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.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Bloomberg News and the Tradition of Self-Censorship

Recently Bloomberg News has been widely criticised for allegedly censoring its own journalists in order not to upset the Chinese government. According to the New York Times, Bloomberg decided not to publish an investigative report that examined the financial ties between business tycoons and Chinese politicians. It appears that Bloomberg didn't want to risk alienating Beijing's leaders. Following previous reports by Western media that investigated the private finances of CCP cadres, the Chinese government had already signalled that a red line had been crossed. As a result, several journalists had been denied resident visas, and websites such as Bloomberg's had been blocked.

After Bloomberg's self-censorship was revealed, a veteran China reporter, Michael Forsythe, was suspended because he was suspected of having leaked information concerning Bloomberg's move not to publish the article on which he had been working for months.

Meanwhile Bloomberg has denied the allegations. However, this is not the first case of Bloomberg censoring itself in order not to infuriate certain countries' political leaders. One less known example of such practices occurred a few years ago in Singapore.

Despite being a democracy based on British common law, Singapore, led by the People's Action Party since 1963, has always had a difficult relationship with free media. In fact, a set of laws and regulations make sure that the Singaporean press and cyberspace are subjected to a high degree of government supervision.

Foreign media outlets, too, have been confronted with the power of the Singaporean establishment. Usually, Singaporean politicians will file lawsuits for defamation against journalists or media groups. From the viewpoint of Singapore's politicians, suing people who damaged their image is a legitimate way of defending their reputation against baseless accusations that may compromise the good name of the government. 

Bloomberg News belongs to those foreign media which had to practice self-censorship in order to survive in Singapore. In Transparency and Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Asia, Gerry Rodan relates how Bloomberg adjusted itself to the demands by Singapore's leadership: 

[I]t was the demonstration effect of continued recourse to legal action, or threats thereof, that was arguably the most potent factor in reinforcing the need to be cautious in the way business matters were reported - especially as this involved the GLCs [government linked companies]... This applied equally to online reporting as it did to hardcopy newspapers and magazines. Accordingly, an article on the site, 'How Far Can Singapore Inc. Get Out of Business', by Patrick Smith on 4 August 2002 promptly resulted in threatened defamation actions by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The matter was almost as quickly defused by an out-of-court settlement of S$595,000 and an apology on the Bloomberg web site for any insinuation of nepotism in the appointment of the Deputy Prime Minister's wife, Ho Ching, to the new executive directorship of Temasek Holdings ... (Rodan 2005, pp. 87-88).

Bloomberg's chief editor Matthew Winkler explained that behind the decision was the concern that if Bloomberg lost the case this would threaten the jobs of 180 employees and a readership of 2,695 people in Singapore. Since no foreign publisher has ever successfully defended a libel suit against a Singaporean politician Bloomberg feared that it would not win the case. Subsequently, the controversial article was removed from the website and all other websites that had made use of it. Interestingly, Matthew Winkler is still Bloomberg's chief editor, and he was also involved in the recent case of self-censorship in China. The rationale behind the Singapore and China case seems to be exactly the same (ibid., p. 88).

The question now is: how should Western media react to government pressure? Is it better to cooperate in order to keep on working in those countries? Or should they quit altogether, perhaps leaving the job to free-lance journalists or independent news media? 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Why Pope Francis Is A Better Economist Than Milton Friedman

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?  
[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system ... 

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.

These are not the words of a socialist, or a trade unionist. These are the words of Pope Francis' latest Apostolic Exhortation. I am not a Christian and I do not agree with the religious and theological contents of the Pope's message. As a secularist I have always felt a deep mistrust towards the Catholic Church, which all too often has tried to influence politics with its anti-progressive, conservative stand. But Pope Francis seems different. He talks about important things, and his views reflect a simple, but wise common sense which seemed to have disappeared from the thinking of the ruling elites of our times. Pope Francis' message echoes a growing opposition to the current economic system. I have criticised this system many times on my blog, and I will continue to do so. 

The present-day dominant economic ideology can be defined as "neoliberal". It began to penetrate universities, think tanks, and politics in the 1970s. Its triumph was sealed by the political movements of the 1980s, led by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Since then, neoliberalism has become mainstream, and it has reigned nearly unopposed in the Western world. 

