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Zhongshan Hall - A Witness To Taipei's History

Zhongshan Hall is probably one of those buildings in Taipei that most tourists won't even notice. Despite being located in the heart of Taipei, just a few minutes walk from Ximending, and around 10-15 minutes from Taipei North Gate, Zhongshan Hall is not a major tourist attraction. The square in front of the building is – surprisingly enough in the bustling city - one of those relaxing and quiet areas that have preserved their clean, calm Japanese-era atmosphere.  Zhongshan Hall (中山堂); the name on the facade must be read from right to left. Contrary to what one may expect, however, Zhongshan Hall is a very important place in the history of Taipei, and thus I think it's worth dedicating a separate post to it. Zhongshan Hall (中山堂) is located on Yanping South Road (延平南路), which during the Qing Dynasty was called North Gate Road (北門街). This long street ran from North Gate down to the Qing government district. In fact, from North Gate one could walk directly to Taiwan

The Blogging Therapy

For over a year blogging has been part of my daily life. Before going to Taiwan I had never thought about blogging. When I was still in Berlin and planning my first trip to Taipei, a Chinese friend of mine told me that I should start a blog so I could keep my friends in Germany and Italy updated about my new adventure. But I had no idea how to write a blog, and at that time I had no interest in it, either.  Perhaps I should have started to write a blog in those days of euphoria, when Taiwan was an entirely new and exotic place to me, when I had so many emotions and felt so much enthusiasm. I used to update my private Facebook page, instead. I had never used Facebook so much before, and I turned my life in Taiwan into a sort of show. In hindsight, I think that show was a technique of self-persuasion.  While at the beginning I felt as if Taiwan would be my new home and I was passionate about it, after a few months I became much more sober and disenchanted. I began to see many as

Taiwan, Europe and the Problem of Nationalism

Recently I have been criticised by some people because I used the term "Taiwanese nationalism", which to some apparently sounds too negative.  In this post, I will briefly explain what I mean by nationalism and why I am in principle sceptical about it. I am not arguing that nationalism is not a legitimate ideal. But I view nationalism as very problematic; first, because it presupposes a collective identity and the subordination of the individual to the community; second, because the "nation" itself can hardly be defined rationally and objectively. I won't be using any academic material as reference this time; since I want to respond to recent critical comments, I didn't have time to write down any quotations. This post will just be a blueprint, perhaps to use in the future for a more detailed analysis.  The Problem of the Nation On April 2, 2014, the Italian police arrested a group of Venetian separatists who allegedly were plotting to commi

The Sunflower Movement, the Media, and Showbusiness

Popular protests in the digital age are made half on the streets and half online. Whether a political movement is successful or not, whether it is supported by a large number of people or not, depends on how the media depict it, and on how skillfully the protesters use the most formidable peaceful weapon of our time, the internet.  While I was following the events around Taiwan's Sunflower Movement, I felt like a man who goes out to take a nice walk in th park, but ends up in the middle of an unbearably noisy and smoggy highway full of cars. There's just too much information around, there are too many different interpretations, and, above all, too many people shouting and screaming, arguing that they - and they alone - are right, and those who disagree are the absolute evil and do not represent anybody.  The protesters claim that they represent Taiwan, that they love Taiwan, and that they want to save Taiwan. Therefore, whoever agrees with the trade pact, or whoever di

What Does Hong Kong Have to Do with Taiwan's Sunflower Movement? Or, Why Anti-Chinese Sentiment Unites People

In the light of the recent protests by Taiwanese students and activists against a planned trade deal with China, I have found myself in the uncomfortable position of criticising the demonstrations and, in some respects, defending the KMT administration led by Ma Yingjiu.  As I am not a citizen of the PRC or the ROC, I am not involved in party politics and I have no interest in changing the situation in these countries. I am a EU citizen, and that's the place where I want to be politically active. Therefore, when I talk about the politics of East Asia, I try to see things from different perspectives and not to side with one or the other party. Shortly, I am one of those who criticise or praise according to the concrete situation, and not out of ideological affiliation. As I have said in my last post , I think that the widespread support the current protests have received by international media, the expat community, and a part of Taiwan's media, are not only excessive, b

The Kuomintang and the Sunflower Movement - A Few Thoughts About the Legitimacy of the Anti-Trade Pact Protests

