Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Taipei (Taiwan, ROC)

Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is one of the major tourist attractions in Taipei. It was built in honour of Sun Yat-sen, recognized by both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Guomindang (KMT) as the Father of the Nation (國父, pinyin: guófù). The complete official name of the building is National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (Chinese: 國立國父紀念館; pinyin: guólì guófù jìniànguǎn; literally “National ‘Father of the Nation’ Memorial Hall”).

The memorial hall is a large red building “with a sweeping roof of glazed yellow tile” (Davison / Reed 1998, p. 138). It was designed by architect Wang Ta-hung, who won a public contest. (note) It is a mix of Chinese style and modern forms that somehow reminds me of the architecture of fascism in Europe, where architects tried to merge modern materials and styles with an alleged “patriotic” tradition. However, Wang Ta-hung’s initial project seems to have been too modern for Chiang Kai-shek’s taste, who suggested a few changes to emphasize the “Chineseness” of the building.

“Originally, the Memorial Hall primarily functioned as a place to display the historical relics of Sun’s life and the Xinhai Revolution. It was later opened to exhibitions and performances. Taiwan’s highest movie award ceremony, the Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards, is held annually in the Memorial Hall Auditorium.” (note)

Side view of Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

History and Function of Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

Statue of Sun Yat-sen in the Zhongshan park,
which surrounds the Memorial Hall 
The reason why Chiang Kai-shek wanted to devote a memorial hall to his mentor Sun Yat-sen was that the Sun Yat-sen personality cult was a central part of the ideology of the KMT and of the Republic of China.

Sun was the man who founded modern Chinese nationalism, a mix of old Chinese thinking and Western nationalist doctrine. “He was steeped in the intellectual currents of late nineteenth and early twentieth century China“, and as many political activists of the time he believed that China was in a state of crisis that made necessary to save the fatherland from extinction. (Harrison 2006, pp. 99-101). In many ways, Sun’s nationalist ideology was a prefiguration of the right-wing activist and populist movements of Europe, such as Mussolini’s fascism. Though Sun’s principles definitely incorporated a more humane and even progressive aspect that can be reconciled with modern statehood and democracy, the Republic of China that he helped shaping was for decades a fascistoid state. (ibid., p. 101)

At the end of the 19th century, Sun created a political philosophy called “The Three Principles of the People” (Chinese: 三民主義 / 三民主义, pinyin: sān mín zhǔyì). The three principles reflected the spirit of the time: they were based on nationalism and the demand for political reforms. (note) During his lifetime, Sun fought to overthrow of the Manchu dynasty and championed the modernization of China.

Giant statue of Sun Yat-sen inside the Hall. On the right you can see
one of the guards 

He was the first President of the Republic of China and the mentor of Chiang Kai-shek. The latter seized power after Sun’s death in 1925 and remained throughout his life loyal to Sun’s teachings and ideology. It was Chiang Kai-shek who, as the leader of China, started the personality cult around Sun Yat-sen. In fact, a Memorial Hall for Sun had already been built in mainland China in 1931 in Guangzhou, where it still exists today (see picture below).

Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Guangzhou, mainland China.
As you can see, the style of this building is much more classic than
the one in Taipei, which was built almost 40 years later.

When he was defeated by the Communists, Chiang Kai-shek and the whole government of the ROC retreated to Taiwan. At first, Taiwan was considered the base from which to “retake” the lost mainland. (see my introduction to the history of Taiwan) That’s why during the first years of its rule the KMT simply used the government buildings that the Japanese had built. This was a clear sign that the KMT leadership saw Taipei as the temporary capital of the ROC. But as time went by, Chiang and his men began to understand that they would never set foot on the mainland again. Despite their nationalist rhetoric of “reconquering the mainland”, they began pay more attention to Taipei as the capital and to reshape it according to their own political vision.  

Front side of the building
To celebrate Sun Yat-sen’s 100th birthday, the construction of the Memorial Hall was initiated on November 12, 1965, and it was completed in 1972. The existence of a memorial hall in mainland China and another one in Taipei somehow reconfirms the role of “Taiwan province” as a Nationalist China opposed to a Communist China.  

Inside the building there is a main hall with a giant statue of Sun Yat-sen, for whose construction 16.7 tons of copper were used. In this hall, in 1979, Chiang Ching-kuo (Chiang Kai-shek’s son and successor) gave a New Year’s speech that shows the persistence of the KMT ideology:

The spirit of the Republic of China is based on the Three Principles of the People, peaceful endeavour, building the nation, and advancing unity (datong). As well as this spirit, as we build the nation we promote the majestic qualities of the Chinese people […]” (Harrison 2006, p. 133)

Here is a video I took inside the hall. I filmed part of the changing of the guard. The hall was crammed with people, who were mostly tourists from mainland China. 

Useful Information

Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall can be reached by underground. Take the blue line directly to Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Station. The address is No. 505, Jen-Ai Road (3rd Blvd.), Sec. 4, Taipei (see map).
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is open Monday~Sunday 9:00~18:00 (Except the eve and the first day of Lunar New Year). 

You can see Taipei 101 towering behind Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall


Christopher Logan / Teresa Hsu: Culture Taipei! A Guidebook for Thinking Travelers. Taipei 2003

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