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Zhongshan Hall - A Witness To Taipei's History

Zhongshan Hall is probably one of those buildings in Taipei that most tourists won't even notice. Despite being located in the heart of Taipei, just a few minutes walk from Ximending, and around 10-15 minutes from Taipei North Gate, Zhongshan Hall is not a major tourist attraction. The square in front of the building is – surprisingly enough in the bustling city - one of those relaxing and quiet areas that have preserved their clean, calm Japanese-era atmosphere. 

Zhongshan Hall (中山堂); the name on the facade must be read from right to left.

Contrary to what one may expect, however, Zhongshan Hall is a very important place in the history of Taipei, and thus I think it's worth dedicating a separate post to it.

Zhongshan Hall (中山堂) is located on Yanping South Road (延平南路), which during the Qing Dynasty was called North Gate Road (北門街). This long street ran from North Gate down to the Qing government district. In fact, from North Gate one could walk directly to Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall (布政使司衙門). This shows that the place where now Zhongshan Hall stands was central in the urban structure of both Qing Dynasty and Japanese Taipei. 

Qing Dynasty

The building that we now see did not exist during the Qing Dynasty. Exactly in the same place stood the Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall, which was the most important office in Taiwan. Inside this building the government issued its policies regarding all the financial, military and tax matters of Taiwan Province (Zhuang Zhanpeng et al.: Taibei Gucheng Shendu Lvyou. Taipei 2000, p. 56). The Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall was a large compound, comprising 18 buildings, constructed in typical Chinese style. It was built in the 15th year of Emperor Guangxu (1889).

The large compound of Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall. This most Chinese of all government buildings is unimaginable in present-day Taipei, as the Japanese demolished all imperial offices (source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

The Republic of Taiwan 

In 1895, following the Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was ceded to Japan. But the imperial officials did not want to submit to the foreign “barbarians”, and in order to resist Japanese colonisation, they proclaimed the Republic of Taiwan (台灣民主國). The Governor of Taiwan Province, Tang Jingsong, was appointed first (and last) President of the Republic, and the former Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall became the Presidential Office. James Wheeler Davidson, an American eyewitness to the Japanese invasion, wrote:

Arrangements had been made to house the new government in the old yamens [offices] at Taipehfu [=Taipei]. The Parliament House was installed in the yamens formerly used as headquarters of the Defence Board, the Navy Department in the old Military Secretariat, while the President occupied his palatial Government House as of old. The Cabinet consisted of Ministers for War, the Navy, Home Affairs, and Foreign Affairs. They were installed in the large yamens which formed the old Provincial Treasury (Davidson 1903, p. 280).

The buildings to which Davidson referred were all in the compound of the former Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall.

Tang Jingsong, the last Governor of Taiwan Province and the only President of the Republic of Taiwan

The Republic of Taiwan in Taipei lasted only 10 days, though it continued to exist for several months in the rest of Taiwan until the Japanese occupied the entire island. 

The Japanese Era

When the Japanese entered Taipei, the inauguration ceremony of the new Japanese government took place in the ex Provincial Administration Hall. The Japanese Governor chose this building as his new Presidential Office. This function was retained until1919, when it was moved to the new Presidential Office (the present-day Office of the President of the Republic of China) (Zhuang 2000, p. 57).   

In 1928, the Japanese tore down the Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall, dismantling yet another piece of historic Taipei, though a part of the structure was saved and moved to the Botanical Garden. On the site of the Hall, the Japanese built present-day Zhongshan Hall in honour of the ascension to the throne of Japan's Emperor Hirohito. However, at that time the name of the building was Taipei Public Auditorium (台北公會堂) (note). 

The Public Auditorium in 1940

The Auditorium cost 980,000 yen and 94,500 workers were employed over a period of 4 years, from 1932 to 1936, when it was completed. The Auditorium was designed by the renowned Japanese architect Ide Kaoru, who created several important buildings of the Japanese colonial era, such as the Judicial Yuan and National Taiwan University Library. Typical of Kaoru's style, the Auditorium is a mix of Arabic and Byzantine styles, and of plain modernist architecture. At the time of its construction, Taipei Public Auditorium was the largest auditorium in Taiwan and the fourth largest in Japan, after those of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya (note). 

The building was also technologically impressive for its time. It had a structure of steel-reinforced concrete, and it was designed to withstand fires, earthquakes and typhoons (ibid.)

The Republic of China

After the Second World War, all the territories that Japan had taken from China during the previous six decades, including Taiwan, were restored to the Republic of China. Therefore, in 1945 Taiwan once again became a Chinese Province. Taipei Public Auditorium was the building chosen to host the ceremony in which China accepted Japan's surrender. On 25 October 1945 on the second floor of Taipei Public Auditorium Japan's representatives signed the unconditional surrender. Taiwan and the islands of Penghu, Jinmen and Matsu became part of the Republic of China. 

Taiwan retrocession ceremony, 25 October 1945

Japan's representative (left) signs the instrument of surrender 

Thereafter, the Public Auditorium was renamed Zhongshan Hall, in honour of the Father of the Republic of China Sun Yat-sen (Zhongshan is one of the names under which Sun Yat-sen is known in the Chinese-speaking world; ironically, the name Zhongshan was given to Sun by the Japanese while he lived there) (Zhuang 2000, p. 57).  

Statue of Sun Yat-sen in the plaza in front of Zhongshan Hall

After the Nationalist Government retreated to Taiwan in 1949, Zhongshan Hall was temporarily used to host the meetings of  the ROC National Assembly and the Legislative Yuan. 

Some remarkable events in the post-war history of Zhongshan Hall are:

  • the reception of foreign guests, such as Richard Nixon, when the ROC was still officially recognised as the sole legitimate government of the whole of China.
  • A ceremony held in 1949 to celebrate the installment of a statue of Sun Yat-sen in the plaza in front of the Hall
  • various inauguration ceremonies of the President of the ROC
  • the signing of the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty in 1952
  • a performance of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra
  • a speech by the Russian Nobel Prize laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in Zhongzheng Auditorium, Zhongshan Hall, in 1982
  • a performance by the National Beijing Opera Theatre of China, which came to Taiwan for the first time (note)


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