Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Etiquette and the Problem of Rejecting in Chinese Culture

As I have explained in other posts, the function of etiquette and formality in Chinese culture is deeper and more substantial than one may assume in the West. Many foreigners in the Middle Kingdom have noted the importance of ceremony, ritual and etiquette in Chinese people's every day life. This should not be understood as a superficial phenomenon, but as a reflection of the very structure of Chinese society. In fact, formality is a result of the significance of hierarchy and social roles. 

That etiquette has always been a cornerstone of Chinese social interaction can already be seen in the works of Confucius. "Etiquette is nothing but reverence,” he argued. “If the father is revered, his sons will be happy; if the elder brother is revered, the younger brother will be happy; if a ruler is revered, all his subjects will be happy" (Boden 2008, p. 210).

As Jeanne Boden explains:

In ancient China the 'Ministry of Rites' was extremely important. All rites, rituals and ceremonies needed to be administered correctly to preserve harmony in the universe ... For this reason, etiquette has a much deeper significance in China than in the West. Etiquette and rituals are more than manners or politeness alone. These ancient rules are to some extent still applied in today's new China. Chinese etiquette rules are mainly connected to hierarchy and social position (ibid.).

The link between etiquette and hierarchy / social roles is fundamental. The formality of Chinese social life may not be noticed at once by foreigners. Chinese people seldom talk about their modes of social interaction in terms of formality or ritualism. They prefer to emphasize what they regard as the praiseworthy nature of their ethical norms. They tend to assume that the system of hierarchical social roles on which etiquette in China is based has a self-evidently moral quality; some people even consider it superior to the moral system of other nations. 

In ancient China, the formality of social interaction was far more obvious than it is nowadays. The following excerpt from the Book of Etiquette and Ritual shows how extreme rituals and etiquette could be in old China. The scene describes how a gentleman should behave when paying a visit to a man of higher rank:

When a gentleman visits an official, the latter declines altogether to receive his present. At his entrance the host bows once, acknowledging their difference in rank. When the guest withdraws, he escorts him and bows twice. When a gentleman calls on his former superior, the host formally declines the visitor’s gift: “As I have not been able to receive your consent to my declining, I dare not persist in it.” Then the guest enters, lays down his gift, and bows twice. The host replies with a single bow. When the guest leaves, the host sends the attendant to return the gift outside the gate. 
THE ATTENDANT: So-and-so sends me to hand back your gift. 
THE GUEST: Since I have already obtained an interview, I venture to decline to receive the gift. 
THE ATTENDANT: So-and-so has issued his commands to me, and I cannot myself take the initiative in this matter. I must press his request on you. 
THE GUEST: I am the humble servant of his excellency, and am not capable of observing the ceremonies of a visitor with his host; so I venture to persist in declining. 
THE ATTENDANT: Since So-and-do has ordered me, I dare not take it upon myself to make decisions in this matter, but persist in this request. 
THE GUEST: I have repeatedly declined, without receiving his honor’s permission to do so. How then dare I not obey? [He thus bows twice and receives the present back.] (Ebrey 2009, pp. 42-43).

Some people may question the importance of etiquette in the contemporary Chinese=speaking world, which many consider increasingly 'Westernised'. However, I believe we should look at this phenomenon from a different perspective. Social roles and hierarchies have been changing rapidly over the past one or two hundred years due to social, political, and economic transformations. Therefore, it is obvious that the society that Confucius and later generations of Chinese thinkers described and advocated doesn't exist any more in that particular form. 

Nevertheless, the relative importance of etiquette, ritualism and formality has remained. What has changed, are the social roles and hierarchies that they regulate. For example, the relationship between boss and employee, or that between employees, is an entirely new kind of human relationship that derives from the industrial restructuring of Chinese society. And yet, we find a high degree of formality and hierarchy in such relations. 

The relationship between boyfriend and girlfriend is also a modern phenomenon, since in old China engagements and marriages were mostly arranged by parents and the eligible age was much earlier than in contemporary society. Despite all this, we still find that social roles and hierarchy shape such unions. 

