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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.
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