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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 that this is the only actual piece of Qing architecture left in Taipei City (Zhuang / Huang 2000, p. 40). 

The Japanese marched into Taipei through North Gate. The street on the picture was called North Gate Street (北門街). It led from the North Gate into the Imperial government district

The North Gate during the Japanese era. 

This is the former North Gate Street, now called Yanping South Road. You can see North Gate in the distance.

For such an important cultural treasure, however, this also happens to be one of the most underrated and displaced tourist attractions. Standing isolated a few minutes' walk away from Taipei Main Station, at the intersection of Zhongxiao Road, Zhonghua Road, Yanping South Road, and other major streets, North Gate seems nothing more than an obstacle to the smooth flow of the traffic. Even a highway has been built next to it. Few tourist guides or signs indicate the existence of this old, lonely construction.

The fact that all city gates are important traffic hubs and that many MRT stations are built close to them (Ximen, Xiaonanmen, Dongmen etc.), show that Qing Dynasty Taipei and its Japanese-era evolution are still present in everyday life. Old Taipei walled city may have disappeared, but the traffic, the urban structure, and the streets where we walk and go shopping still partly reflect the layout of the invisible 19th century Taipei.

Upon entering the old imperial Taipei from the north, one would have seen North Gate Street (北門街), which is present-day Bo'ai Road (博愛路) (ibid., p. 50). North Gate Street led to an important administrative district of Taipei, which was also the most densely populated area. Except for shops and houses, the Qing era buildings included the Town God's Temple (府縣城隍廟), the Office of the Provincial Governor (巡撫衙門), the Provincial Administration Hall (布政使司衙門), Danshui County Administration (淡水縣署) etc. (ibid.). At that time, today's Yanping South Road did not exist yet, since it was occupied by governmental buildings.

During the Japanese era, Bo'ai Road became one of the most vibrant streets of the city. Following an initiative organised by the residents, the street was rebuilt and many European-style buildings were erected, some of which have survived (ibid.).

West Gate (西門)

Walking down Zhonghua Road, we arrive at Ximen. While East Gate is not very famous, West Gate (Ximen, 西門) is a familiar name with Taipei residents as well as visitors. Ximen area is popular with young people and tourists for its restaurants, shops, clubs and bars, and for its fashion industry. However, the name is the only thing that remains of the West Gate, since the gate itself fell victim to the first stage of Japanese urban planning.

West Gate before it was demolished by the Japanese

At the end of the 19th century, the Japanese intended to demolish both the walls and the gates of Taipei, and in 1906 they began their work by tearing down Ximen. Subsequently, they changed their mind and saved the other gates, integrating them into the urban landscape (ibid., p. 54). Therefore, West Gate is the only one that has not survived. The original site of West Gate is at the intersection of Zhonghua Road (中華路), Chengdu Road (成都路), Hanzhong Street (漢中街) and other roads.

'Small South Gate' (小南門) and South Gate (南門)

If one continues to walk down Zhonghua Road and then turns left to Aiguo West Road (愛國西路), one arrives at Xiaonanmen, or 'Small South Gate'. This gate has an interesting history. During the last years of Qing rule in Taipei, the gate was built and donated to the imperial administration by the Lin family, a powerful and wealthy clan. 

Zhonghua Road - One of the boulevards built by the Japanese along the demolished city walls

Most Han settlers of Taiwan came from mainland China's Fujian province. The local rivalries between neighbouring cities that existed on the mainland continued even after people had migrated to Taiwan (this is also shown by the history of Xiahai Chenghuang temple). The Lins were originally from Fujian's Zhangzhou city (漳州). Zhangzhou had a powerful rival, Quanzhou city (泉州). Migrants from Quanzhou who moved to Taiwan settled in Bangka, which was at that time outside Taipei walled city. Therefore, the migrants from Zhangzhou inside Taipei and the ones from Quanzhou outside Taipei often fought against each other. Such enmities can be compared to the rivalries that existed among ancient Greek cities or medieval Italian cities.

Xiaonanmen was of strategic importance when these two rival cities engaged in battles, since Xiaonanmen was closer to Bangka than South Gate and the people of Taipei could launch their attacks and withdraw more quickly (Zhuang / Huang 2000, p. 92).

South Gate (南門) is just a few minutes walk from present-day Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and from East Gate. Nanmen, Xiaonanmen, and Dongmen all share a similar destiny. As I mentioned before, North Gate is the only one that has maintained its original form. 

After the retrocession (光復) of Taiwan to the Republic of China in 1945, and the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek's government to Taiwan 1949, the Guomindang dictatorship created its own symbols of power, among them Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall etc. The city gates were now revamped by the Guomindang in order to serve their own political purposes. The area around East Gate, for example, was often used for big parades. In 1966, Xiaonanmen, Nanmen and Dongmen were 'remodelled' in the so-called 'Northern Palace style' (北方宮殿), inspired by the imperial architecture of Northern China (ibid., p. 102, and Bristow 2010 planning in Taiwan, pp. 210-211). This architectural style became popular with the Guomindang elite, traditionalist and nostalgic of the Chinese homeland (among them Chiang Kai-shek himself).      

East Gate (東門)

East Gate is perhaps the most prominent of all gates. Located a few minutes walk from Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, it stands at the intersection of two monumental boulevards built by the Japanese. One of them (present-day Zhongshan South Road) leads from South to the Northeastern part of the city, where major buildings such as the College of Medicine, the Control Yuan, the Executive Yuan etc. are located. The other one (Ketagalan Boulevard) leads westward to the Office of the President, the Judicial Yuan, Zhongshan Hall, Ximen etc.

East Gate
East Gate with the Office of the President in the background


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