Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Taipei - Some sights and a bit of their history

Treasure Hill, Taipei
I think we need a bit of history to explain the next few sites that we saw, Treasure Hill, the Bo pi liao historic street, and the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial.

When China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, was overthrown in 1911, the Republic of China (ROC) was formed. In 1912, one of the revolutionary leaders, Sun Yat-Sen became its first president. His 'Three Principles of the People' (nationalism, democracy and people's livelihood) made him a popular leader, and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) maintained an alliance with the communists.

Treasure Hill, Taipei
However the alliance was fragile, and could not survive his death in 1925. His protege, Chiang Kai Shek, married Sun's widow's sister, and laid claim to be his heir. But so did Wang Jinwei, one of Sun's old revolutionary comrades, and Sun's widow sided with him. This split the KMT in 1927, and started a civil war between the Nationalists and Communists. The war paused during the Japanese invasion in WWII, but resumed after they left.

Treasure Hill, Taipei
By then, Chiang Kai Shek had moved away from the Three Principles, to a more authoritarian leadership, and it was the Communists that gained the support of the people. In 1949, Chiang Kai Shek and his Nationalist Party retreated to Taiwan. Taiwan had been recently handed over to the Chinese in 1945, after the WWII defeat of the Japanese, who had been ruling it since 1895. The takeover is somewhat controversial, as the Japanese never officially ceded Taiwan until 1952.

Treasure Hill, Taipei
With the arrival in Taiwan of some two million Nationalist Party members, military and their families, there was an urgent need for places for them to live, and one place that around 200 of the military went to was Treasure Hill. A haphazard illegal development of small shanty housing sprung up, alongside an anti aircraft gun position, and the Treasure Hill community was created.

However many of the buildings became structurally unsafe, and between 2007-10 this historic area was restored, with most residents being refocused elsewhere and only 22 returning. The area is now an artist's village, although when we visited we were quite disappointed by the lack of studios that were actually open.
Treasure Hill Temple, Taipei

Bo-Pi Liao Street, Taipei
Another area that we visited was the Bo-Pi Liao historic street from the Qing Dynasty and the Japanese colonial era. The street, which has been renovated, has some distinctly different architecture, but I think they could do a bit more to demonstrate how it would have looked at the time.

In contrast to many places that were colonised by the Japanese in South East Asia, Taiwan was relatively happy with the arrangement. The Japanese provided infrastructure, and unlike in some other places, took a fairly relaxed approach to governing the locals. So it was a bit of a shock to the Taiwanese when the Chinese Nationalist Party took over in 1945, with its authoritarian style.

Issues between the Taiwanese and the Nationalist Party came to a head on 27 February 1947, when the government's Tobacco Monopoly armed enforcement team confiscated contraband cigarettes from Lin Jiang-Mai, a 40-year-old widow at the Tianma Tea House. When she tried to insist they be returned, she was hit around the head with a pistol. People nearby came to her aid and the agents left, but one of them shot someone as he went. This caused outrage, especially as no action was taken, and the next day violence erupted.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, Taipei
The Nationalist Party sought to quell the riots by imposing martial law and curfews, and they shot a number of key protesters. This became known as the February 28 Massacre or 228 Incident. Initially, Taiwanese civilians appeared to have the upper hand in Taipei, and presented a list of demands regarding the governance of their country; in fact, the KMT Governor, Chen Yi was just stalling for time while he amassed a large military force, and during March 1947, he launched a major crackdown, which saw the execution of what is believed to be 3-4,000 people, but some figures suggest that during the aftermath the number of people killed could be anywhere up to 30,000.

This began what is known as the White Terror, which was the period of martial law that lasted from 1947 to 1987, and saw around 140,000 enemies of the state arrested, and others executed, or simply 'disappeared'. Governor Chen Yi himself was dismissed and, in 1950 he seems to have attempted to defect to the Communist Party, for which Chiang Kai Shek had him arrested and executed for espionage.

Liberty Square, Taipei
Chen Yi has subsequently been blamed for the 228 Incident and its consequences, but many consider that Chiang Kai Shek himself should shoulder much of the blame. Of course he didn't, and this can be seen in the enormous Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, which was completed and opened on 5 April 1980, the fifth anniversary of his death.

The memorial is octagonal, because the number 8 is believed by the Chinese to represent good fortune, and stands 76 metres tall. There are two flights of stairs, both with 89 steps, as that was Chiang's age when he died. Its blue roof tiles and red detailing represent the ROC flag. The memorial was the site of many protests, which eventually led to major reforms by President Lee Teng Hui, including Taiwan's first open elections in 1996, where he was re-elected.

Liberty Square, Taipei
In 2007, officials decided to rename the square Liberty Square, and the memorial itself the Democracy Memorial Hall. However, while the square was renamed, the opposition party successfully fought the change of name for the memorial, albeit on the basis of convenience rather than respect for Chiang. Indeed, even amongst his own Nationalist Party, there is now acknowledgement of the faults of his leadership.

The other buildings in the square are the National Theatre and National Concert Hall.

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