I would like to quote an excerpt from a recent Taiwanese romantic novel. Its target audience mostly consists of teenage girls. The protagonists are Boyan and Xiaowei. Boyan and Xiaowei are engaged, but at the beginning of the novel she breaks up with him because she isn't sure she loves him. But in the course of the book, he tries over and over again to win her back. After she has been 'saved' by Boyan, who prevented her new fiance from raping her, she begins to change her mind about him. In the following passage, Xiaowei brings him food she has prepared herself; as I will explain in another post, in traditional Chinese thinking the act of 'nourishing' someone has always been a central element of filial piety, and food is a way of showing care which reflects social and hierarchical roles. 

For instance, the Book of Rites, a Confucian classic, prescribes that children or daughters-in-law should never refuse the food offered by parents even if they dislike it. When parents give children food they show care and love, and children, who are hierarchically inferior to parents, are not entitled to refuse. Here we see how social roles are not based on feelings, dialogue, or mutual understanding, but on standardised patterns of behaviour, and on codified norms. 

In the following scene, Xiaowei, faithful to her social role, shows care by preparing food for Boyan. He dislikes the food, but he eats it, pretending to like it. On the other hand, Xiaowei refuses the drink offered to her by Boyan, but she expresses her worries that he might feel hurt by her refusal. Here we see the result of the relative disruption of old social roles, which have become somewhat more ambiguous. Having said that, Xiaowei's social role as a woman is still relatively fixed, and it is her being a woman which makes it more acceptable for her to refuse. On the contrary, a man is expected to show that he takes care of his woman, that he spoils her and perhaps, from a Western perspective, treats her as a child. His role as a saviour, caregiver, and family-oriented man is in many respects typical of the image of a man who can fulfill his social role properly.

The question asked by Boyan at the end also shows how the old practice of arranging marriages has not disappeared. In fact, after Xiaowei broke up with Boyan, her family, worried about her marital status, hurried to find for her another fiance, making it clear that it was her responsibility to get married soon. Overall, we observe in this passage that many of the elements of the past still exist, but that they are in a process of change and readjustment which does not necessarily lead to a 'Western'-style society. 


她打開便當盒, 拿出裡面的食物。 『算了。說了半天, 你應該俄了吧?』
『其實我...』剛吃完午飯不久。
『這是我親手煮的義大利麵, 還熱騰騰的, 你快嚐嚐看。』
李曉薇帶著一臉期待, 笑吟吟的看他。
『還有南瓜濃湯。』
『好。』
她開朗的笑靨, 讓柏岩不知該如何拒絕。
『味道怎麼樣?』
看他拿起刀叉, 捲起麵條, 她立即屏住呼吸, 揚起眉梢。
『很好吃。』
將過於綿軟且微冷的麵條放進口裡後, 柏岩卻給了她一個讚許的眼神。
『 沒想到, 妳這個太小姐也會自己煮東西吃。』
『其他我不會。但在米蘭待了兩年, 簡單的義大利麵還是會煮的。』
李曉薇滿意的喝了一口柏岩遞給她的綜合果菜汁,然後坐了個魁臉。
『我 向來不喜歡喝這種果菜汁, 覺得有股怪怪的味道。』
他立刻將手裡的柳橙汁換給她。『不喜歡喝就早點說。』
李曉薇若有所思地笑了笑。『說出來更好嗎? 如果我說我不喜歡, 然後拒絕你給的飲料, 會不會顯得不夠禮貌? 我好像... 向來不太懂得該怎麼拒絕別人。』
『幹麼勉強喝討厭的東西? 不懂得拒絕的後果, 只會讓自己感到不舒服。』
柏岩不贊同地皺起眉, 繼續吃著他無法『拒絕』的義大利麵。『所以, 妳也不懂得拒絕妳父親給妳安排的婚事。』
 
