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Showing posts from November, 2013

Taipei Guest House (台北賓館)

Located between three major boulevards, Ketagalan Boulevard, Zhongshan South Road, and Park Road, Taipei Guest House (台北賓館) is one of the most prominent buildings of Japanese-era Taiwan. Nowadays the magnificent structure with surrounding park is under the administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (外交部), whose headquarters stands opposite the guest house. Taipei Guest House is used for important meetings, conferences, and to accommodate distinguished guests. During the Japanese colonial era, however, the function of the building was of a completely different nature.

National Taiwan Museum and Land Bank

National Taiwan Museum (國立臺灣博物館)
This European-style neoclassical building is located in the very heart of Taipei, close to North Gate, Taipei Main Station, the government district, the old National Taiwan University Hospital building, and adjacent to 288 Peace Park. Guanqianlu (館前路) leads directly from Taipei Main Station and Taipei Bus station to the museum, which is visible in the distance.


The museum was erected by the Japanese in 1915 in honour of governor-general Kodama Gentaro (兒玉 源太郎, 1852 – 1906) and civil administrator Goto Shimpei (後藤 新平 1857 – 1929). It is located on the site of Tianhou Temple (天后宮) which was built during the Qing Dynasty. In 1913, the Japanese tore down the temple, as they did with the majority of Chinese Imperial buildings in the city centre, and replaced it with the memorial museum as part of their project of urban restructuring of Taipei in order to transform it into a colonial capital. 

Taipei City Gates - From the Qing Dynasty to the Present

Taipei City Gates
The City Gates belong to the few remnants of Taipei walled city as it was built during the Qing Dynasty. As I explained in the previous post, the Japanese built the nucleus of their colonial capital in and around what used to be Taipei walled city. After demolishing the walls they constructed large boulevards, many of which run exactly along the former walls themselves. One can go on a tour of Japanese Taipei by simply walking from gate to gate, thus circling Qing Taipei and Japanese Taipei's government district. Let's now take a virtual walk around Qing Dynasty Taipei, starting from North Gate and ending at East Gate.
North Gate (北門)
There are two good reasons to begin our walk here. First, it is through North Gate that the victorious Japanese colonial troops entered Taipei in 1895. Second, this is the only gate that has remained unchanged since the Qing Dynasty, while all others have been transformed under the Guomindang government.  Therefore, one may say tha…

Taipei City Walls - From the Qing Dynasty to the Republican Era

As the economic and geopolitical importance of Taiwan grew following the two Opium Wars (1839 - 1842, 1856 - 1860) the Qing Imperial government decided to invest in the development of the island-frontier (see my post about Taipei under the Qing Dynasty). During the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1871 – 1908), Taipei became Taiwan's administrative centre and the city was gradually expanded. Shops, governmental offices, gates and city walls were constructed in this period. Many of the funds for the erection of the walls and the gates came from donations by local merchants and the gentry (Zhuang Zhangpeng / Huang Jingyi et al.: Taibei Gucheng Shendu Lvyou [台北古城深度旅遊] Taipei 2000, p. 22-23). The gates and walls were completed in 1884 (on the map below you can see the approximate location of the city walls).




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However, the destiny of the Qing fortification reflects the turbulent history of both Taiwan and the Qing Empire. Only ten years later, the Japanese would annex Taiwan and …

Qing Dynasty Taipei - A Forgotten City

Qing Dynasty Taipei is a city enshrouded in mystery. Little has remained of what used to be the capital of Taiwan Province. However, the old city is still visible in the urban structure of contemporary Taipei City, and some interesting historic sites date back to the Qing era. 



Taiwan and Imperial China
It is hard to tell when Han settlers began to migrate to Taiwan. What is certain is that for a long time Taiwan was not included in the maps of the Chinese Empire and it remained beyond the scope of imperial expansion (Davison 2003, chapter 2).
By the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), however, Han settlements were already numerous, and Taiwan played an important role in imperial politics. In fact, Taiwan became the last stronghold of Ming Dynasty loyalists who resisted Qing rule. Zheng Chenggong, a supporter of the Ming, established a family dynasty on Taiwan that lasted until 1683. By the end of the Zheng era, the Han population of Taiwan is estimated to have stood at 150,000-20…

The Control Yuan (監察院) in Taipei (Former Taihoku Prefecture)

One evening I decided to walk from Gongguan to Taipei Main Station. I knew the section between Gongguan and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, because a few months earlier I had taken a taxi with a group of Western friends to go to a pub nearby. But I didn't know anything about the area between Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Taipei Main Station. I imagined I'd just see normal streets, all similar to one another, like ones usually sees in Taipei. 
It took me about 15 minutes to get from Gongguan to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. I went through Freedom Square and turned right. Using Shinkong Mitsukoshi (新光三越), which is the second tallest skyscraper in the city, for orientation, I walked along Zhongshan South Road. All of a sudden, there stood in front of me a huge Chinese-style Gate. Next to it, there was a Western-style building. When I looked around, I saw the silhouette of the Office of the President from afar, and another Western-style building, a very opulent one. 

