Taipei’s Colonial Transition in Urban Plans

The time colonial period of 1900 after the Qing Dynasty was an important transitional stage for Taiwan’s urban development. Looking at older plans, drawings and documentation can help inform earlier ideas during this transitional phase.

Although previous posts have pointed that visitors to the island such as Owen Rutter regard Taiwan as rather undeveloped and “dirty”, a look at earlier drawings actually indicate that Taipei had in fact already had its own efforts of modernization. Looking at Figure 1, a map of Taipei drawn in traditions Chinese “carographic style” a railroad line can actually be seen crossing the bottom of the map, with it passing “European style buildings and terminating at the Taipei station” (Allen 2015). This railroad was in fact an effort by Governor Liu Mingchun, who had initially come back to the island to defend it “against the French” in 1884. His other efforts however, also included “electrification schools of Western learning, rickshaws and other material changes”. As such, Taipei had definitely had its own push in the journey to its modernization. Most importantly however, these efforts were very much “embraced and deepened” by Japanese colonials, so much that “they built upon it”. As such the “early and extensive Japanese railroad system, which is celebrated in colonial and postcolonial materials” is often the emblem of Taiwan’s colonial development (Allen 2015).



Figure 1: Plan of 896 Map of Taipei, Taiwan, in traditional Chinese cartographic style. (SMC Publishing)

It was in 1989, with the arrival of the new “governor-general, Kodama Gentarō and his civil administrator Gotō Shimpei”, that Japan had a progressive agenda for the island. Gotō in particular was superbly trained” in the medical profession in Germany” with “outstanding organizational talent” (Allen 2015). He was a key individual who’s plans were largely followed during the colonial period, and will be extensively covered in later posts.

importantly, looking at a map of Taihoku in 1897, “50 percent of the land between the walls was undeveloped at that time, still primarily agricultural fields”(Allen 2015). This “urban emptiness” was striking, but presented an opportunity to the Japanese.


Figure 2: 1897 Outline Map of Taipei, Dadaocheng, and Mengjia in modern cartographic style. (National Taiwan Library)

As such, the first urban planning map of the Japanese in August 1900 had several important decisions. The space within the wall was reconfigured. New streets were also planned “that extended and complemented the original Qing Streets, creating a more extensive grid and piercing the city wall with nine new gates”(Allen 2015). What’s interesting about these observations in the plan however, is how the Japanese actually integrated their new plan into the original urban fabric of the Qing streets. This careful consideration of the local context shows a level of consideration to the local communities.


Figure 3: 1901 Complete Map of Remodeled Taipei. Courtesy of SMC Publishing, Taipei, Taiwan (SMC Publishing)

Despite this, although the map indicated many important changes, its lack of detailing in certain areas also indicated even larger ideas and focus’ In its early vision “the extramural settlements of Mengjia and Dadaocheng, the oldest settlements in the area, where the large majority of Taiwanese lived and worked” were not shown on the map. Instead, the planners focused entirely on the “neutral intramural space” they saw worthy for occupation and for their “colonial aspirations” (Allen 2015). Any focus beyond the wall was “south and east” away from older Chinese residents, as seen in the 1901 plan where a Japanese residential area was sketched out.

Most importantly, Goto’s progressive and expansive urban policy was reflected in a new plan in 1905. Unlike what was described in the previous paragraph, the primary innovation was the true integration of Chinese and Japanese sections of the city. Su Shuobin says that with this 1905 plan, “Mengjia and Dadaocheng are finally drawn into the whole design and the concept of Taipei as “one city” enters a new phase” (Allen 2015). This sense of unification is further reflected with the city wall disappearing and instead, replaced by large boulevards which encircle the city core. Circulation also reaches out into the Chinese communities, “with major streets fanning out from Central business and administrative areas of the city, extending deep into settlement areas and drawing them into the matrix of different economies, both financial and symbolic” (Allen 2015). For Mengjia, this involved the recovery of a large marshland where the streets were planned to be built, also visible in the 1901 map. A key detail however, is also how the city grid extended out “into the eastern suburbs”, which really signified Taipei’s Japanese future. These grids ended up developing into Japanese residential housing, completing the “full architectural imprint of the city” (Allen 2015). It was the beginning of “Japanese domestic construction with European colonial buildings of downtown and older Chinese commercial and residential architecture to west and north.

Looking at the development of Taiwan from plans and an urban scale has revealed quite a lot about how the Japanese viewed Taipei. In particular, it appears that they saw the large void as a space for potential city development for their own Japanese communities. As mentioned in the source, at this stage there was not much regard for the existing Chinese communities. However, early evidence of such as the first urban plan showed delicate interventions of the Japanese plans. Even more integrative however, was when Gotō was introduced to Taipei. His plan was a unified one, which both created potential for expansion for the Japanese colony as well as broke segregating wall elements for greater unification of the Chinese and Japanese communities. Along with the fact that the Japanese embraced and worked on the initial attempts of modernization in Taiwan, such as in its railways, on an urbanistic scale, it appears that Japan has actually utilized existing conditions, and developed them while adding their own.

1. Joseph R. Allen. Taipei: City of Displacements. University of Washington Press. 2011
2. National Taiwan Library, 1897 Outline Map of Tai- pei, Dadaocheng, and Mengjia, National Taiwan Library, n.d.
3. SMC Publishing, 1896 Map of Taipei, Taiwan, SMC Publishing, n.d.
4. SMC Publishing, 1901 Complete Map of Remodeled Taipei. Courtesy of SMC Publishing, Taiwan, SMC Publishing, n.d.



1 Comment on “Taipei’s Colonial Transition in Urban Plans

  1. The first paragraph talked about the Governor Liu’s “against French” efforts in 1884. This seemed to be the catalyser for Taiwan’s self-modernization. For the Japanese urban planning, when I went to Taipei, the local people told me that they still felt the connection to Japanese culture walking down the streets. However, this made strong contrast to later Taiwan’s embrace on Japanese urban planning. The Goto’s proposal was so well embedded into Taiwan culture even till today, I wonder whether it was because China and Japan shared the same cultural origin, so that the ideology was easily accepted, or as have mention in the article, it should be credited to the considerate proposal itself. The western civilization, on the contrary, took Chinese a long time to understand and learn from. That was the case in Shanghai, the two culture almost formed an invisible Berlin Wall in Shanghai and separated the city into two.

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