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Department of Cultural Affairs

News & Activities

Modernology: A tribute to modern Taipei

By Leo Maliksi
Taipei City Archives (TCA), an affiliate organization of Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DOCA), has preserved and promoted the history of Taipei since its establishment in June 1952.
On March 15, 2014, it moved to its present location on Zhonghua Rd. in Ximenting, the former site of the Nishi Honganji Temple built during the Japanese occupation period. It moved 7 times before settling at this lesser-known historical site that is now a park where families and old people spend their time.
Supervised by DOCA, Taipei City Archives has shifted its focus on research and publications on this city’s history to managing exhibitions and engaging with local residents of Wanhua, a district that pulsates with the life of historical Taipei.

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Photo by LRM
Su-jane Chan is the director of the Taipei City Archives.

TCA organized a series of activities from September 15 to October 27 on the topic of Modernology (城市考現學), a branch of sociology that studies the changes in cityscape and their impact on urban dwellers.
A school of thought founded by Wajiro Kon (今和次郎 Kon Wajirō, July 10, 1888 – October 27, 1973), Modernology started in the 1910s and developed through the 1960s. Kon was a Japanese architect, designer, and educator who turned his attention to urban life as he recorded post-disaster conditions in Tokyo after Japan’s Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-great-japan-earthquake-of-1923-1764539/).
In Japan, architecture first developed as a branch of engineering. Kon conducted research on the decoration, ethnography, geography, fashion, and people's lifestyles. Instead of focusing on architecture as material structure, Kon focused on its relationship to everyday life and society. He saw the need to think about architecture from the standpoint of culture.

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Photo by LRM
On March 15, 2014, it moved to its present location on Zhonghua Rd. in Ximenting,
the former site of the Nishi Honganji Temple built during the Japanese occupation period.

Modernology is thus the study from a variety of different angles, of the current state of a city and of the lifestyles and customs of its residents. It is the acquisition of a new point of view that shifts attention to the creativity of the masses. That creativity is considered in the context of art, by reexamining the lifestyles and creations of the people.
“We all know how a guide would take tourists through the streets and explain the history behind the sites they would visit,” said Su-jane Chan, the director of the Taipei City Archives. “Modernology differs from this usual practice by having the guide speak more about the present conditions of a place instead of just its history.”
In September, TCA invited Prof. Keyio Fujihara of Kyushu University as speaker to inaugurate the series of eight activities on Modernology.

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Photo by LRM
This gazebo was a part of the Nishi Honganji Temple.
Baodou Village (寶斗里)
On September 29, Professor Bofen Dai (戴伯芬) of Fujen Catholic University led a group of students to Baodou Village. Professor Dai reminded her listeners that on August 2, 2014, the residents of Baodao witnessed the demolition of the Qingyun Pavilion (青雲閣), the last brothel (公娼館) of this historic Taipei village.
Qingyun Pavilion is emblematic of the modern transformation of Baodou Village in the Wanhua District of Taipei. A three-story Baroque structure, it was built in 1899, four years after Japan invaded Taiwan. It was considered Taiwan’s largest existing artistic structure until the 1970s.
An 1896 decree issued by the colonial government defined Wanhua as the official red light district of the city and forbade the sex trade in other districts of the city. The Japanese government declared two other districts as the entertainment venues for its soldiers – Danshui and Jilong.
Sanjiaodu (三腳渡)
On October 6, Mr. Zhao Qiao (趙喬), a lecturer in the Continuing Education Department of Chinese Culture University, took some tourists to Sanjiaodu, a village located in Hougangqian (後港墘). In 1990, Hougangqian was divided into six villages: Hougang, Fuzhong, Qiangang, Fuhua, Bailing, and Chengde. Hougangqian stands next to Shizi, Jiantan, and Dalongtong.
In the 18th century, Sanjiaodu was a village with a harbor on the banks of one of the tributaries of the Danshui River. In addition to farming, villagers made a living by fishing and raising ducks and clams.
With the rehabilitation of the Danshui River, the harbor gradually fell into disuse and relegated to the pages of history. Sanjiaodu is still the only fishing village in Taipei City and across from it is the Yuanshan Dock. But instead of fishing, many of its residents now work at making dragon boats used for racing during the Dragon Boat Festival.
Little Phiippines on Zhongshan N. Road (中山北路小菲律賓)
There are over 600,000 Southeast Asian workers in Taiwan; 130,000 come from the Philippines. Many Filipinos work as caregivers for Taiwan’s ageing population or as nannies for the toddlers of busy Taiwan parents. Others work in factories or at construction sites.
For the Taiwanese, Zhongshan North Road is home to bridal gown shops, luxury goods boutiques, and five-star hotels. But few people know that the area covered by Mintzu East Road to Nongan Street along Zhongshan N. Rd. is a commercial area that caters to many “kabayans” in Taiwan. Filipinos come here to rest from a week of hard work.
Take the MRT to the Yuanshan Station on any Sunday and you will see vigorous smiles and hear the sound of laughter as these Southeast Asians transform this area of Zhongshan N. Road into a lively market where they buy Taiwan products at affordable prices. Enter a restaurant or stand beside a food stall and you can hear Tagalog spoken. Walk further down and you will see St. Christopher’s Church, the meeting place for Filipinos in Taipei.
Built in 1957 the church was meant to provide English language Masses for the American soldiers stationed in Taipei as military advisers. With the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Taiwan, St. Christopher’s gradually became the Filipino church in Taipei. As the number of Filipinos grew, the church started to offer Masses in Tagalog and its surroundings evolved into a business district similar to that found around temples in Taipei.
Taipei City Archives wanted to take students and tourists to experience some of the areas of the city and to know the historical events that led to its present appearance. Besides the three tours above, TCA also organized a trip to the Wanhua Sugar Factory (糖廍里) located at the end of Dali Street in Wanhua. Built in 1911, it used to be a sugar factory during the Japanese Occupation period. After the Second World War, Taiwan Sugar Company used it as a sugar storage room.
Taipei’s Bridal Gown Street (婚紗街)
Other tours included the furniture shops along Wenchang Street (文昌街家具街) near the Guting MRT Station. When they move in to a new residence, Taipei-rens know that they will find the furniture they’re looking for in one of the shops along this street.
Taipei’s Bridal Gown Street (婚紗街) is another destination that will give students of modernology another view of modern Taipei. In traditional Chinese culture, marriage is an important event in life (終身大事) and the bridal gown is its enduring memento. Eager brides will find them here.
Those who enjoy cosplay will find the costumes of their dreams at the Ximending Theatrical Costumes Street (西門町戲劇服裝街). The availability of costumes for both traditional Chinese theater and cosplay further confirms the transformation of Taipei into a modern city.
Word processing programs on laptops or desktops have made writing Chinese characters as easy as typing in any western language. But there was a time when printing a book or newspaper was only possible with the use of cast metal typefaces. And these were mostly made in what Taipei residents know as the Metal Typefaces Street (日星鑄字行).
These were the eight modernology tours that the TCA organized from September 29 to October 27. For more information on TCA’s Modernology activities, please visit https://www.chr.gov.taipei/