Sunday, December 23, 2012

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Chungshan Building, Yangmingshan

12/23/2012 Taiwan Explorer

The Chungshan Building 中山樓 on Yangmingshan above Taipei is one of the most famous and important neo-classical Chinese buildings in Taiwan. It was completed in 1966 (at the exact 100 years anniversary of Sun Yat-sen's birth) in order to serve as the venue for the National Assembly of the Republic of China 國民大會. It took this role away from the older, yet smaller Zhongshan Hall in central Taipei. The national assembly is defunct since 2005, but the building still serves for occasional meetings and gatherings by various government entities. It's open to public since 2006 (source).

The history of the Chungshan Building

The Chungshan Building was built on Yangmingshan north of Taipei City and next to a sulphuric stream, that supplies the hot springs in Xinbeitou with water. The location is said to have very good feng shui, but the sulphur in the water is very aggressive, it speeds up the corrosion of iron, for example (source). It's also said, that the location was chosen, because it was aligned with the Shilin Official Residence (where Chiang Kai-shek lived), the Grand Hotel and the Office of the President (see photo on the left, click to enlarge). During out visit we were told, that around 1200 veteran soldiers were working on the construction 24h a day in a period of 13 months to complete the building before Sun Yat-sen's centennial birth anniversary on November 12th, 1966. The building was designed by the architect Xiu Ze-lan 修澤蘭, who is female, which was quite a novelty in the 1960s. The design incorporates classical Chinese palatial elements from the Ming and Qing dynasty. You will see a lot of ornamentation and attention to every detail. There is a large number of Chinese characters for good fortune 福 (fú) and longevity 壽 (shòu) incorporated in various elements inside the building as well as in the garden. What was perhaps most challenging was the ground base, which is composed of a mix of hard and soft soil, rocks and mud and is located close to sulfuric gas spurting pits. The nearby Seven Star Mountain 七星山 is Taiwan's highest dormant volcano (source).

The Chungshan Building is depicted on the 100NTD bill since 2000.

Our visit of the Chungshan Building

As an avid history and architecture buff, it's been one of my long time wishes to see the Chungshan Building in real, but since it's located on Yangminshan and has very specific opening hours, it took some time, before I could finally see it. I was lucky a week ago, because we had beautiful sunny weather in Taipei (after 3 weeks of rain) and my wife was free and willing to accompany me. What is important to remember, is the fact, that they only let visitors in 4 times per day, because there are 4 guided tours by volunteers at 8.30, 10.00, 13.30 and 15.00. If you come by bus from Taipei, you better be at the main gate about 10 min before the tour starts, because walking from the gate to the Chungshan Hall might take you a good 10 minutes. You will need to sign your name at the security and show ID. The tours are unfortunately only in Chinese language, so unless you're not fluent, bring a Taiwanese friend, who can translate for you. I was lucky to have my wife with me. And by the way, I was the only foreigner in the group, which consisted of another Taiwanese couple and the rest were visitors from China.

Let me show you my photos from the Chungshan Building, December 2012:

This is the main entrance, the public bus stop is right across the street.

We were a bit late, so my wife was rushing to that small booth.

After she signed her name, we were urged to hurry, so we sped up.

The sulphuric stream runs along the main road.

I will never forget the strong smell, it's definitely a unique experience.

After 10 minutes of tirelessly chasing after my pregnant wife, we finally saw it!

This is the look down the valley.

A signboard showed us the way.

A bus for Chinese tourists next to the big paifang.

A statue of Sun Yat-sen at the Arrival hall.

The Arrival hall.

The Chinese Culture Hall

We arrived a bit late, so we went to the Chinese Culture Hall, where the group was.

A big ROC flag and a painting of Sun Yat-sen.

Left: An ornamented lamp. Right: Golden characters written by Chiang himself.

There are 1100 seats in the hall, which is quite impressive.

With the addition of the seats on the floor above, 1800 people could attend a meeting.

This is how it used to look in the past. The image is from a gathering in 1972 (photo permitted for reposting, check the source and more photos from the gathering here).

The empty seats of today.

Here is another view from the back. What surprised me were the superb interior space acoustics and the ventilation system, that works well without air conditioners.

This is the only statue with father and son: Ex-president Chiang Kai-shek on the left with his son and also a former president Chiang Ching-kuo on the right.

An interesting lamp.

This is the coat check.

This part is located on the 2nd floor. It's the lobby to the Culture Hall.

The State Banquet Culture Hall

We finally arrive at the 3rd floor: The State Banquet Hall.

Probably the biggest dining hall I've seen in Taiwan.

This plum blossom, the symbol of ROC, is coated in real gold.

This is where the president would enter. It's not far from his bedroom.

And that's the central stage, where he would hold speeches.

This is how the whole dining area looks like.

This is like an art gallery.

If you look through the magnifying glass, you'll see something written in Chinese.

These onion-shapped heads were all carved by hand.

Round Hall

This hall is located under that famous round-shaped roof.

The furniture is exquisite here.

Tourist from China enjoying the view.

The view is definitely stunning.

The big paifang.

The green roof tiles from close.

樓山中.

The ceiling in the Round Hall.

The visitors from China listening to the Taiwanese guide.

The Round Hall is very close to the State Banquet Hall.

This is the 2nd floor under the Round Hall: The president's bedroom is behind that big door in the middle, the first lady had her own room (small door on the left).

A hall way with miniature buildings from the history of ROC.

A miniature Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Guangzhou.

And then we were back to where we started.

The Chungshan Hall from outside

The main gate.

The round tower.

The front of the building.

The two lions.

The roof animals.

The roof top.

The tip of the round roof.

Another view on the decorative roof animals.

Lion.

The paifang.

There are a hundred stairs leading down.

The sign for good fortune.

One last glance of the Chungshan Building.

The sulfuric stream.

Wife almost covered by the spurting gas.

In conclusion

Visiting the Chungshan Building was definitely a very special adventure, it was unlike anything I've seen before in and around Taipei. A big part of that was the remote location on the volcanic ground - that specific smell is hard to forget. Another fascinating thing were the hundreds of small design elements and architectural particularities; the amount of thought, that was put behind them, was extraordinarily big. It was also very interesting to tour the building with tourists from China. They were very eager and interested to learn about this part of history they knew very little about - they had a lot of questions and were seemingly impressed. One has to know, that the year 1966 in China was the beginning of the Cultural Revolution 文化大革命, the year where Mao Zedong called for the "Four Olds" (old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas) to be destroyed. This included the destruction of classic Chinese architecture, literature and paintings, even Chinese temples were desecrated (source). At the same time Chiang Kai-shek launched a counter-movement called the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement 中華文化復興運動. Those were the times of the Cold War and where the ROC on Taiwan was seen as Free China and the KMT still hoped to retake the mainland. This was also the period of White Terror and martial law in Taiwan, one of the worst times for native Taiwanese, who unwillingly got mixed up in this "clash of two Chinas". Keep all that in mind, if you visit the Chungshan Hall.


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Pinyin: Zhōngshān lóu
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▷ NEARBY SITES

Chinese Culture University
Lin Yutang House

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