Jump to content

About Taipei 3: History

Wikimania 2007 Taipei :: a Globe in Accord
Main Page   Geography   History   Attractions   Religions   Food   Stores   Media   Museums    


400 plus years

The history of Taipei can be traced back roughly 5000 to 7000 years. The original inhabitants of both Taiwan and Taipei are the Austronesian peoples. Some Austronesian tribes were believed to have lived in what is now Yuanshan during the New Stone Age and Shihsanhang during the Iron Age.

Among those Austronesians, the original inhabitants of Taipei were the Ketagalan tribe who was eventually driven into assimilation and extinction by Han Chinese settlers from Fujian Province in the 18th century. The avenue leading to the Presidential Office is named in memory of the Ketagalans.

Approximately four hundred years ago, the Taipei basin was mainly ignored marshland. The Dutch, who established Taiwan's first colonial administration, had Tainan (literally “Taiwan South”) as the capital. The first official administrative institution governing the Taipei basin might have been the Spanish as they wanted to extend their trade network to Japan and China. In the 1620s, the Spaniards established Fort San Domingo in the now Taipei County township of Danshui (Tamshui). They choose northern Taiwan because the Dutch had already established themselves in southern Taiwan. Needing an outpost to assist their trade monopoly with isolationist Japan, the Dutch took over the Fort just a few years later.

Ming dynasty

Just a few years after coming to Danshui, the Dutch were ousted by Koxinga, who was a Ming Dynasty loyalist fleeing from the fledging Qing Dynasty. For the first time in its history, Taiwan was truly controlled by a Han Chinese government. However, the capital of the Ming Dynasty loyalist kingdom was in Tainan. Twenty-six years later, the Qing Dynasty toppled the Ming remenant and annexed Taiwan. Taiwan became a prefecture of Fujian province with Tainan as the prefecture's capital.

Trade eventually developed along the Danshui River that runs through the Taipei basin, resulting in the establishment of two rival port towns along the river: Báng-kah (now Wanhua) and Dadaocheng. Eventually northern Taiwan eclipsed Tainan in strategic and economic importance, resulting in the Qing government moving Taiwan’s capital from Tainan to northern Taiwan in 1884. A walled city with gates in the four cardinal directions was built between Báng-kah and Dadocheng to placate the people of the rival towns [1]. The chosen name of the city was Taipei, which literally means “Taipei North” in Chinese.

Qing dynasty

In 1885, Taiwan became a province of Qing Dynasty China. A disgraced reformist court official named Liu Ming-chuan became the governor and made perhaps Taipei the most advanced and best planned city in the entire Qing Empire in order to attract international traders. Fascinated rather than suspicious with technology, Liu made Taipei to be the first city in the entire historic Chinese empire to shine an electric light bulb [2]. Major roads and government buildings were brightened up with electric lights by 1889. He also built a railroad between Keelung, Taipei, and Hsinchu, which is still in existence today.

Liu tolerated all criticism made on him by the people; with the Manchu's Empire's supression of the literati thoughout China, Taiwan became the "place of refuge for thousands of the best Chinese scholars" [3].

Unfortunately, the court officials who disgraced him became jealous of his accomplishments with Taiwan and had him recalled [4]. There are two schools in Taipei named in honor of Liu Ming-chuan: The Taipei Ming-chuan Primary School located next to the National Taiwan University and the Ming Chuan University, located near the site of the 2007 Wikimania conference.

Japanese occupation

According to the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, Taiwan became Japanese territory. The Japanese were keen in developing Taipei as the most well-planned city in the Japanese Empire. They contributed much to Taipei’s infrastructure and architecture. Much of the architecture still stand and is now seldom seen in Japan, prompting producers of a Japanese TV drama to shoot scenes of these buildings. The Japanese built a Governor-General Palace (now the Presidential Building) using Prussian architecture. The National Taiwan University (formerly the Taipei Imperial University under Japanese rule) has buildings that vaguely resemble Tokyo University. The Japanese also extended the railway from Taipei to Kaohsiung. Taipei’s old city walls were demolished to create wide roads. The current names of many locations in the Greater Taipei Region are actually of Japanese origin; this includes Ximending (西門町), Sanchong (三重), and Songshan (松山).

Although the Japanese treated the local inhabitants as second-class citizens and encouraged them to assimilate into Japanese culture, they did improve the quality of life for the local inhabitants in order to showcase Taiwan as a model Japanese colony. Health and sanity improved. Opium and footbinding were prohibited. Local inhabitants were guaranteed compulsory primary school education, although they were segregated from Japanese nationals and given very limited post-primary school education advancement opportunities. Although the Japanese authorities punished unusually harshly locals who committed crimes, they authorities did generally followed the rule of law.