What is neoliberal ideology? According to David Harvey, neoliberalism is "a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within a framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade" (A Brief History of Neoliberalism 2005, p. 2). This theory is based on the premise that the state should stay away from economic activity, as it doesn't possess enough information to direct it successfully, and that market exchange is an ethic in itself, which guides human action and guarantees individual freedom and social equilibrium (ibid., p. 3).

Neoliberalism ignores all facts that may contradict its assumptions, such as successful government intervention and regulation. Moreover, its relationship with government intervention itself is ambiguous, to say the least. 

For a detailed analysis of this subject, I refer you to Harvey's book, chapter 3. Here I will mention only the following contradiction inherent in neoliberal thinking: while the neoliberal state in theory should guarantee absolute individual freedom and fairness, in practice it favours certain social and economic groups more than others. For example, the neoliberal state has a clear bias against trade unions and workers, while it actively supports finance and big corporations through targeted deregulation and taxation. Therefore, neoliberalism appears abstract and ideological in theory and contradictory in practice.

Milton Friedman and the Myth of Free Market

In Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, the guru of neoliberalism Milton Friedman depicted the extraordinary success of the United States as the consequence of its freedom:

Ever since the first settlement of Europeans in the New World America has been a magnet for people seeking adventure, fleeing from tyranny, or simply trying to make a better life for themselves and their children ...

When they arrived, they did not find streets paved with gold; they did not find an easy life. They did find freedom and an opportunity to make the most of their talents. Through hard work, ingenuity, thrift, and luck, most of them succeeded in realizing enough of their hopes and dreams ....

According to Friedman, two sets of ideas made the 'American miracle' possible: the theories of Adam Smith and the political values of Thomas Jefferson.

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

Greek Neo-Fascists Cut Off Nose of a 17-Year-Old Student

I remember when I went to Greece for the last time. The country was still wealthy, peaceful, overall optimistic. First signs of deterioration were visible. We had to be more careful, hide our wallets to avoid pick-pocketing. But the situation wasn't too bad. People didn't know what awaited them. Years of plenty had created a psychological mechanism of protection - one saw a terrible storm looming on the horizon, but one turned one's back and preferred to ignore it. Poverty and social unrest seemed to be a thing of the past, unimaginable in the 21st century.

But that was an illusion. Since 2008 unemployment has surged, living standards have worsened, taxation and austerity measures have paralysed the economy. I haven't been to Greece after 2008, but I've heard that signs of decay are ubiquitous - closed shops, criminality, destitution. Some of my Greek friends in Berlin and their families back home were themselves affected. 

Hopelessness, despair, and anger have spread like a disease. And one of the results has been the resurgence of far-right movements, which exploit emotions, channel frustration and hatred into propaganda. Using desperation and resentment to propagate their ideology, they create the need for action. And mostly, action means violence. 

The party that has most profited from economic and political turmoil is "Golden Dawn", a neo-fascist organisation. Golden Dawn is penetrating the body of society like a deadly virus, and no one seems able to stop it. Their acts of aggression against political opponents and immigrants are notorious. The murder of left-wing singer Pavlos Fyssas a few months ago has been their most high-profile crime so far. Yet their misdeeds are numerous, and they affect more and more people who used to believe they were safe from right-wing extremism. One of the most horrifying cases, which has become known only recently, is that of a young student, disfigured and almost killed by members of the Golden Dawn.

As Athens Voice reported, on January 28, 2013, a 17-year-old student was severely wounded by members of the Golden Dawn. He was assaulted in front of the school doors and stabbed in the face and throat. Thereupon the assailants disfigured him by cutting off his nose. A macabre, mafia-style torture. Apparently, the wounds inflicted on the teenager resemble those of murdered singer Pavlos Fyssas, suggesting a standardised method of vendetta.

The attack was a punishment meted out to the boy because he had written on the school bench of one of his fellow students, who had recently become a member of the Golden Dawn, the word "ANTIFA" (=anti-fascist).  