  
She opened a lunchbox and took out some food. “All right. We've been talking for a while. You must be hungry.”
“Well, actually ...” I've just had my lunch.
“This is pasta. I cooked it myself. It's still hot. Try it!”Li Xiaowei smiled at him with an expression full of expectation. “I've also brought pumpkin soup.”
“Okay.” When he looked at her bright smile, he didn't know how he could possibly refuse.
As she saw him take up fork and knife and roll the noodles, she held her breath and rose the tip of her brow. “How does it taste?” she asked.
“Delicious,” he answered. He put the noodles – which were way too soft and already cold - into his mouth, and then he looked at her with an expression of praise.
“I didn't know you can cook.”
“I can't cook anything else,” she said. “But I lived in Milan for two years, and at least I learned some simple pasta recipes.”
With a complacent air, Li Xiaowei took a sip of the fruit and vegetable juice that Boyan had given to her. As she drank, her face twisted into a grimace.
“I never liked this kind of juice,” she said, “I always thought it tasted weird.”
He immediately gave her the orange juice he was holding in his hand. 
“If you didn't like it you could have just told me at once.”
As if lost in thought, Li Xiaowei smiled at him. “Is it better to say it directly? If I'd said I didn't like it, and then had refused the drink you'd given me, wouldn't it have been too impolite? Apparently … I've never quite understood how to reject other people.”  
“Why force yourself to drink something you don't like? If you don't know how to reject others you'll just make yourself feel uncomfortable.”
Boyan disapprovingly knit his brows as he spoke. And yet he went on eating the pasta he didn't dare refuse. 
“So,” he continued, “don't you know how to reject the marriage your father has arranged for you, either?” (Tang Xin: Zhe Ci Wo Aishang Ni. Taipei 2013, pp. 72-73).

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Travel Impressions – Differences Between Taiwan and Italy

Last week I returned to Italy after a whole year spent in Taiwan and Hong Kong. I believe I am not the only person who sees his own country in a different way after living for a long time abroad. 

From this point of view, my almost four years in Germany weren't as groundbreaking an experience as my two years in Asia. Germany and Italy are technically two separate countries with different culture and history. And yet, for hundreds of years they have been neighbours, they share a common set of values and historical developments. Greco-Roman civilisation, Christianity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Age of Discoveries, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Age of Nationalism, the two World Wars, and economic boom and many other historical processes are shared by most European countries. One can hardly explain the history of a single European country without talking about what happened in the others. 

East Asia, on the contrary, was for centuries isolated from the West, despite more or less sporadic contacts. Before the 19th century, East Asian history was virtually independent from the events in other parts of the globe. Therefore, the cultural difference between Italy and Taiwan is much wider than that between Italy and other Western countries. 

I have seldom missed Italy, but I did miss Europe. When I came back, I felt somewhat relieved, I felt at home. Here I need no visa, I am familiar with the way of life and people's attitude. It was as if a burden had fallen off my shoulders. 

In this post I would like to talk about my impressions after returning to Italy from East Asia.

1- Efficiency


One of the first things one notices in Italy is inefficiency. The little problems one encounters everywhere are striking, unpleasant. Italy is indeed extremely disorganised. After I arrived at Milan airport I went to the ticket counter to buy a train ticket to Milan Main Station. It was 7.43 am. The staff told me the next train would depart one hour later... This is disheartening. However, there is a shuttle bus service that takes one to the station in less than an hour and departs every 20 minutes.

In Hong Kong, the express train from the airport to the city centre comes very often and it takes only 25 minutes to get to Central MTR station. Taipei is much worse than Hong Kong and is currently comparable to Italy, but a new underground connection to the airport will soon improve the situation. I guess that among developed countries Italy has one of the worst public transport systems. 

2 - Weather


Monday, 16 December 2013

The Myth of the "Deceitful Chinaman": A Few thoughts About Politeness and Etiquette in Chinese Culture

As I mentioned in my previous post, many Western observers and expatriates living in China have noticed a difference between the way Chinese and Westerners communicate. Chinese are often criticised for their alleged lack of 'honesty' and 'transparency'. In the 19th and early 20th century, there was a tendency to regard Chinese people's communication strategies as the result of the 'deceitfulness' and 'insincerity' of the Chinese.

In recent times, this interpretation has shifted towards a milder one, according to which Chinese value face-saving, unoffensive and indirect communication in order to avoid confrontation.

I would like to challenge this view and argue that the apparent 'indirectness' and 'vagueness' Westerners notice in China is rather the consequence of hierarchy, social roles, 'collectivism', and power distribution. 



Honesty vs Deference: Western and Chinese Views on Politeness and Etiquette


Let us briefly examine two texts that can shed light on the different way in which Chinese and Westerners perceive honesty and communicate with each other. The first text is the Liji (simplified Chinese 礼记, traditional Chinese 禮記; English: Book of Rites), a Confucian classic that prescribes the proper behaviour of individuals in society. The part that interests us here is the one which defines propriety within the family.


