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.
The most puzzling one was a colossal, baroque-style building. This one looked really Western, just like something you might see in a European city. As I found out later, this building is the seat of the Control Yuan of the Republic of China.
The location of the Control Yuan is a prominent one, at the intersection of two major boulevards, Zhongshan South Road (中山南路) and Zhongxiao West Road (忠孝西路). This location reflects the administrative importance the building had in the Japanese colonial period. It was erected in 1915 to house the government office of Taihoku (=Taipei) Prefecture, which was the second most important governmental office in Taipei after the palace of the governor-general (see: Zhuāng Zhǎnpéng/ Huáng Jìngyi at al.: Táiběi gǔchéng shēndù lǚyóu [莊展鵬 / 黃靜宜et al.: 台北古城深度旅遊]. Taipei 2000, p. 119).
During the Qing Dynasty, the area where now the Control Yuan stands was outside the city walls. Therefore it was nothing more than farmland. As maps of Qing Dynasty Taipei indicate, present-day Zhongxiao West Road runs exactly along what used to be the northern city walls. If you walk from the Control Yuan along Zhongxiao West Road, you will in fact end up at North Gate (北門), near Taipei Main station (ibid., pp. 24-25). If you walk along Zhongshan South Road (that runs along the former eastern walls) you will arrive at East Gate (東門).
After the Japanese demolished the city walls to implement their urban restructuring plan, they constructed this monumental, Western-style baroque building, which is one of the best example of Japanese Baroque architecture.