Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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Chienkung Shrine / Kenkō Jinja, Taipei

12/11/2012 Taiwan Explorer

It was a hot summer day, when decided to head down to the southern part of Zhongzheng District to visit the Botanical Garden. The garden, as beautiful as it is, is not the only attraction in the area. Right next to the lotus pond you can find a chain of buildings that belong to the so called Nanhai Academy 南海學園. These distinctly neo-classical Chinese buildings are housing various educational institutions, that date back to the 1950s-1960s during the period of so called Sinicization of Taiwan. If you're not into history, you probably wouldn't have known, that most of these buildings were already built in the 1930s, when Japan occupied Taiwan. Today I'd like to introduce a very interesting building, that reflects the complex history of 20th century Taiwan.

History of the Chienkung Shrine

I want to introduce the Chienkung Shrine 建功神社 (sometimes Romanized as Jiangong Shrine) or Japanese Kenkō Jinja. It was designed by Ide Kaoru 井手薰 (1897-1944) and completed in 1928 (he is the architect, who also designed the Zhongshan Hall and the Judicial Yuan). The shrine was dedicated to all the people, that have fallen during the occupation of Taiwan, which includes the war dead of the invasion in 1895 and those, who died during the numerous uprisings by the Taiwanese people (it was something like a martyrs' shrine). One source claims that 16,805 people were memorized, but what is significant here is the fact, that among those 3,339 were Taiwanese (source). There is another source with different numbers, but not significantly different (15,691 all together, 3,530 were Taiwanese).

Design of the Chienkung Shrine

The design of the original building was very unique. It featured a 56m tall tower with a round-shaped roof (a dome), that was at that time controversial, because it was so different from most other shrines in classical Japanese architecture (source). It was a concrete structure, that blended Japanese design elements with Western and Chinese. Very unique was the shrine's torii, the traditional Japanese gate commonly found at Shinto shrines, that incorporated elements of the Chinese paifang, therefore making it a Sino-Japanese hybrid, if I may say so. The gate was called Sando torii 鳥居參道. Given the fact, that the shrine was dedicated to both Taiwanese and Japanese war dead, this makes sense.

Here are some historic photos (source and more images on Pictures China forum):

These images show the building's original design in great detail.

This is the shrine and the surrounding area from above. A lot has changed since then.

Chienkung Shrine after the war

After the World War II Taiwan was liberated from the Japanese Empire and the nationalists (Kuomintang) took control of the island and continued Republic of China on Taiwan from 1949 on. A lot of Japanese shrines disappeared completely or were transformed into something different. The Chienkung shrine was not completely destroyed, but heavily modified. Most traditional Japanese elements were removed, such as the stone lanterns 石燈籠 or modified, such as the sacred bridge 神橋 (shinkyō). The roof of the tower was transformed as well, it was supposed to resemble the Temple of Heaven 天壇, one of Beijing's landmarks built during the Ming Dynasty. What remains intact are the stone railings 石欄杆 of the former shrine and the pond in front of the main building (source). Everything else are modifications or new additions.

This is a comparison of the building pre- and post-WWII.

After the WWII the building played a very important role in the educational sector of the relocated Republic of China. From 1954 to 1982 it served as the National Central Library 國家圖書館 (source). From 1987 to 2011 it was home to the National Education Archive 國立教育資料館. Today it's known as the Center of Educational Resources and Publishing 教育資源及出版中心 of the National Academy for Education Research 國家教育研究院 (source).

Let me show you some photos from summer 2012:

The big lotus pond in front of the complex hasn't changed that much.

You can spot some beautiful flowers here.

The water is very clean.

The main gate was built in classical Chinese style.

When you enter, you discover a very green courtyard.

The small pond was preserved since the Japanese times.

The ROC flag and the Temple of Heaven like tip of the roof.

Two small water fountains.

Another view on the courtyard.

A closeup on the former shrine's front facade.

The courtyard from a different angle.

A look back on the former shrine.

On my way out.

I wish I would've checked what's behind that gate.

The ceiling on the main entrance building.

Another look back on the former shrine.


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Taipei Botanical Garden
National Museum of History

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