Just a few metres away from Taipei Main Station there stands an interesting building which is easy to overlook in the urban jungle of the city. Surrounded by whitewashed walls and by a small park, it is a prominent Japanese-style construction that differs markedly from the prevailing modern architecture of the area. It is the so-called Sun Yat-sen Memorial House, which is a fascinating testimony to the history of Taiwan and the complex relationship between Taiwan and China.
Sun Yat-sen Memorial House was originally built by the Japanese during their colonial rule on the island (1895-1945) and it served as a high-class hotel; it was the most exclusive and elegant guesthouse in the neighbourhood. Its guests were mostly visiting Japanese government officials, but also the Japanese governor-general, who used to hold banquets there (see Zhuang Zhanpeng et al.: Taibei Gucheng Shendu Lvyou. Taipei 2000, p. 123).
The name of the hotel was at that time Umeyashiki (梅屋敷). The characters 屋敷 (pronounced yashiki) in Japanese describe an upper class hotel, while the character 梅 (pronounced méi in Chinese and ume in Japanese) means ‘plum’. Therefore, the name of the hotel can be translated as ‘Plum Mansion’.
|You have to take off your shoes before going inside, according
to the Japanese custom. Slippers are provided.
But what does a Japanese colonial guesthouse have to do with Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese nationalist and father of modern Chinese revolutionary movements?
During his long career as a revolutionary and then as the leader of the Guomindang, Sun Yat-sen travelled to many places in order to learn things that could be useful for his political project and also to spread his message throughout the world. Moreover, he was often forced to leave China when he suffered defeats.
In March 1913 Sun Yat-sen’s party, the Guomindang, won the majority of the seats in the National Assembly, the parliament of the fledgling Republic of China. But the second President of the Republic, general Yuan Shikai, was scheming to overthrow the democratic government and make himself new emperor of China. He launched a terror campaign against the powerful Guomindang, in which thousands of its members and supporters were killed (Taylor 2009, p. 26). The two major leaders of the party, Sun Yat-sen himself and the young Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Japan (ibid., p. 27).
Sun Yat-sen did not go to Japan directly, but via the Japanese colony of Taiwan. For one night, he stayed at the renowned Hotel Umeyashiki (Zhuang et al. 2000, p. 123). This was Sun’s second visit to Taiwan, the first being in 1900. He travelled to the island two more times, in 1918 and 1924 (ibid.).
Over thirty years later, the Guomindang, now led by his disciple Chiang Kai-shek, lost the civil war against Mao Zedong’s Communists and was forced to flee China. The government of the Republic of China was relocated to Taiwan, where it still survives. In the Guomindang regime, Sun Yat-sen and his ideology, the Three Principle’s of the People, played a paramount role. Sun was revered as the founding father of the Republic, he and his thought were central to the identity and self-assigned mission of the party (see also Harrison 2007). It is therefore not surprising that all places more or less remotely connected with Sun Yat-sen were treated like sacred Republican symbols.
However, as the first Chinese nationalist leader and revolutionary, Sun Yat-sen is revered by both the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party. It is no coincidence that during his recent historical government-to-government visit in mainland China, Wang Yu-chi, Taiwan’s mainland affairs chief, had an official trip to Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Nanjing.
As blogger seems to be unable to load the website when I post too many pictures, I uploaded them on my Facebook page. If you want to see more photos of the nice memorial house and the park, just click here.