2015 Sophia Symposium

Empire and Aftermath: New Perspectives on the Legacies of the Japanese Empire

Charles D. MUSGROVE (St. Mary’s College of Maryland)

“Changing Perceptions of Colonial Architecture in Taipei”

I investigate ritual, architecture, and protests in public spaces in Taiwan, particularly in the capital Taipei, as the Republic of China moved from single-party rule under the Nationalist Party (KMT) into liberal democracy. From 1945 to 2000, Taipei was transformed, first, from a Japanese colonial city to an appropriate place where residents (from the perspective of KMT planners) could be transformed into Chinese citizens; and then Taipei’s public spaces were appropriated by opposition groups, which in turn fostered a distinctly Taiwanese identity. For the workshop, I will focus on changing perceptions of Japanese colonial architecture. During the late 1940s and 1950s, Taipei’s built environment served as a continual, concrete reminder of that colonial past even as KMT leaders actively tried to erase what for many was a truly mixed legacy. The KMT used parades and mass rituals as part of a broader program to teach Taiwanese people how to be Chinese after decades of Japanese rule. At first, Japanese colonial buildings and streets served as stages for such lessons. The irony was not lost on KMT planners. Thus, beginning in the mid-1960s, there was a concerted effort to make the city look more Chinese through the sponsorship of a “Chinese architectural renaissance,” which sought the creation of a modern form of Chinese national architecture. Some critics observed that in the effort to draw attention away from Taipei’s “Japanese core,” the new structures exaggerated the use of Chinese Northern Palace Style in a manner that simply created new colonial forms that were just as alien in the Taiwanese context as Japanese colonial style had been. With democratization since the late 1980s, meanwhile, a discourse of appreciation for Japanese structures as “historical landmarks” has arisen as the colonial era has been reclaimed as a crucial element in the molding of Taiwanese identity.