Saturday, 14 December 2013

"Do Chinese Lie?" - The Myth of the "Deceitful Chinaman"

A Chinaman is cold, cunning and distrustful; always ready to take advantage of those he has to deal with; extremely covetous and deceitful ("China," Encyclopedia Britannica, 7th ed., vol. 6 [1842]; quoted in The Things They Say behind Your Back: Stereotypes and the Myths Behind Them, p. 115)
They [the Chinese] are well-behaved, law-abiding, intelligent, economical, and industrious, - they can learn anything and do anything ... they possess and practise an admirable system of ethics, and they are generous, charitable, and fond of good works, - they never forget a favour, they make rich return for any kindness ... they are practical, teachable, and wonderfully gifted with common sense (Sir Robert Hart [1975]: The I. G. in Peking: Letters of Robert Hart, Chinese Maritime Customs, 1868-1907 (2 Volumes), p. 27). 

These two extremely different generalisations about China symbolize the difficulty of Western observers to make sense of this country. Even today, there are Westerners who extol the virtues of Chinese society and ethics, while others blacken and stigmatize them.

As a foreigner, one is always confronted with traits of the host culture which appear shocking or hard to comprehend. As I have explained in my post about culture shock, the ways in which individuals react and adapt themselves to the life in a foreign country are manifold. Some people cannot cope with the challenge of adjusting themselves to a new environment and may develop a resentment towards the host culture. Others integrate themselves more or less smoothly. 

This is a problem that, as far as I have experienced, affects expatriates in general, regardless of where they come from. When I lived in Germany, I saw many Chinese, Koreans and people from other countries who did not feel comfortable in the new environment. For example, many Koreans, who are accustomed to a social order where etiquette, age, hierarchy etc. are important for the individual, find it hard to get used to a society that is based upon different values, where what they've learned to be just and right causes them to be scorned or derided, rather than praised. 

I remember when a Korean friend of mine once bowed to a professor as a sign of respect; in Germany, this is considered excessive, to say the least. He wanted to honour his professor as he had learned to do in his home country. He believed to be behaving properly, and yet he was met with ridicule by the other students, who giggled mockingly. Some expats who experience such situations may eventually mature a deep-seated hostility towards the host culture. They feel wronged and misunderstood by others and wish to go back to a social context where things are clear and predictable to them.

The myth of the 'deceitful Chinaman' developed in a somewhat similar way. In the past as in the present, Western people who live in China are confronted with behaviours that surprise them, offend them, even repulse them. Of course, not all expatriates have the same point of view. As the two aforementioned quotations show, the way in which people react to and interpret a new culture can be very different. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Taiwan's Weather and Cold Houses

If you go to Taiwan, one of the things you absolutely need to get used to is the cold at home during the winter. In fact, in Taiwan, parts of mainland China and other Asian countries there is no heating system at home.

I really want to tell you this because I got a cold this week and I'm feeling awful. The weather in Taipei is a big challenge for foreigners. Only two weeks ago it was as hot as summer. I think as late as last weekend I ate and enjoyed an ice cream, and I was still wearing shorts. 

Fooled by the heat, I underestimated Taipei's winter, which came all of a sudden this week. The temperature dropped from around 28-30 degrees to between 12 and 22 degrees; of course, this would make most Europeans smile, but it is a humid, nasty kind of cold. Since houses have no heaters the cold follows you everywhere, you just can't get rid of it. I guess people think it's not worth installing a heating system at home since the winter is short and the temperature constantly goes up and down.

What's more, Taiwanese houses don't seem to be insulated. Many of them even have open spaces like huge windows which can't be closed at all. So, the cold can just get inside as it pleases. I find this rather uncomfortable and  it doesn't create a nice 'winter atmosphere'. Anyway, guys, take care and wear warm clothes both at home and outside. I'll go to take a rest.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

228 Peace Park (Former Taipei Park)

The 228 Peace Park (二二八和平公園) may seem just a park like any other, but in fact it is one of Taipei's most interesting historic sites, full of hidden gems that reflect the political, urban, and ideological transformations of the city during the last two hundred years.




