Taipei’s first steps to urbanisation before Japanese colonial era

The urbanistic Taiwan we know nowadays, can be generally understood as a product of the Japanese colonial period, rather than its origin as one of the Chinese cities. Before 1898, the place hardly understand the term – urban. Not until the Japanese occupation era did the governor-general – Kodama Gentaro and civil administrator – Goto Shimpei is able to brought about transformation and introduction to the idea of urban planning.

Prior to the Japanese colonial era, Taiwan was just a rural city largely occupied by agricultural fields, with only about 50% of land area are built, all else are in a considerably chaotic and underdeveloped situation. The people are mostly settlers from the mainland, trying to escape the poor living condition in the mainland during the Qing dynasty. Due to the fact that it is a remote area without direct governance, any sorts of reform or attempts to organise the livelihood of the locals and the city area does not take place until the 1887, around two decades before the Japanese colonial era. It is only by then that Taiwan was granted an official status of province, because of the rising threats from foreign powers trying to purse Taiwan as their colony (France in the Sin-French War from 1884-1885 & Japan later in Sino-Japanese War).

This also directly transform Taipei into a capital city status, where by then the basic structures like city walls and gates are finally built during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1882-1884). The 4 city gates are prime examples of these basic structures that originally defined the ground of Taipei. Walking from gate to gate can actually path out the entire Qing Dynasty Taipei region, covering distance of about a 2 hour walk. Studying past documents, it is able to know that the most populated area by the time was the northern part, while the southern and south-eastern parts are comparatively much less dense. To continue, the central part is where the government buildings and temples located, which defined the basic logic and landscape of Taipei, existing to nowadays as we see. The current government district is exactly on the site of the former Qing Dynasty administrative foundation. Even large main boulevards that originates from the Japanese colonial era later, are based of the former city gates, running along them.

The buildings dated back to the Qing dynasty can be divided into 5 types in general – religion, education, administration, business and housing. Their importance are shown in the way these programs is allocated. For example, the Town God’s Temple rest near the provincial administration hall as officials perform rites and offer sacrifices to the gods as a tradition on specific dates. The Western Study Hall ( The Xixuetang) as an example of the educational buildings also highlighted the governments attempts to encourage learning foreign language and subjects as well.

Nonetheless, most of the buildings like the Confucius Temple, Tianhou Temple and the office of provisional administration are brought down after the invasion of the Japanese. The city walls are also demolished in the 1900s. By then Taipei faces whole new transformation into a colonial city module. Despite letting the Japanese colonial era known as the major driving force to Taipei’s modernisation, traces of the Qing Dynasty’s attempts are still able to be identified and to be regarded as a contributing factor the to developments of Taiwan today.

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