As I contin…

Judicial Yuan of the Republic of China, Taipei (Formerly God of War Temple)

When the Japanese established their rule in Taiwan, they set about the task of transforming the face of the city. Architecture had a political and social function. The Japanese constructed edifices that symbolised modernity, power, and efficiency. Their architecture reflected the Japanese desire to emulate the West, its technology, institutions, and way of life. As I mentioned in a previous post, Western-style buildings also had an important psychological function: They showed that Japan  was equal to the West. Western-style buildings were to the Japanese what skyscrapers are to us nowadays - symbols of power, technological and social progress, and of status in the global community.



Upon their capture of Taipei the Japanese found a city built according to traditional Chinese patterns. There were gates, city walls, yamens (offices of imperial administrators), temples, and so on. While in some areas this kind of buildings remained untouched, in other areas, especially in the government d…

Original National Taiwan University College of Medicine (臺大醫學院舊館)

During the early years of Japanese rule in Taiwan, casualties among Japanese troops and colonialists were numerous. On the one hand, Taiwanese partisans fought bitterly against the Japanese, causing fatalities among the soldiers. On the other hand, the Japanese experienced difficulties in adjusting to the Taiwanese climate, so that illnesses were widespread. As a consequence, the colonial government established facilities where soldiers and civilians could be treated. 



Already in 1895 the Japanese founded the Dainihon Taiwan Hospital, which is today's National Taiwan University Hospital. Because there weren't enough Japanese doctors available, in 1897 an Academy of Medicine was founded, where Taiwanese doctors could be trained. In 1919 the institute was upgraded to a College of Medicine, and in 1936 it became the Taihoku Imperial University Department of Medicine (Taihoku was the Japanese name for Taipei). 

Japanese Taipei, and What Remains of It

Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945, and Taipei was its capital. Yet visitors  may wonder what is left of those years of Japanese rule. If one visits Taipei, one doesn't see many "Japanese-looking" buildings. Most tourists focus on night markets, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, shopping areas, temples, clubs etc. The Japanese heritage of the city is certainly one of the most underrated. However, the impact of the Japanese colonial era on the urban structure of Taipei is enormous and can be seen until today. 
One of the paradoxes of Japanese architecture in Taiwan is that most of it looks 'Western' rather than 'Oriental'. I'm sure that many people who have come to Taipei may have seen a lot of Japanese buildings, but they don't know they're Japanese. 




Taking Advantage of One's Seniority ("倚老賣老") - A Few Thoughts About Chinese Drinking Culture

One of the most difficult things for Westerners to understand is the importance of hierarchy, social roles and etiquette in Asian societies. There are many situations in a person's life in which these - from a foreigner's point of view often invisible - social stratifications reveal themselves.
The first time I became aware of such deep social hierarchical differences was when I lived in Berlin. One of my Korean friends told me with a somewhat exhausted expression on his face that recently he'd been going out with his Korean buddies and he often got drunk. Apparently, he disliked to drink so much, but his friends pushed him to do so. "Why don't you tell them you don't like to drink alcohol?" I asked him. "My friends asked me to drink," he answered. The whole issue seemed to me non-existent. From my viewpoint, he was turning a perfectly harmless situation into an extremely complicated one. If you don't want to drink, I thought, just say 'no&#…

Lee Teng-hui and the Issue of Taiwan's Independence

In 2007, former President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Lee Teng-hui (simplified Chinese李登辉, traditional Chinese李登輝, pinyin: Li Dēnghuī) astonished the Taiwanese public when he declared to Next Magazine that he did not support Taiwan's independence [1]. 
For many years, Lee had been considered one of the most influential supporters of Taiwan's independence. In the 1990s, he had repeatedly angered the People's Republic of China and was denounced by Beijing as a 'separatist' who was pushing for an independent Taiwan. His political stance made him enemies on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. In fact, both the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang) support eventual reunification and adhere to the "one China" principle.
In 2001, Lee was even expelled from the Guomindang, the party that he had led for 12 years. Although he had retired from active political life in 2000, during the election campaign he became the spiritual leader…