The park is located in the heart of Taipei, just a few minutes walk from Main Station and Bus Station. When I came to Taipei for the first time, I often walked around this area. I used to eat lunch in the food court of the Japanese department store Shinkong Mitsukoshi, which is inside one of the tallest buildings in the city. While strolling around, I noticed a nice neoclassical building surrounded by trees. Back then I didn't know that I was walking in the centre of both Qing-era and Japanese-era Taipei.

The neoclassical building is National Taiwan Museum, and the trees are part of the 228 Peace Park. Although the names do not suggest their origin, both the building and the park were built by the Japanese at the beginning of their colonial rule.


During The Qing Dynasty


In the Qing era, on around the same location of present-day National Taiwan Museum there was a temple: Tianhou Temple (天后宮), dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu. The left side of the temple (as seen from the north) was occupied by farmland or wasteland. On the right side there were houses and a street, called "Stone Memorial Archway Street" (石坊街). This street led from the temple to an arch that still exists today (Zhang / Huang 2000, pp. 24-25). The history of this arch is quite interesting.

In the Qing era, people had to undertake a long and difficult journey to Tainan, in Southern Taiwan, in order to participate to the imperial examinations. In the 6th year of Emperor Guangxu (1880) Hong Tengyun (洪騰雲), a rich merchant from Bangka, a settlement close to Taipei walled city, funded the construction of an examination hall (考棚) which accommodated more than 2000 students. The examination hall was located in the northeastern part of Taipei, approximately where Taipei Main Station stands now; it was later demolished by the Japanese.

The governor of Taiwan, Liu Mingchuan (劉銘傳), asked the Qing court for the permission to honour Hong Tengyun with a memorial arch to celebrate the merchant's dedication to the common good (急公好義) (ibid., p. 80). 


The arch in honour of Hong Tengyun

The arch stands next to a temple; before it are placed a pair of stone lion figures. These figures used to stand in front of the Qing-era provincial administration office (台北府衙). In 1915, the Japanese tore down the office and moved the lions to Taipei Park (ibid.). 

Another arch that has survived is the arch in honour of a woman from the Huang family (to know more about the history of this memorial arch, read my post about memorial arches, state, and family virtues in imperial China). The arch in honour of the virtuous and exemplar wife and mother was erected by order of Emperor Tongzhi in 1882, close to East Gate (note). Later on the Japanese moved the arch to Taipei Park to make space for the residence of the governor-general (see Allen 2012, pp. 101-102).


The arch in honour of Huang

As Joseph Allen has remarked, the Japanese had a complex relationship with the culture of their colonial subjects. On the one hand, the Japanese empire was based on the idea that the Japanese were superior to the Han Chinese population of Taiwan. On the other hand, however, Chinese culture had been for centuries the model for Japan. Confucianism, Chinese characters, Chinese literature and poetry etc. were all integral parts of Japanese culture. Therefore, certain elements like the arches could be accepted and integrated into the Japanese colonial project. 

Japanese Era


The Japanese introduced Western-style buildings, facilities and public spaces into Taipei's urban planning. One of such innovations was the public park (Allen 2012, p. 91). During the Qing era, when half of the area of Taipei was farmland and the urban layout was basically premodern, there was no need for parks. Taipei was a rural town, not an industrial metropolis. 

The modern use of the Chinese word for park (公園) was a rendering of the Japanese koen (ibid.). Modern public parks were first created in Western cities to reproduce a "natural" space inside the bustling, fast, stressful urban landscape of the industrial age. They were places set apart from the densely populated and hectic urban districts, where people could experience nature, relax and find rest from metropolitan life (ibid.). The Japanese picked up this concept and in 1873 they designed their first public park, Ueno Park in Tokyo (ibid.). However, the Japanese version of the park had a somewhat different function: it was not a place to rest and preserve a natural and healthy environment, but a political, civic space.

As part of their urban restructuring of Taipei, the Japanese demolished most Qing-era buildings within Taipei walled city, most especially the religious and administrative buildings. Apparently, the Japanese felt the need to erase Taipei's Chinese imperial identity. They wanted to make clear that that was a new age, and the architecture of Taipei had to reflect the new Japanese-colonial reality.


The structure of the park has remained the same since the Japanese era, although a few new elements have been added, such as the amphitheatre (the white building on the right) and some Chinese-style pagodas. The path that cuts through the park is Qing-era "Stone Memorial Archway Street"

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Tianhou Temple and the surrounding buildings were demolished and a park was completed in 1908. It was called Taipei Park (台北公園). Since it was the second park to have been built in Taipei (the first being Yuanshan park in 1897), Taipei Park began to be called  by the locals "New Park" (新公園).

