As the capital of Taiwan, Taipei is home to a number of museums and sites of historic significance. Visiting these will help you to gain an understanding of how modern Taiwan came into being and the history of its relationship with mainland China.
National Taiwan Museum
Located in 228 Peace Memorial Park, close to the NTU Hospital station on the Tiamsu-Xinyi MRT line, the National Taiwan Museum (NTM) is Taiwan’s oldest museum and home to historic and modern exhibitions detailing the past and present of Taiwan’s history. In the main building, these include an insight into the indigenous communities that predated the arrival of Western, Han Chinese and Japanese colonists and specialist exhibitions such as that on Taiwan Black Jade, a precious gem discovered in Taiwan.
Across the road stands the Land Bank Exhibition Hall which is part of the NTM service. This houses two principal, permanent exhibits: the development of finance in Taiwan inside the old Land Band of Taiwan vault and the animals/dinosaur exhibit that occupies the majority of the open space with the Hall itself.
Entry to both buildings of the museum costs NT$30 and is sure to provide an interesting introduction to Taiwan’s development for those looking to find out more!
228 Peace Memorial Park & Museum
The 228 Peace Memorial Park is adjacent to the NTU Hospital station on the Tiamsu-Xinyi MRT line and was formerly known as Taihoku Park when established under Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan. Today, the park stands in memory of the events that took place on February 28, 1947 (hence 228 i.e. 2/28), remembering the protests and violence that occurred between Taiwanese and Republic of China (ROC) officials that led to the introduction of martial law that wasn’t subsequently raised for 40 years.
In addition to being home to the National Taiwan Museum, 228 Peace Memorial Park has a concert venue, children’s playground and a number of traditional pagodas. Predominantly however, the park holds the 228 Memorial and its accompanying museum. The memorial is a modern structure that makes use of water and geometric shapes to provide a striking design that dominates the centre of the park. The museum houses a historical account of the background and consequences to the 228 incident which resulted in civil unrest that gripped Taipei and wider Taiwan with protests at the inequity between mainland Chinese and Taiwanese residents post World War Two. The location of the museum is itself significant – the same building played a part in the 228 incident when the then studios of the Taiwan Broadcasting Bureau were used to spread news of the issue across Taiwan; this was in spite of government attempts to prevent it.
The museum ordinarily costs NT$ 40 but we arrived by chance on a day when entry costs were waived. There is a free audio-guide that is well worth taking advantage of. Exchange your passport or NT$ 1000 as a deposit for your guide to gain a fuller understanding of what occurred.
Presidential Office Building
Located at the intersection of Ketagalan Boulevard and Chongqing Road, the Presidential Office Building is home, surprisingly enough, to the Office of the President of Taiwan! Built originally by the Japanese to house the Governer-General’s Office, the building would strangely be more typical in a European capital than one in Asia. It was designed in a Baroque-style, with Roman-style columns and extensive use of marble. Whilst not always open to the public, this nevertheless is an impressive building to visit. For entry inside you can check their website for details on upcoming tours.
National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
As a hero of the second Sino-Japanese war and longstanding President of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) is greatly revered by many Taiwanese. He ruled the Republic of China with few gaps from his accession to office during World War Two (gaining Taiwan as part of the Japanese surrender), through the loss of mainland China to the Communists in 1949 until his death in 1975.
Built in his honour 1976-1980, this enormous blue and white structure sits raised several storeys in the air at the end of a long avenue with a traditional Chinese arch flanked by the National Concert Hall and National Theatre at the other end. The main chamber of the Memorial Hall contains a statue of CKS seated and is guarded throughout the day by uniformed soldiers who perform an hourly changing of the guards ceremony for spectating crowds. Below the hall sits a number of exhibits detailing CKS’s role in the revolution that freed China from imperial rule and the circumstances that led to the formation of modern day Taiwan.
This free exhibit is well worth the visit to gain a clearer understanding of how modern day Taiwan came into being and the significant role played by CKS in both victory over Japan and defeat to Communists in the Chinese Civil War. It’s easy to reach by using the Tiamsu-Xinyi MRT line, with its own station providing clearly-signposted access.
National Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Regarded as the Father of modern China, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is revered by both mainland and Taiwanese Chinese for his role in freeing China of imperialism and beginning the journey to China and Taiwan as we know them today.
This large hall is traditionally designed from the outside and stands in a large park area frequented by tourists and locals alike. The main feature is the memorial hall itself which, like the memorial to his counterpart Chiang Kai-Shek, features Sun siting upright and watched over by guards of the Taiwanese armed forces (who again perform an hourly changing of the guard ceremony). Aside from this main hall, the remainder of the building features two historical exhibitions on Sun’s life and his revolution that resulted in the Republic of China, art galleries, an auditorium, seminar spaces and even a library. The hall and park are free to enter and are co-located with the Sun Yat-Sen MRT station on the Tiamsu-Xinyi MRT line for easy access from the other historical attractions around Taipei.
Our journeys through China whilst on the i-to-i TEFL China Internship led us to visit his mausoleum which is located on Purple Mountain outside of Nanjing. The level of respect shown by all sides of the political divides reflects the importance that Sun played in the development of modern China and he will no doubt feature in our future adventures in Macau and Hong Kong before we depart back to Europe.
Top tip: The park is also an excellent place from which to view Taipei 101 which can be seen by exiting out from the main hall.
National Martyrs’ Shrine
Located a short bus ride from Duzhi station on the Wanhu Line of the Taipei MRT (take the No 208 bus from Stop A), the National Martyrs’ Shrine stands amongst the headquarters of Taiwan’s military forces as a place of respect and remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of the Republic of China. Occupying a huge site guarded by members of Taiwan’s armed forces, this free exhibit details the story behind the rise of the Republic of China, its martyr’s (civilian and military) and its eventual relocation to Taiwan. The story is told through plaques placed along the outer wall around the shrine itself, interspersed with statues and photographs of the people involved.
Not to be missed on a visit here is the 15-minute changing of the guard ceremony which occurs on the hour, every hour during the opening hours (0900-1700). The distances involved mean that you can really get close to the ceremony itself, allowing for great close-up shots of this display of military prowess.
Top tip: there is no where to purchase any form of drinks at the Shrine so if you are visiting on a hot day be sure to bring enough. That said, if you have an empty bottle, you can fill up from the free water stations that are situated near to the toilets.
National Palace Museum
Although we didn’t visit this, the National Palace Museum is widely regarded as one of the premier museums across the world and provides a detailed insight into the cultural development of modern day China with tens of thousands of artefacts collected over the centuries and organised into impactful displays. With gardens outside, this museum is recommended as a feature for most itineraries for Taipei and was only dropped from our itinerary since we had travelled extensively round China, having seen a large collection of artefacts previously.
The above is not an exhaustive list of the history contained within Taipei and regardless of your length of stay you will need to be selective in what you choose to see. Please also note that as in many countries there is a museum closure day and here in Taipei the majority of places will close on a Monday.