From Aboriginal Homeland to Modern City: A Look at Taichung's Rich History
To residents and visitors alike, today's Taichung is a modern, dynamic Asian city marked by broad boulevards, high-rise apartments, office towers, and steadily-growing traffic congestion. However, just below the surface lies a long and varied history that provides a significant contrast.
Before the arrival of the Han Chinese, Taichung was home to the Pingpu ("plains") Aborigines. The Pingpu grew crops such as millet and taro while hunting mostly deer. Trade began between the Pingpu tribes in central Taiwan and the mainland Chinese as early as the 12th century, although no permanent Chinese settlement would come until hundreds of years later.
In the 17th century, Europeans established settlements in Taiwan, starting with the Dutch arrival in southern Taiwan in 1624. The Spaniards later settled in the north. At the same time, there began a steady stream of immigrants from southern China. In 1642, the Dutch succeeded in driving out the Spaniards and laid claim to the entire island, establishing their capital in present-day Tainan. But events on the mainland were to cut the Dutch rule short.
In 1644, the Manchus overthrew the Ming Dynasty, to begin the Ching Dynasty. At that time, many Ming Dynasty supporters left the capital moving southward. One of them, Koxinga, fled to Taiwan with a force of 30,000 soldiers to set up a base from which to restore the Ming Dynasty. In 1662, Koxinga and his troops expelled the Dutch from the island, creating conditions for an even larger influx of Han Chinese immigrants. So large was the Chinese influence on Taiwan that it was named a county of China in 1684. In the beginning, most of the Han Chinese immigrants settled in southern Taiwan. However, as the population of that region swelled, there was increasing interest in opening up other areas of the island.
In 1721, Lan Ting-chen, a military commander, oversaw the establishment of an artillery base and village, at the site of present-day Zhongshan (Taichung) Park, and named it Datun, or "Big Mound" (hence, Datun Rd. and Beitun, Xitun and Nantun districts). In 1885, Liu Ming-chuan, a Qing Dynasty official, requested that Datun be designated the provincial capital. Emperor Kuang Su agreed, and Liu Ming-chuan was given the authority to oversee the development of this area.
Under Liu's direction, Datun became the first settlement in Taiwan to be built up in an organized fashion. But, four years after development work started, Liu retired. The capital was then moved to present-day Taipei and the development of Datun was halted.
Then, in 1895, the Japanese defeated China in the first Sino-Japanese War. As a concession, China ceded Taiwan to Japan. This began the Japanese occupation of the island which would last for 50 years, until 1945. The Japanese recognized Datun's strategic central location, renaming it Taichung (meaning central Taiwan), and set about making it the first "modern" area in Taiwan. In 1903, roads and streets began to be built in present-day downtown. At that time, today's Minquan Road was designated Taichung's center.
Unfortunately, in the Japanese zeal to modernize Taichung, all of the structures built under Liu were torn down. All that remains of Qing Dynasty Taichung is a tower marking the city's north gate. In 1903, Taichung Park was completed and the tower was moved to the park where it still stands today. A natural pond was used to create a lake in the center of the park. The two landmark pavilions located above the lake were built in 1908. With its lake, lotus-filled pond, arched bridges and curved paths, Taichung Park was named one of the eight scenic spots of Taiwan.
In 1908, the first market was opened and still exists as a traditional market today. It is located on Jiguang Street between Zhongzheng and Chenggong roads, near the train station. In 1917, the train station itself was completed and began operation. In 1920, Taichung City was formally established and Taichung City Hall was completed in 1924, after 11 years of construction.
During this era, Taichung was also given the lasting nickname "Cultural City" and became an early hotbed of Taiwanese nationalism. In 1913, Lin Hsien-tang and his brother Lin Lie-tang, intellectuals from one of the wealthiest families in Taiwan at that time, founded Taichung Middle School (today's Taichung First High School) to teach Taiwanese culture to children of Taiwanese families in the hope of spreading the concepts of Taiwanese nationalism.
In 1921, a cultural association was established in Taipei, headed by Lin Hsien-tang. On the surface, the mission of this cultural association was the promotion of cultural activities. But, in reality, it was formed to spread the concepts of nationalism. Most of the members of this association were intellectuals from Taichung and surrounding areas. Thus, in 1927, the cultural association headquarters was moved to Taichung, making it the center of politics and culture in Taiwan.
Under Japanese rule, Taichung and the rest of the island enjoyed a new found prosperity. Howevr, this prosperity was eventually squandered on the Japanese war effort. By 1945, Taiwan's economy was in shambles. In 1950, the Nationalist Kuomintang government, which moved to Taiwan from Mainland China in 1949, named Taichung City a special administrative area. This set the stage for the development which is still continuing today and the rest, as they say, is history.
To experience the city's roots firsthand, take a stroll in the downtown area and visit historical landmarks such as the train station (on Jianguo Rd. at the end of Zhongshan Rd.); Zhongshan (Taichung) Park on Gongyuan Rd.; the first traditional market on Jiguang St.; and City Hall on Shifu Rd. To read up on Taiwan's history and culture, visit the library on the third floor of the Taichung Municipal Cultural Center (No. 600 Yingcai Rd., Tel: 372-7372). The selections in this library are mostly in Chinese, but there are also some English titles available.