COLONIAL UTOPIA – Transportation Infrastructure
It’s always interesting to see how Taiwan is so fond of its former 50-year colonizer, Japan. There are still many traits of Japanese colonization in modern day Taipei – in its culture, food, mentality, architecture etc. In this blogpost, we will look into Taiwan’s Japan-initiated transportation infrastructure and how its architecture still influences the Taiwanese to this day.
Earlier this year, Taiwanese officials commemorated the 130 year legacy of the first railway built by the Qing dynasty and the two Japanese colonial-era railway stations in Taiwan, Taichung and Beitou. (Ko, 2017)
The first railway built by the Qing dynasty in 1887 was a small railway that went from Keelung and Hsinchu as a way to transport sugarcane and coal. (Teng, 2017) Then came the Japanese occupation, and that’s where the real expansion of the first large scale public infrastructure project that connected the whole of the island begun. These Japan-built train stations have paved way to Taiwan’s modern day transportation system.
Japanese administrators started the plan to build a network for trains by buying out privately owned railroads and integrated them into the public system, as well as mixing coaches with freight cars to increase passengers. According to Tsai Lung Bao, a history professor at National Taipei University, “The Japanese saw railways as the ‘pioneers of civilization’ and the foundation of their colonial economy. They connect the island from north to south, west to east, improving lives and bringing development to the island.” (Ko, 2017)
Japan has always been credited with modernizing Taiwan and its rapid economic growth. The railway system has been one of the main forces that boosted taiwan’s economy. By transporting goods throughout the island, as well as workers and business for industrialization, the railway system transformed agriculture and encouraged urbanization as citizens can now travel long distances conveniently.
Taichung main station was built in 1905 and refurbished this year. (Ko, 2017)
Beitou train station in Taipei was built in 1916. (Taipei Culture Foundation,2017) Beitou train station was originally dismantled in 1988 as the city wanted to build a new subway station, but local groups campaigned for decades to have it restored, so this spring it was reconstructed and reopened to its original location. The station is known to be “an impressive structure long identified with the city, the old station was constructed in the free-classic style of Japanese architect Kingo Tatsuno, whose other works includes Tokyo Station and the Bank of Japan”, according to Liou Shuenn-ren, a professor of architecture at National Cheng Kung University.(Ko,2017)
Other Japanese colonial-era railway stations that continue to serve thousands of Taiwanese travelers daily are Hsinchu, Tainan and Kaohsiung. (Ko,2017)
To this day, you can still clearly see the similarities between the Taiwanese railways and the Japanese railways – from the structure and operation of the transportation system, to the signage and station design.
Lee Shiao-feng, a professor of Taiwanese culture at National Taipei University of Education even credited the Japan-built railway system as the reason Taiwanese are now punctual. He says, “But perhaps the most consequential effect of the railways was the effect on how Taiwanese perceived time, as trains required synchronization and punctuality. To avoid missing your train and losing your job, working people became punctual, a virtue lacking before the Japanese came.” (Ko, 2017)
Ko, Shu Ling. “Taiwan looks back on 130-year railway legacy initiated by colonial ruler Japan.” The Japan Times. July 25, 2017. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/07/25/national/history/taiwan-looks-back-130-year-railway-legacy-initiated-colonial-ruler-japan/#.WjEM6bRdJQJ.
Taipei Culture Foundation. “A Hundred-Year-Old Station Brings Back its Glory: Xinbeitou, an Outpost of History and Tourism.” Travel Tapei. July 19, 2017. https://www.travel.taipei/en/featured/details/11129.
Teng, Pei Ju. “TRA celebrates 130 years of railway services in Taiwan.” The Taiwan Times. July 22, 2017. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3216609.