Colonization of Taipei (1895-1905) – Scheme 1. Strengthening Control As Ruling Stabilizer – 1.3 Policies Beneficial to Local Livelihood

To carry forward the good foundation laid by detailed measurements and planning, the colonial government continues to strengthen their administrative framework so that policies can be seamlessly executed and can tackle the needs of people.

To begin with, Goto Shinpei restructured the government administrative framework by subdividing branches based on functions and administrative zone. For functional branch expansion, the reform laid a foundation for modern governance as shown in Figure 1, in which aspects like politics, economics, construction, manufacturing, medicine and transportation are developed. Although there is a subdivision for each branch as shown in Figure 2’s examples, the structure is generally flat and sprawled out from the top ruler, reflecting policy implementation still subject to governors’ decision.

Figure 1: Taiwan Government structure, 臺灣統治槪要, cited in Taipei City History, 1997.
Figure 2: Taiwan Government structure (zoom in), 臺灣統治槪要, cited by Taipei City History, 1997.

For administrative zone reform, the colonial government flatten the framework then set up more zones to boost administration efficiency (Figure 3). In the Qing rule is about to end, the administrative framework is made up of a bulk of ranks, namely province(省), house(府), prefecture(州), county(縣), ting(廳) with province being the highest and ting being the lowest administrative body. In 1894, the structure is 1 province 3 houses 1 prefecture 11 counties 4 tings. This tall framework actually showcases the traditional concentric ruling hierarchy imposed by old empires.  In 1898, Kodama Gentaro simplified the structure into 3 counties 1 ting since he thought the old structure serves as a hotbed for redundant staff and inconsistent commands (Ide, 2003). With public order gradually got strengthen under the lead of Goto Shinpei, he replaced the structure with 20 tings in 1901. With well-received orders and direct management by the governor’s office, the tings efficiently and effectively execute the policies.

Figure 3: Maps of Administrative Zones under Qing and Japanese Rule, Taiwan History and Culture in Time and Space, cited in 治理台灣:從行政區域的變革看清朝、日本總督府與中華民國政府的空間治理策略, 2008

A case in point is the waterway transformation project for malaria prevention. As shown in Figure 4, scattered water bodies in rural areas are reorganized into proper rivers and canals. The measure successfully reduced the number of mosquitos. As we can imagine, it takes time and patience to map all scattered water bodies especially in areas with underdeveloped roads and notations. Only by effective regional subordinates can this measure be planned and executed in good shape.

Figure 4: Before and After River Adjustment near Suo and Malaria Prevention at Hozan, 國立臺灣歷史博物館館藏 館藏號TM_04_04_0009; TM_04_04_0010; TM_04_04_0012; TM_04_04_0013

Establishing regional subordinates are crucial in acknowledging people’s needs timely and addressing the issues with collective effort. In the letter from Taichung district officer Kinoshita Shuichi to governor Kodama Gentaro (Figure 5), Shuichi said that he heard from the locals that the Qing government seldom invest in infrastructure. They need to rely on local landlords to raise capital for constructing zhen (圳). However, they often fail to raise enough funds since paying water rent is not a legally binding obligation and many peasants escape from that. Shuichi even stressed in the letter that the locals are passionately looking forward to water facilities regulatory law. In response to the demand, the government issued Taiwan Public Zhen Rule in 1901, offering funds for public zhen construction. Apart from penalizing peasants escaping from water rent, the government will coordinate with local leaders who used to be in charge of water facilities so that regional situations can be well noted. Since then, the Taiwanese start to benefit from regional public facilities managed by the modern government.

Figure 5: Letter from Taichung District Officer Kinoshita Shuichi requesting legislation of public water facilities’ ownership and fundraising, 《台灣總督府檔案》編號 000005980010253, 1899

At city level, well-divided administrative organs ensure smooth execution of large-scale urban policies with regional consistency. Following the Taiwan Drainage and Water Facilities Instruction which improved old streets by widening and drainage improvement works, the government supplemented that with Taiwan Domestic Construction Rule (臺灣家屋建築規則) in 1900. In specific, it made the management methodology and rationale of the architectural outline, streetscape standards and veranda system more concrete (Tsang, 2011). Zooming into the veranda system, the lack of construction instruction under Qing’s rule resulted in verandas configured in various dimensions (Figure 6). Since veranda was a prominent traditional architectural type used as shelters for shop fronts along main roads, their diverse size made some streets overly narrow and brought hygienic problems. The domestic rules set the spacing of the 2 pedestrian pathways along a main road as 12 feet with drainage sized in relative scale (Figure 7). In that way, not only can pedestrians enjoy a comfortable and consistent walking experience, the building typology on street level was also unified. As reflected in the old photos (Figure 8), we can see buildings with similar heights were with columns of more or less the same thickness since they are to support the same column-free length. The satisfactory result in street tidiness contributed also to local subordinates since uniform height and style varied from streets and regions. The streetscape with good outlook and hygiene condition in Ximending in the inner city as depicted in the local artwork (Figure 9) has experienced exponential growth in economic activity. While the façade and veranda system are unified in Ximending, the Neon signs revealed the effort in reserving the vernacular property of the commercial district. From the above, we can see how the tings help maintain or even amplify regional characteristics to facilitate prosperity while conducting nationwide policy.

Figure 6: Old Photos of Verandas in Qing Dynasty (1885), cited in Old Streets in Taipei, 1991.


Figure 7: 〈臺南州-臺南州例規〉 (1923), 第30號 p.203, cited in Contemporary Taipei City Planning in Japanese Colonial Age, 1997


Figure 8: 〈市區改正前後的市街〉, 穿越時空看臺北: 建城一百二十週年特展, 2004


Figure 9: 〈南街殷赈〉, 第四回台展無鑑查出品、台展賞, 1930

“In modern concept, sovereignty should be demonstrated by governance effort in every cm2 of its statutory territory evenly. Only old empires define their territory with a center and rule their people who are not even living on the same piece of land with the rulers.” – Benedick Anderson (1999). By replacing Qing’s multi-layered hierarchal administrative system with 20 tings directly managed by the governor’s office, the Japanese were regarded as a less arrogant and more effective ruler. Its attentive administration did benefit the Taiwanese in both rural regions and cities.


1 Comment on “Colonization of Taipei (1895-1905) – Scheme 1. Strengthening Control As Ruling Stabilizer – 1.3 Policies Beneficial to Local Livelihood

  1. This series of narratives can bring out the discussion of the role of a colonial government when taking part in an urban design process. Although most of the urban planners or architects from the colonial government tend to state that culture and geographical conditions were taken into consideration when drafting the plan, there are still a lot of cases or urban plans that fail to fulfill the needs of the locals. First could be because of their understanding of the situation is not comprehensive enough, they study based on the books and scientific evidences, but they lack real experience of that place. Second, it could be because of a lot of colonial urban planners tend to see the city as a testing ground, they would like to experiment on different planning strategies and the living quality of people are not placed at such a high priority. Therefore, this urban plan in Taipei is a relatively successful example of colonial urban design from my point of view that the urban planner put stress on improving lives of the people.

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