In 1915 the construction of the memorial hall for governor-general Kodama Gentaro and civil administrator Goto Shimpei, which is present-day National Taiwan Museum, completed Taipei Park and made it a central urban space of Japanese colonialism.

Saturday, 30 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.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

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. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

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. 


Xiaonanmen
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


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

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

Saturday, 16 November 2013

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. 


Ximen (西門), or 'West Gate'; later demolished by the Japanese

Beimen (北門), or 'North Gate', still stands, but now in the
middle of Taipei's concrete jungle

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 150,000-200,000 (Davison, chapter 2).

When the Qing Dynasty incorporated Taiwan into the Empire (1684), the Beijing court placed it under the jurisdiction of Fujian Province. Taiwan had the title of a prefecture, subordinate to the governor of Fujian. Taiwan's population continued to increase, reaching around 900,000 by the end of the 18th century, and 2,500,000 by the end of the 19th century (ibid., chapter 3). At that time Taiwan was relatively isolated from the mainland, and Qing rule was rather weak, given that the governor lived so faraway from the island. However, economic and international developments would soon change the role of Taiwan within the Qing Empire.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the influence of foreign powers on China grew considerably. When China was defeated by the British and the French during the Opium Wars, the port of Danshui, near Taipei, was opened to foreign trade. In the following years, Taiwan's trade increased steadily and by 1874 the island had favourable trade balances (ibid., chapter 3). Tea and sugar were the most important goods that Taiwan exported at that time. British merchant John Dodd established a flourishing trade of oolong tea, which he had brought to Taiwan from Amoy. Another Westerner, Robert H. Bruce, founded a company for the export of tea, soon followed by other merchants (ibid. chapter 3).    

As foreign pressure increased, the Qing Empire started to worry about the integrity of its frontiers. It became necessary to guard Taiwan against foreign penetration. That's why the Beijing government set about developing Taiwan's infrastructure and security. Thanks to the work of able administrators like Shen Baozhen, Ding Richang, and Liu Mingchuan, Taiwan became one of the most advanced areas in the whole of China. They introduced the study of Western subjects, improved the infrastructure and the defence system. 

Liu Mingchuan also successfully defended Taiwan against the attacks of the French during the Sino-French War of 1884-1885. Now that Taiwan was directly threatened by Western powers and was also increasingly coveted by the rising Empire of Japan, Beijing granted Taiwan the status of a province in 1887 (ibid., chapter 3). 

The Rise of Taipei 


It was around this period that Taipei was transformed into a provincial capital. The city walls and the gates were built between the eighth and the tenth year of the reign of emperor Guangxu (光緒), 1882-1884. In the subsequent decade, the city was expanded: Official buildings, shops and houses were built, streets were made, and even electric lamps made their appearance. Within a period of ten years, many areas were transformed from wasteland to urban districts (Zhuang Zhanpeng / Huang Jingyi et al.:  Comprehensive Guide to Old Taipei [莊展鵬 / 黃靜宜 et al.: 台北古城深度旅遊]. Taipei 2000, p. 20). 

Despite all this, Taipei was still a small and underdeveloped city. 19th century maps (see below) show that only about 50% of Taipei's total area was built, and the rest was occupied by farmland or wasteland (Joseph R. Allen: Taipei. City of Displacements. Seattle / London 2012, p. 29). 


Map of Qing Dynasty Taipei


The city gates (東門, 西門, 北門, 南門 etc.) are still part of the topography of modern Taipei, and they show us where the city ended. So, for example, the site of present-day Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was outside the wall, and therefore countryside. Nowadays, one can basically walk from one gate to the other, circling the whole Qing Dynasty Taipei, within perhaps one or two hours.  

The most densely populated areas were in the northern part of Taipei. The central part contained temples and government buildings, while the southern and south-eastern parts were scarcely built. This structure shapes to this day the urban landscape of Taipei city. Present-day government district was built on the foundations of Qing Taipei's administrative and religious centre. The main boulevards run along the former city walls (Zhongxiao Road, Zhongshan Road, Aiguo Road etc.). Also the East-West divide dates back to this period. 

