Friday, February 22, 2013

City Walls, City Gates: How Taiwan's Towns Tried to Stay Safe (

In places inhabited by Han Chinese, walled towns and cities have long been symbols of civilization and imperial authority. A few centuries ago in China, a major settlement without a wall was almost unthinkable. The Chinese character cheng (城), it is often pointed out, can mean either "city" or "city wall." Taiwan before the Japanese occupation was no exception to this phenomenon, and fascinating remnants of the walls which once surrounded Taipei, Tainan and other places still exist.

Tainan was Taiwan's administrative capital from the island's incorporation into the Qing Empire in 1684 up until 1885. Because of its political importance
not to mention the wealth that could be plundered many of the rebel armies which ravaged Taiwan during the 18th and 19th centuries tried to seize the city. Zhu Yi-gui (朱一貴) and his followers were the only ones to succeed, in part because the settlement at that time lacked a defensive wall. It took the Qing authorities two months to recapture Taiwanfu (台灣府), as Tainan was then known. Four years later, in 1725, the city's first wall was built–a simple wooden barrier reinforced with thorny bamboo.

Lin Shuang-wen (林爽文) and his partisans were unable to overrun Tainan, but their 1787-1788 uprising – the bloodiest in Taiwan's history – showed wood or bamboo defenses were ineffective. Consequently, Tainan's wall was upgraded in 1788-91. The new structure was 5.76m high, 6.4m wide at the base, and 8,064m long. To see the mix of materials used–river stones, slabs of granite, bricks and soil–there is no better place to go than the campus of National Cheng Kung University (國立成功大學, NCKU), where two short yet original segments of wall flank the Little West Gate (小西門).

This stretch of wall survived because it formed one side of an Imperial Japanese Army barracks. The relic has been in a sorry state for years, but a renovation effort was launched at the beginning of 2013.

The Little West Gate was reassembled at NCKU in 1970, having originally stood near what is now the intersection of Ximen Road Section 1 and Fuqian Road (西門路一段府前路口), about 2km away. Ximen Road means "West Gate Road." Less than 20m from the Little West Gate's current location is where the Little East Gate (小東門) stood between 1725 and 1916, when the Japanese colonial authorities finished demolishing almost all of Tainan's walls, five of the original eight gates and five of the six gates in the outer walls. The latter had been added in 1835-36 as the city sprawled both inland and toward the Taiwan Strait...

The rest of this article can be read on the website. The photo above shows part of Hengchun's town wall.

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