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Chiang Kai-shek's official residence opens its doors

The generalissimo has been dead for 25 years, and while people have been able to visit the grounds of his Shihlin house since 1996, the buildings themselves are only now being opened up

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Journalists were allowed for the first time into the main mansion of Chiang Kai-shek's residence compound in Shihlin on Friday. The Taipei City Government designated the mansion as a cultural heritage site on April 20.

PHOTO: LU CHUN-WEI, LIBERTY TIMES

As the security guards last Friday slowly pulled open the gate, the mystery surrounding the main building of the late Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) official residence in Shihlin was unveiled to the media for the first time ever, having been closed off to the public for 50 years.

Once the heart of power, the building, which is nestled among lush trees, is still monitored 24 hours a day by the National Security Bureau. Its former residents -- Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Madame Chiang (蔣宋美齡) -- lived in the house for 26 years before Chiang's death in 1975.

To respect the wishes and privacy of Madam Chiang -- who has lived in the US since 1975 -- the general public had to wait until now for a glimpse of the interior of the house. The outer and middle gardens in front of the building were opened to the public in 1996.

Taipei City Government's Bureau of Cultural Affairs (文化局) decided on April 20 to designate the compound -- officially called "the former official residence of Chiang Kai-shek and Madam Chiang" -- as the city's 93rd municipal heritage site and planned to make it into a local and global study center for the study of the lives and times of the couple.

Three major projects include the gathering of related historical documents, narrative histories, and the restoration of its original look.

The compound covers the main building, a guest house, a church, a pagoda, and a garden.

Built in 1950, the two-story main building was the second official residence for the Chiangs after they relocated to Taiwan from China in 1949 with the KMT's forces following their loss to the Communists in the civil war. While the front part of the building was built in the Japanese style, the latter was built in a modern Western style.

Upon entering the door, what one sees first is a large thick carved wooden screen, while on the wings are the living rooms and offices for the military aides and secretaries in residence.

Passing through the arched corridor, one sees a small living room and a dining room before one enters the spacious ball room. Built in 1960, the room has a maximum capacity of more than 250 people. Prestigious guests who have been entertained here include former US presidents Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower.

Decorations in the red-carpeted ballroom include furniture from the Ching and Ming Dynasties, western sofas with light maroon covers made of silk and a personal collection of antiques and valuable items including framed family pictures, crystal ash trays, china vases, antique lanterns, Madam Chiang's hand-drawn Chinese paintings, and delicately carved wooden screens, which were part of her luxurious dowry.

The nearby Kaiketang (凱歌堂) church, was built in 1949 for the Chiangs, both of whom proclaimed to be devout Christians.

There are different stories about the origin of the church's name. Some say that it stands for "triumph," while others have said the name comes from the Bible. Chou Lien-hua (周聯華), who was the church's minister for over 40 years, said the chapel is a testimony to God's power.

According to Chou, when Chiang was paying a visit to a rural township in Nanking, China, during the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, he prayed to God for his victory in the war in return for the donation of a church. His wish was granted in 1945, and he kept his promise by presenting a church named Kaiketang to symbolize his triumph in the war.

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