All around Taipei walled city (台北城) there were many settlements that are now part of Taipei City (台北市) and New Taipei City (新北市), for example Bangka, Dadaocheng, Danshui etc. (Zhuang / Huang 2000, p. 18). 

By 1894, Taipei was at the same time provincial capital, seat of the prefecture and seat of the county administration, and its urban structure reflected its political role. Qing Taipei buildings can be divided into five main categories:

- Religion: Town God's Temple (城隍廟), Tianhou Temple (天后宮), Confucius Temple (文廟), Temple of the War God (武廟) etc., mostly located in present-day government district.

- Education: Academies of Classical Learning (登瀛書院, 明道書院), an examination hall for imperial examinations (考棚), a study hall of 'Western' studies (西學堂), a study hall for aborigines (畨學堂) etc.

- Administration: Office of the Provincial Governor (巡撫衙門), Provincial Administration Hall (布政使司衙門) etc.

- Business

- Housing      

The Provincial Administration Hall, 1901


The Town God's temple was an important place of worship. Every month government officials had to perform rites and offer sacrifices to the gods on designated days (ibid., p. 26).

The provincial administration hall was located where now Zhongshan Hall stands. The Xixuetang, 'Western' Study Hall' was mainly a place where people could learn English and other Western subjects (ibid., p. 27). This shows late-Qing attempts to introduce Western knowledge.

One of the most remarkable buildings is the Fanxuetang (番學堂). It's really hard to translate this word. I would suggest 'Aboriginal Study Hall'. It was a place where Taiwanese aborigines could learn Mandarin and then teach the language to their relatives when they returned to their villages in the mountains. The first part of the word, 番, is the Chinese character that meant 'foreign', 'barbarian'. This study hall reflects the policy of Sinicisation of the imperial administration.

From 1897 on the Japanese began to tear down important buildings such as the Confucius Temple, Dengying academy, Tianhou Temple, the Office of the Provincial Administration, etc. In 1900 they started to demolish the walls and remodel Taipei according to their colonial modernisation project (ibid., p. 30).

Thursday, 14 November 2013

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 continued my walk, I saw a series of buildings that I'd never seen or heard of before. "How did these Western-style buildings end up here?" I wondered. "When were they constructed, and by whom?" I had the faint idea that the Japanese must have built them, but I wasn't sure. Besides, why did they look so little Japanese? However, they also looked quite different from anything I'd ever seen in Europe.

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.


The Judicial Yuan (司法院),  completed in 1934

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 district, the Japanese tore most of them down and created an entirely new colonial capital. 

An example of this urban restructuring was the High Court. Nowadays, this is the seat of the Judicial Yuan (司法院). It is located right next to the Office of the President, and opposite Jieshou Park. 

Until the 1920s, instead of the High Court you would have seen a completely different type of construction: the Temple of the Chinese God of War, Guangong. Nowadays few people realise that prior to the Japanese colonial era a great part of the government district was full of Qing Dynasty buildings. Where the Office of the President now stands, there was an ancestral hall (宗祠); Taipei First Girls High School was a Temple of Confucius (文廟); National Taiwan Museum was a Tianhou Temple (天后宮); Zhongshan Hall was the seat of the Qing Taiwan Provincial Yamen (布政使司) etc. (see Zhuang Yongming: Old Taipei Streets [莊永明: 台北古街]. Taipei 2012, p. 2).




The Temple of Guangong was demolished by the Japanese in 1929, and the new building was completed in 1934. The structure was designed by Japanese architect Ide Kaoru (1879-1944), who also designed other famous landmarks of Taipei, such as National Taiwan University and Zhongshan Hall. The High Court was built with reinforced concrete bricks, a new technique that had already been used for the Office of the governor-general. The style of the construction is a singular mix of Byzantine, Arabic, and Renaissance elements. Remarkable is the octagonal tower, a feature of Japanese imperial architecture. After its completion, the High Court was, along with the Office of the govenor-general, one of the tallest buildings in Taipei, a sort of skyscraper of that time (note).

Monday, 11 November 2013

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. 


Front side of the Original National Taiwan University College of Medicine, in Ren'ai Road. Unfortunately, many buildings in Taipei are covered by trees, which makes it impossible to take decent photographs. 

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).