Resistance against Japanese rule and against the destruction of local culture by Japanization was strong and reached a climax with the Wushe Incident of 1930. After this incident, resistance became weak. Eventually fifty years of Japanese rule resulted in a generation of locals who knew nothing tangible of being once part of China. Before the end of World War II, much of the local population became assimilated to Japanese culture and had Japanese names. The Japanese government considered upgrading Taiwan’s status from colony to prefecture and to allow the Taiwanese to participate in the Japanese Diet or Parliament. However, the end of World War II halted this action

After 1945

In 1945, Taiwan became under the control of the Republic of China, which was one of the victors of World War II. The ROC government sent Chen Yi to become governor. The Chen Yi administration was corrupt and led Taiwan to economic ruin, resulting in local discontent. The new government viewed the local Taiwanese with suspicion for having been assimilated to Japanese culture and set out to “re-educate” them. Carpetbaggers from mainland China dominated the local government and economy. All this resentment and misunderstanding led to the February 28 Incident. On February 27, 1947, an ROC officer beat a female elderly Taiwanese cigarette vendor on what is now the intersection of Nanjing West Road and Yanping North Road in Taipei. This provided the spark to blow up the frustration the Taiwanese had with the new government. On February 28, many local Taiwanese rebelled against the government. The ROC government sent troops from the mainland to crack down on the rebellion, resulting in ten of thousands of Taiwanese killed. This led to a decades long animosity that many “native” Taiwanese (Chinese settlers who ancestors lived in Taiwan for centuries) had against the ROC government and the mainlanders (Chinese who settled in Taiwan after World War II). A 228 (February 28) Memorial has been built in central Taipei in attempt to heal these wounds.

The Kuomintang dominated Republic of China government retreated to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and made Taipei the provisional capital. Roughly a combined population of two million refugees and troops moved from mainland China to Taiwan during this time, causing Taipei’s population to skyrocket and stressing the original Japanese city plan for Taipei to support up to 600,000 inhabitants [5]. The troops built temporary homes in certain parts of Taipei, creating military shantytowns. The former Japanese colonial buildings now became ROC government buildings as well as Kuomintang occupied buildings. (The distinction between party and state was blurred at the time.)

During the outbreak of the Korean War, the ROC and the United States signed a mutual defense pact. Somewhat similar to the case of Okinawa, US military bases were created all over Taiwan. The US military headquarters was located at what is now the Zhongshan Soccer Stadium in Yuanshan, Taipei. US military families lived in US-style homes in Tianmu and Yangmingshan. These bases closed when the US terminated diplomatic relations with the Republic of China in favor of the People’s Republic of China.


Until the late 1960’s, the ROC government was in a constant state of preparing to re-conquer the Chinese mainland and to move the government back to Nanjing. Therefore, Taipei’s infrastructure stagnated: anyone who suggested of developing Taipei was accused of not wanting to re-conquer the mainland. Still, Taipei was and continues to be Taiwan’s primate city: many people from southern Taiwan moved to Taipei because they viewed Taipei as a city of employment opportunities and of better schools and educational opportunities. To this day, many people in southern, central, and eastern Taiwan are somewhat resentful that a considerable amount of the country’s tax dollars end up being used in Taipei.

In the late 1960’s, then Premier Chiang Ching-kuo knew that the chances of retaking the mainland were extremely slim and proceeded to aggressively develop Taipei’s infrastructure and to upgrade Taipei’s status as a special municipality, meaning that Taipei’s administrative status was equal to that of Taiwan province. In the 1970’s, a freeway and two expressways in Taipei were built and the international airport was moved out of the city. Two large memorial halls were constructed for Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek.

1980s and later

Taipei’s infrastructure continued to improve in the 1980’s and 90’s. The so-called “temporary” military shantytowns were demolished to become parks such as the Da-an Forest Park; soldiers who now became aging veterans were now given well-built permanent homes by the government. The entire railway system was moved underground. Taipei’s zoo was relocated from Yuanshan to a much larger site in Mucha. Taipei’s City Council, City Hall, and the World Trade Center were completed. Although built much later than the rapid transit systems in Hong Kong and Singapore, Taipei’s Mass Rapid Transit System finally debuted in 1996. Further expansion of Taipei’s metro network continues to this day.

However, Taipei’s development has taken some toll on its environment. People used to bathe at the Keelung River, but the river is now extremely polluted. Certain roads such as Xinsheng South Road used to be beautiful rivers that have now been covered up. Although public transportation is well-used, Taipei’s high density of cars and scooters contributes to significant air pollution.

  1. Charettei, Rich. "Happy Birthday Taipei! Celebrating the Life of a Fine-Looking Lady." Discover Taipei July-August 2004, Taipei City Government, ISSN:17281741, GPN:2009005414
  2. Goddard, W.G. Formosa. London: Michigan State Press, 1966. pg 130-131
  3. Goddard, W.G. Formosa. London: Michigan State Press, 1966. pg 136, 175
  4. Charettei, Rich. "Happy Birthday Taipei! Celebrating the Life of a Fine-Looking Lady." Discover Taipei July-August 2004, Taipei City Government, ISSN:17281741, GPN:2009005414
  5. Charettei, Rich. "Happy Birthday Taipei! Celebrating the Life of a Fine-Looking Lady." Discover Taipei July-August 2004, Taipei City Government, ISSN:17281741, GPN:2009005414