In the meantime, European countries remain indifferent. They demand sacrifices from the Greeks, they ignore the impossible situation that has developed there and that becomes increasingly unbearable. The media talk about human rights in places like China. But what happens at home they ignore, because such news don't sell. Who cares about Greece? Branded cheaters and loafers by public opinion, the Greeks are deemed unworthy even of compassion. 

As I have pointed out several times, I believe that neoliberal orthodoxy with its instinctive and irrational aversion to industrial policy, to the demands of the middle class and workers, with its ideological rejection of tariffs and state regulation and intervention, is responsible for the present plight. Instead of trying out different ways to bring people back to work and improve Greece's industrial capacity, political leaders, mainstream economists and economic lobbies insist on prescribing the same wrong medicine to a patient whose condition is deteriorating by the day, amid general indifference and cynicism. 

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

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). 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

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. 

The Office of the President of the Republic of China

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Formosan Nationalism - Taiwan After 1945 (Part I)

In previous posts I briefly discussed some of the characteristics of Chinese nationalism. Now I would like to talk about the emergence of Taiwanese nationalism. As Taiwanese nationalism we should understand the movement that propagates a distinct Taiwanese national identity. According to Taiwanese nationalist theories, Taiwan is a nation, and Taiwan and China are two different nations with similar culture, like Austria and Germany, or Australia and New Zealand. 

I would like to point out that the premise of my argument is that nationalism, as an ideology, is never objective. What a nation is, can never be explained rationally and scientifically. Nationalist movements may claim that nations are objective entities, but I fully reject this claim. National identities redefine themselves over time, and different groups or individuals may have different opinions about national identity. 

Many people who talk about Taiwan and China do it from a nationalistic perspective. They either support Chinese or Taiwanese nationalism, and they are emotionally involved in this issue. As far as I am concerned, I have no ulterior motive in writing these posts. I just want to explain some of the issues related to China and Taiwan without siding with the one or the other side. 

Formosan Nationalism

What people call 'Taiwanese national consciousness' is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, the emergence of a distinct Taiwanese collective identity can be traced back to the end of World War II and the retrocession of Taiwan to the Republic of China. 

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'. 

However, I soon understood that what may seem simple to me becomes difficult in the minds of others. The point is that the person who invited him was a few years older than him. Because of the age difference, the younger had to show 'respect' to the elder. As a guide to Korean society explains:

Many Korean men believe that the best way to get to know a person is to drink with him ... People who do not drink as much as their counterparts are sometimes thought to be hiding something, afraid to let down their defences. Many Koreans would prefer not to drink so much, but not to drink, or to stop drinking too soon might ruin the mood for everyone. In terms of etiquette, it is particularly difficult for someone of a lower status to turn down a request to drink from someone of a higher status ... Considering the amount of alcohol imbided, there may be times when one is tempted to refuse. This borders on antisocial behaviour. Koreans have the same problem, as there is often one person urging everyone else to drink one more glass, but being Koreans, they go ahead and drink, even if it means becoming sick (CultureShock! Korea, pp. 161-162).

In her book Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, author Leslie T. Chang describes social relations in China as "needlessly complicated". 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

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 of the Taiwan Solidarity Union, which advocates independence [2]. 

Lee Teng-hui's understanding of Taiwan and the relationship between Taiwan and China has often been a topic of fierce controversy. The main reason is that his views are themselves so contradictory and volatile that it is hard to grasp them. However, if one reads some of his speeches, messages and interviews during his presidency (1988-2000), one realises that Lee Teng-hui was, at least for most of his tenure, way more conservative than the public has portrayed  him. 

At the same time, he was also an innovator: he openly talked about Taiwan, the Taiwanese identity, universal human values, and the heritage of the Japanese colonial era in a way that broke with the rhetoric of his predecessors Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo, who had been born and had grown up on the mainland and therefore identified themselves with China.

In this post I would like to examine some of the statements Lee Teng-hui made throughout his political career in order to show these contradictions and ambiguities. 

Lee Teng-hui and the Legacy of Chinese Nationalism

On March 8, 1991, Lee Teng-hui gave a speech at the Reception for the 1991 Symposium on County and City Affairs. He laid out the principles of his policy towards mainland China: