Taipei

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Taipei, the political and financial center of Taiwan, is the island's most populous city. Taipei originated as a small trading port over two hundred years ago before becoming the administrative capital for the island under the Qing Dynasty. During the last few decades there has been tremendous growth in the city. Even as recently as thirty years ago, the city was still dotted with rice paddies. Now a sprawling metropolis, Taipei is best suited for those who do not mind the hustle and bustle of life in the big city.

Bei Tou (Peitou)
Located in the northwestern part of Taipei, Bei Tou is famous for its sulfur springs, spas, and hotels. One of the more popular sulfur pits is called Hell Valley, where the Taiwanese like to go to boil eggs in the naturally boiling water. Bei Tou, located in the middle of a small mountain range, is connected to Wellington Heights and Yang Ming Shan by public transport. Yang Ming Shan National Park (much of which is located in the Bei Tou District) is a good place to go hiking and get away from the commotion of the city.

Shi Lin (Shihlin)
The Shi Lin district covers both banks of the Keelung River and spills into the surrounding mountains. Shi Lin is best known for hosting Taipei's largest night market, the Shihlin Night Market. Once the sun goes down, residents and tourists throng to the area squeezing amongst street vendors and food stalls. A little to the north of the night market, one can find the more peaceful Tian Mu area which features a large expatriate community and several of Taipei's international schools. Mostly due to the heavy expatriate presence, a wide variety of foreign foods can be found in Tian Mu's restaurants and grocery stores. The Chinese Culture and Movie Center and the world-renowned National Palace Museum are also both located within this district.

Da Tong (Tatung)
The Da Tong District was once home to European merchants who settled here to trade with the Taiwanese. Walk through the old lanes of this district, and you will find numerous tea companies, a few European-style buildings, and several temples including the famous Confucius Temple and Bao An Temple. Perhaps the most popular attraction here is Di Hua Street , one of Taipei's main trading centers during the 1800s. Today, Di Hua Street is still lined with traditional merchant shops selling dried goods and herbal medicines. The area becomes packed around Chinese New Year as many Taipei residents buy goods in preparation for the holidays. Nearby, you'll also find the somewhat decaying Yuan Huan Market, a round market situated in the middle of a traffic circle that was once the most popular place in Taipei for late night snacks.

Zhong Shan (Chungshan)
Running through the center of the district is Zhong Shan North Road which serves as the dividing line for the city's eastern and western halves. Zhong Shan was once the commercial center for Taipei, but many offices have gradually been shifting to the eastern part of the city. Now the area is better known for its shops (mostly bridal shops and a sprinkling of antiques/folk crafts) and the combat zone, host to one of Taipei's densest concentrations of bars. The area also has the dubious fortune of being home to one of the major red light districts. The district does also have several cultural offerings including the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Lin An Tai House, the Grand Hotel, Xing Tian Temple and the Taipei Children's Recreation Center.

Song Shan (Sungshan)
Home to Taipei's central business district and the headquarters of many local and multinational companies, this is one of Taipei's most international districts. Attracted by the international and sophisticated local clientele, numerous restaurants offering various foreign cuisine have opened in the streets and alleys off of Dun Hua North Road and Min Sheng East Road. To the north, the Sungshan Domestic Airport provides a gateway to Taiwan's major cities and outlying islands. For expatriate residents and visitors, the area is also important as the home of numerous American banking centers, including Citibank, American Express, and Bank of America. In addition, the Magnolia Hotel, Hard Rock Cafe, the Taipei Municipal Stadium, the Asiaworld Shopping Center, Chang Gun Memorial Hospital, and the Adventist Hospital are also located on Dun Hua North Road.

Wan Hua
The oldest district in Taipei, Wan Hua was once a thriving port. Conveniently located on the Dan Shui River, this area was built up by Fukianese merchants from Mainland China who traded in camphor and tea. Religion played a major role in the lives of these Chinese settlers who built numerous temples in the area. Present-day temples in the Wan Hua district include the Lungshan Temple (Taipei's oldest temple), Ching Shui Yan Temple, and Ching Shan Temple. Other main attractions in this area are the popular Xi Men Ding shopping and movie district, Hua Xi Street (better known as Snake Alley), and Taipei's Youth Park.

Zhong Zheng (Chungcheng)
The political center of Taipei City, the Zhong Zheng District is home to numerous government offices, parks, and museums. The 2-28 Memorial Peace Park, Taiwan Provincial Museum, Botanical Gardens, Chang Foundation Museum, and the Presidential Building are all located in Zhong Zheng. Perhaps best known is the massive Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall that also houses the National Theater and National Concert Hall. The memorial truly comes alive on the weekends as families bring children out to rollerblade and fly kites, marching bands use the space to practice, and elderly residents relax in shaded hallways while practicing Chinese opera.

Da An (Ta An)
Da An District, located in downtown Taipei, is a mix of residential and commercial housing. Zhong Xiao East Road, Section 4 is the most popular shopping strip in Da An (and Taipei for that matter) and includes numerous boutiques, coffee shops, KTVs as well as the Sogo Department Store. Running parallel to Zhong Xiao is the beautiful tree-lined Ren Ai Road. The Da An district has a thriving night life and many late-night restaurants, bars, and clubs can be found in this area.

Xin Yi (Hsinyi)
Mainly a residential and commercial district, Xin Yi is home to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Taipei World Trade Center, Grand Hyatt Taipei, Mitsukoshi and New York, New York department stores, and the new Warner Village movie complex. Over the last 100 years, Taipei City has been expanding eastwards towards the mountains and the Xin Yi District marks the newest edge of the city's development. As recently as a few years ago, the neighborhood around Warner Village was primarily empty lots. Today, the district is seeing increasing traffic thanks to the draw of the newer developments mentioned above, the many new corporate headquarters and office buildings, in addition, the increasing number of people moving to new residential developments at the edge of the mountains bordering the district.

Nei Hu, Wen Shan, Nan Gang
These three outlying districts are less populated than the city center and are great places to visit to get away from the bustle of Taipei. A hilly area, Nei Hou is popular with hikers and outdoors lovers. It is also possible to see a bit of culture as well by hiking up to the Pi Shan Temple. Wen Shan is best known for the numerous tea houses dotting the hills in the Mu Cha area. However, the district also offers the Taipei City Zoo and the Chang Shan Temple. Primarily an industrial area, Nan Gang is home to the Academia Sinica, the leading academic research institute in Taiwan.

Surrounding areas - Dan Shui, Keelung, Wu Lai
North of Taipei and accessible on the MRT line is the old fishing village of Dan Shui. Once a main port, Dan Shui is where the Spanish landed when they arrived on Taiwan. Fort San Domingo is one of the few remaining relics from this period of Taiwanese history. Traveling east along the coastal highway will lead you to the northern seaport of Keelung. Well known for its food and numerous temples, many residents of Taipei head to Keelung on the weekends for a change of scenery and a meal at its famous night market. Just south of Taipei is the mountain village of Wu Lai, home to a large population of aborigines from the Atayal tribe. Make sure to try the local cuisine as some of the vegetables served in the Wulai restaurants are only found locally. Wulai is also a popular point for hiking and mountain biking.

History of Taipei

Evidence of human life on Taiwan dates back to between five and ten thousand years ago. Not much is known about the origins of Taiwan's earliest inhabitants except that their language bears more similarity to Indonesian than any of the languages from China. The island enjoyed relatively anonymity until 1206 when Ghengis Khan named Taiwan a protectorate of the newly established Yuan Dynasty. However, the Emperor had little interest in the island and it once again slipped into anonymity.

Taiwan remained a quiet backwater until the 17th century when it became caught in both Chinese and colonial politics. The first note of Taiwan came in the form of a diary entry from a passage of Portuguese ship passing off the coast in 1517. Moved by the beauty of the island, the writer named it "Ilha Formosa" (or beautiful island). To this day, Formosa has remained a popular second name for Taiwan. In 1624, a Dutch contingent landed in southern Taiwan as part of their effort to bolster their presence in Asia and began the first colonial occupation of island by building a fort at the site of modern day Tainan. The island was then populated by a mixture of the early inhabitants and a small number of Chinese fishermen who had emigrated from the nearby province of Fujian.

Two years later, the Spanish (also known as the red beards) followed challenged the Dutch presence by claiming Dan Shui in northern Taiwan in 1626 and constructing Fort San Domingo. The Dutch, however, were not ready to share their conquest, and managed to evict the Spanish colonialist in 1641. The Dutch reign was not destined to last however, for in 1661, Koxinga (Cheng Cheng-kung) came upon the scene.

Koxinga was formerly the son of a powerful merchant in southern China loyal to the Ming Dynasty. Following the collapse of the Ming Empire, Koxinga refused to pledge loyalty to the Qing Dynasty and was forced to flee China. Taking his army of over 30,000 men, Koxinaga decided to make Taiwan his base of operations for continuing his war against the Qing. After evicting the Dutch, Koxinaga resumed his war against the Qing. However, in 1682 the Qing (Manchus) captured Taiwan and made it into a county of Fujian province. In 1885, following a brief (1884-1885) occupation of northern Taiwan by the French, the island became an independent province of China.

Taiwan was not destined to maintain its new status as a province for long, however. In 1895, as part of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Taiwan was handed over to Japan in perpetuity as an end to the Sino-Japanese War. After quashing a short-lived civilian revolt aimed at creating Asia's first republic (the Formosan Republic), the new Japanese rulers began a series of major construction projects to integrate Taiwan into the Japanese colonial economy. The remaining aboriginal tribes were gradually forced up into Taiwan's central mountains as the commercially important coastal plains became increasingly developed. The Japanese began systematically building up a network of roads, railroads, hospitals, and teacher's universities around Taiwan. Agricultural holdings were consolidated and massive sugar cane plantations established around the island. The Japanese ruled the island until the end of World War II when the 1945 Yalta Conference returned Taiwan once again into the hands of China.

Returning Taiwan to the Chinese government was not simple, however, since China was in the midst of a civil war. In 1912, the Qing Dynasty had been overthrown and the Republic of China established by the political leader Sun Yat-sen. From 1912 through the end of World War II, China was in political turmoil as the Nationalists (Kuomingtang, or KMT) under Chiang Kai-Shek waged war with the Communists under Mao Tse-dong. During the same period, the Japanese also invaded Northern China. In 1945, when Taiwan was returned, the civil war in China was still raging.

Chiang Kai-shek, busy in the mainland, sent Governor Chen-yi to Taiwan to maintain order. Famed for his greed and inability to rule, Chen-yi was disliked by local Taiwanese. On February 28, 1947, the culmination of this disapproval came with a Taiwanese protest now known as the 2-28 Massacre during which the KMT killed tens of thousands of civilians. In 1949, it became clear that the war on the mainland was lost and Chiang Kai-shek fled with over one million Mainland Chinese (more than half of which were military) to Taiwan. The KMT became the local government, and one year later, under Chiang's orders, Chen-yi was executed. The KMT established martial law in Taiwan that was to last for another 40 years.

The KMT retreat to Taiwan was much like Koxinga's retreat over three hundred years earlier. The idea was to use the island as a base until recapture of the mainland was possible. In the years that followed, despite regular skirmishes with mainland Chinese forces, the KMT never did mount the major offensive. In 1971, a major political defeat was handed to Taiwan when it lost its seat in the United Nation. Chiang Kai-shek passed away in 1975.

In 1978, Chiang's son, Chiang Ching-kuo was elected in an uncontested race to the position of president. Unlike his father, Chiang Ching-kuo believed that the future of the KMT lay in developing local roots, and under his administration a gradual relaxation of the political began. The thaw continued until 1986, when Chiang allowed the formation of the first opposition party - Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Following the establishment of the DPP, Taiwan's politics began to undergo a rapid transformation. Martial Law ended in 1987 and citizens were allowed to send and receive mainland Chinese mail as well as request mainland travel permits for the first time since the 1940's. In 1988, Chiang Ching-kuo died and vice president Lee Deng-hui began the island's first native-born president. Lee immediately undertook a massive reform of the KMT and was reelected President in 1996 with 54% of the votes. The end of the century also marked the end of the KMT's 40 year rule as DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian was elected President on March 18th, 2000.

 

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