions to Taiwan, but to emphasize his own commitment to bilateral relations, which have frayed during his administration.

News photo
Keeping memory alive: Taiwan Police College professor Hsu Guang-hui has been seeking recognition for the late Yoichi Hatta, a Japanese colonial-era figure who built the island's Chianan Canal and Wushantou Reservoir. KYODO PHOTO

Hatta was stationed in Taiwan from 1910 to 1942, during which time he built the Chianan Canal and Wushantou Reservoir in the southwestern Chianan Plain as key components in a massive irrigation system, one of many infrastructure projects Japan carried out to modernize Taiwan during its 50-year occupation, which ended in 1945.

In 1920, the Chianan Plain was an arid 4,550-sq.-km wasteland with soil in the coastal area contaminated by high levels of salt.

Today, thanks largely to Hatta, it is one of the most productive agricultural regions on a hectare-for-hectare basis in Asia, growing a wide range of crops, including over 60 percent of Taiwan's rice.

Hatta was killed in an Allied submarine attack on his ship when he was traveling to the Philippines in 1942. Distraught by his loss, Hatta's wife jumped to her death from atop the same Wushantou Reservoir that would eventually bring prosperity to the once-poor area.

While Ma has repeatedly taken credit for the new Hatta Memorial Park in Greater Tainan, he was not the principal figure behind the project. That honor goes to a law professor at the Taiwan Police College, Hsu Guang-hui, who worked for many years to bring Hatta's achievements to public attention.

Hsu only learned about Hatta in 1995 when he was studying in Kanazawa Prefecture. After he obtained his doctoral degree and returned to Taiwan in 2000, Hsu wished to promote water conservation and flood control in a country plagued by typhoons.

Because Hatta devoted his life to such concerns, Hsu concluded that his memory could be used to raise public awareness.

Among his efforts to memorialize Hatta was the holding of annual service on the anniversary of his death, and in 2008 he invited Ma to attend. To his surprise, the president accepted, and while the official plan for the park was not announced until 2009, this began the process whereby it was built.

Hsu always suspected that Ma's motives were political and that he only agreed to attend the service in an attempt to counter criticism that in currying favor with China he was unfriendly toward Japan.

Beyond the park, for which he began to lobby in 2006, Hsu hopes to see the reservoir and canal system recognized as a World Heritage site, an honor he says is justified by the project's size and regional influence.

On a smaller scale, Hsu has also begun making plans to make a film about Hatta and his wife, who spent most of their lives in Taiwan and were by all accounts equally devoted to bettering life in their new homeland.

Being a professor at a police college has not made things easy.

Hsu has been sneered at and labeled a troublemaker for his project.

His wife has been no more supportive, saying that he was not from the region and had little to gain for his trouble.

The 45-year-old Hsu has carried on, however, convinced that if he does not make efforts to preserve Hatta's memory, it will be lost.

"It is so sad to see fewer and fewer people come to the annual service," he said. "I see more old people than young ones, but the old people are dying out."

And the Hatta memorial is not Hsu's only project meant to honor regional ties originating in Japan's colonial period. He has initiated another to erect a monument to 3,000 Okinawa fishermen who migrated to Peace Island in the city of Keelung and remained in the region after 1945, raising families and making Taiwan their home.

Hsu may be eccentric in his passion for Taiwan's Japanese past, but he is not alone. Private groups and individuals from both sides have joined his campaigns and pledged financial support.

He is still raising funds for the 3-meter-high Peace Island memorial headstone to be crafted in Japan, which he hopes will be ready in time for a dedication in September or October.

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