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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).

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 raze to the ground the walls that the imperial government and the local residents had built with much sacrifice (ibid. p. 23).

The Japanese troops entering Taipei's North Gate. The street where the Japanese are parading was called 'North Gate Road'.  This is now Yanping Road (see below)

In 1885, Taiwan's status was upgraded to province (Jones / Douglass 2008 , p. 215). The transition period lasted until 1887 (Teng 2006, p. 235). Taiwan's governor, Liu Mingchuan (劉銘傳), was an able and progressive administrator who belonged to the so-called "self-strengthening movement", a group of Chinese scholars and politicians who attempted to modernise China while at the same time maintaining the monarchy and the foundations of the thousand-year-old Chinese civilisation. Liu Mingchuan made great efforts to improve Taiwan's infrastructure according to the principles of the self-strengthening campaign (ibid.). During his tenure (1885-1891) a series of public works was begun. As far as Taipei is concerned, streets were rebuilt, a network of electric lamps was installed, shops were opened, the office of the governor, the 'Western Study Hall', the 'Aboriginal Study Hall' were constructed, etc. (Zhuang / Huang 2000, p. 23).

Xiaonanmen before the Japanese demolished the walls

Xiaonanmen today

The City Walls

When Taiwan was ceded to the Japanese following China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, Taipei was one of the first cities to give up armed resistance (Jones / Douglass 2008, p. 215). Although the Qing government had tried to modernise Taipei, the city was still backward by the standards of industrial states. As I have mentioned before, about half of the city area was farmland or wasteland. Moreover, the total population of Taipei walled city and the two surrounding port towns of Bangka and Dadaocheng did not exceed 50,000 (ibid.).  

The Japanese had more ambitious plans for the future of Taipei. They immediately set about the task of breaking with the past and creating a modern colonial city. One of the first things they did was to eliminate the defensive boundaries of Taipei, which reflected a pre-modern understanding of urban planning. In 1900, the Japanese began demolishing the city walls and developing the areas that had been outside of the city proper. For example, the College of Medicine, the Office of Taipei Prefecture, Taihoku Imperial University (now National Taiwan University) etc. were built outside the former eastern city walls.  

Following European models, the Japanese created large boulevards and erected Western-style buildings. Over the years they razed the major governmental and religious buildings of Qing era Taipei, like imperial offices and temples. The Japanese departed from the traditional patterns of Chinese and East Asian urban planning and created a new, modern government district that symbolised the progressive nature of Japanese colonial rule and its ability to face up to the West as equal (see Joseph R. Allen: Taipei. City of Displacements. Seattle / London 2012, pp. 75-76).

Zhonghua Road - One of the typical 3-lane Japanese boulevards built along the former city walls (here you see Xiaonanmen)

Contemporary Taipei owes very much to Japanese urban development schemes. To begin with, many governmental offices and modern facilities were built under the Japanese (e.g., Office of the President of the Republic of China, Control Yuan, Taipei Guest House, original Taiwan University Hospital, Judicial Yuan etc.). Numerous 3-lane boulevards (三線道路) also date back to the Japanese colonial era. Boulevards such as present-day Zhongshan South Road (中山南路), Aiguo West Road (愛國西路), Zhonghua Road (中華路) etc. run along the old Qing city walls. The ensemble of wide thoroughfares and representative buildings in the government district has therefore remained intact, as the Japanese had planned it. This is still one of the most spacious, cleanest  areas of Taipei, set apart from the densely populated and chaotic neighbourhoods in the East and West.

A Japanese era Street with Western-style buildings. Most streets of this period
have disappeared, but one still finds a few buildings, sandwiched between
modern ones
Moreover, the East-West divide originates from the Japanese period. The Japanese opened up the city by demolishing the walls and began expanding the city eastward. As I have mentioned before, the Taihoku Prefecture, Taihoku Imperial University, the College of Medicine and other buildings were constructed east and southeast of the old city walls, on what used to be farmland or uncultivated land. After the end of Japanese rule and up to the present, the successive governments of Taiwan and Taipei have continued the eastward expansion of Taipei City. What is often simply called 'Eastern District' (東區) is the modern showcase of Taiwan's modernity and global status, with fashionable streets, and the new symbol of the city, Taipei 101.

Bo'ai Road. In the distance you can see North Gate
Yanping Road (right), Bo'ai Road (left). Yanping Road, known during the Qing Dynasty as 'North Gate Street', was the street that led from the North Gate to the government district. This is where the Japanese first entered Taipei. I took the picture with North Gate behind me. In the distance, you see Zhongshan Hall, constructed by the Japanese on the site of the former Qing Provincial Administration Hall.  


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