Joseph R. Allen first heard of Taipei New Park in the late 1970s when he came to Taiwan to do graduate work and teach at what is today’s Tamkang University (淡江大學). One day during class he broached the topic of homosexuality with his students.
“Dead silence,” said Allen, who is professor of Chinese literature and cultural studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. “The line people gave was that it doesn’t exist in Taiwan. Or they know nothing about it.”
When class ended, however, a student who Allen knew quite well approached him and said, “There are actually homosexuals in Taiwan. If you want to meet them, go to [Taipei] New Park. It’s the guys with white shoes.”
Though he wasn’t interested in “fishing” on the park’s benches, as J.J. Lai (賴正哲), a gay-rights activist and owner of Gin Gin Bookstore (晶晶書庫), has called the green space’s gay cruising scene, Allen finds it deliciously ironic that the homosexual community would congregate in a space that served at the time as a symbol of Chinese nationalism.
“It was like 228,” Allen said, referring to the 228 Incident, an uprising that began on Feb. 27, 1947 and was violently suppressed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government. “Everybody knew about it but no one was talking about it for different sorts of reasons.”
Today, Taipei New Park is called 228 Peace Park (二 二 八和平公園), and has come to serve as a symbol of human rights and a place of sometimes silent, sometimes raucous, protest. And as Allen shows in his recently published Taipei: City of Displacements, the park is emblematic of the massive cultural and political transformations Taiwan has undergone since the demise of the Qing Dynasty.
The book argues that the history of Taiwan’s capital can be understood as a conglomeration of displaced spatial, architectural and monumental features that are pushed aside or destroyed as new social forces emerge. The park is a microcosm of this process.
“The book wouldn’t have happened without the park. You’ve got it all here. Layer after layer after layer,” Allen said.
From tablets marking the site of Qing imperial buildings to Japanese statues effaced after the KMT arrived and built the park’s lily pond pavilion, to the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum (二 二 八紀念館), a visitor to the park can barely walk 10 steps without stumbling upon some emblem of the nation’s past.
Perhaps the best vantage point to reflect on these displacements is the site of the 228 Monument, which is located in the middle of the park. The site was originally a road during the Qing Dynasty that ran east to west and faced Tienhou Temple (天后宮) temple, which was associated with imperial authority and served as an entryway to the provincial examination hall.
“The Tienhou Temple and its grounds were physically and socially removed from, or at least neutrally positioned between, the tensions of local ethnic politics,” Allen wrote.
But that all changed when the country was ceded to Japan in 1895. Whereas Qing administrators viewed Taiwan as a peripheral part of their empire, only bringing it into their fold in 1885 (and even then only administrating less than half of it), the Japanese, modeling themselves after the colonial pretensions of Europe’s major powers, envisioned themselves as benevolent modernizers. Taiwan would be the jewel in their crown.