The recent student protests in Taiwan have become a highly debated topic on the island's as well as international media. The movement, which calls itself 'Sunflower Movement', was formed on March 19, when students occupied Taiwan's Legislative Yuan. The reason for this act of protest was a trade agreement with China which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was pushing through parliament in a way that the opposition party DPP and a part of the population regarded as non-democratic ( note 1 , note 2 ). While Taiwan's press was divided on whether the movement was legitimate or not, with the pro-KMT and the anti-KMT camps offering their own respective interpretation, Western media have universally celebrated the movement as a proof of Taiwan's democratic maturity. As I have explained in my previous post, I am quite sceptical about the Sunflower Movement, mainly for three reasons: 1) the protesters are trying to delegitimise an elected - though unpopula

Good Protesters and Bad Protesters: A Comparison Between Taiwan's Demonstrations and Europe's Anti-Austerity Movement

A few days after the beginning of Taiwan's protests against a planned trade agreement with mainland China, I am still struggling to admit to myself that I am not caught in the general euphoria.  I am going to say something very unpopular, but I think the hype around these protests shows again how schizophrenic media coverage and popular perception can be. First, I shall briefly summarise the events that led to this crisis.  In June 2010,  Taiwan and mainland China signed the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), a general agreement that strengthened economic cooperation between the two countries. The follow-up to this agreement was the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), signed in June 2013 ( note ). This pact would open 80 sectors of China's service industry to Taiwanese investors and 64 sectors of the Taiwanese economy to China. Among these areas are finance, healthcare, transportation, and tourism ( note ). Given that the fortu

The Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the Holy See

A few weeks ago, I posted on my Facebook page a picture of the embassy of the Republic of China to the Vatican (Holy See), which got more likes and viewers than I'd expected. So I decided to write a short blog post about this, in which I will show you the location of the embassy and briefly talk about the history of the relations between the Vatican and the Republic of China. The Vatican is the only state in Europe that still recognises the Republic of China and not the People's Republic of China. As a consequence, Rome is the only city in the world where you can walk from the embassy of the People's Republic of China (PRC) to the embassy of the Republic of China (ROC). The first is in Italian territory (Italy recognises the PRC but not the ROC), while the latter is in Vatican territory (the Vatican recognises the ROC, but not the PRC). Rome is the only place on earth where the ambassador of the ROC and the ambassador of the PRC could bump into each other on th

Sexuality in Taiwan and the Objectification of the Female Body

As I have mentioned in my previous post, we cannot understand the peculiar - mostly negative - way in which the Taiwanese public perceives women who go clubbing, if we do not examine the historical development of the position and self-perception of women in the Chinese-speaking world. In this post, I would like to attempt a very brief analysis of this issue. In traditional Chinese society, women enjoyed a low position in the familial hierarchy, which was structured on the basis of inequality: the older came before the younger, the male came before the female. Therefore, in traditional Chinese families there was a distinction between superior, inferior and complementary social roles (see Lang 1946 , p. 24). As Patricia B. Ebrey explains: Confucianism, including classical and Han Confucianism, provided a view of the cosmos and social order that legitimated the Chinese patrilineal, patrilocal, and patriarchal family system. Confucian emphasis on obligations to patrilineal ances

Taiwan's Nightlife and Male Chauvinism

A recent article by the popular Taiwanese tabloid Apple Daily  reveals a dark side of the island's nightlife: the phenomenon of men who sexually assault drunk women. I myself witnessed something that did not but could have ended in sexual assault. I was in a club in Taipei (it was the first of the only two times I've been to a club here) and there was a girl whom I couldn't help noticing, not only because she was very young and pretty, but also because I saw her kissing at least six men, one of whom was way older than herself. The problem is that she was obviously completely drunk; so drunk that she could barely stand on her feet. Some guys approached her, told her something, and then began groping her. I don't know if she was consenting, or if she simply did not understand what was going on.  This article is particularly interesting because, for once, it does not serve the stereotype of the bad Western guy who goes to Taiwan to find easy girls in nightclubs, b

Sun Yat-sen Memorial House in Taipei

Just a few metres away from Taipei Main Station there stands an interesting building which is easy to overlook in the urban jungle of the city. Surrounded by whitewashed walls and by a small park, it is a prominent Japanese-style construction that differs markedly from the prevailing modern architecture of the area. It is the so-called Sun Yat-sen Memorial House, which is a fascinating testimony to the history of Taiwan and the complex relationship between Taiwan and China.  Sun Yat-sen Memorial House was originally built by the Japanese during their colonial rule on the island (1895-1945) and it served as a high-class hotel; it was the most exclusive and elegant guesthouse in the neighbourhood. Its guests were mostly visiting Japanese government officials, but also the Japanese governor-general, who used to hold banquets there (see Zhuang Zhanpeng et al.: Taibei Gucheng Shendu Lvyou. Taipei 2000, p. 123).  The name of the hotel was at that time Umeyashiki (梅屋敷). The c