Taipei’s historical development is particularly important because it eventually dictated the ethnic divisions which have characterized the city during the Cold War era.
While the original occupants of the Taipei basin are thought to be the Ping-pu tribe of Taiwan aborigines, this group eventually shared its territory with Chinese settlers from the mainland of China.
A brief period of Dutch rule from 1642-1662 created a stable environment which lured thousands of Chinese to the island. Over the next two centuries migration from the two mainland provinces closest to Taiwan–Fukien and Kwangtung–continued.
At times, the Ping-pu and the Chinese clashed. For example, development of the cash crop camphor precipitated conflicts between aborigines and Chinese, pushing the former deeper into the mountains.
The central government of China established the Taipei area as a separate prefecture in 1875.
Administrative offices were established in the area called the Inner City which eventually became the core of a modernized Taipei. The Chinese built a wall around this nucleus and surrounded it with a moat. Within the wall, streets were laid out in a strict grid pattern and land was set aside for the construction of the mandatory government buildings as well as a Confucian temple.
In 1885 the central government decided to make Taiwan a separate province with Taipei as its capital. The Inner City was designated as the administrative center and new residential areas were opened southeast of the core.
At this time, many building projects were undertaken, merchants from mainland China and other ‘foreign’ locations were attracted to the city, and the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States established consulates. Foreign interest diminished in 1895 when Taiwan was ceded to Japan under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. This treaty ended the Sino-Japanese War of 1894.
After the Japanese takeover, immigration from the Chinese mainland was strictly limited to 10,000 seasonal workers per year, and the island underwent a fifty year period of development largely isolated from outside influences.
During the first three decades of foreign rule, Taiwan was seen as an agricultural colony whose job was to supply the Japanese with food, provide a market for the country’s industrial products, and provide additional living space for Japan’s crowded populace.
Most investment went into agricultural development and construction of associated transportation facilities. Modernization resulted in an almost doubling of the amount of arable land.
Eventually Japan was able to import 60 percent of its rice and 90 percent of its sugar from the colony. In fact, by 1938, Taiwan was second only to Cuba in sugar exports.
The Japanese government made concerted efforts to persuade Japanese farmers and fishermen to settle on the island. However, this attempt was largely unsuccessful and more than 95 percent of the active male immigrants from Japan were engaged in nonagricultural activities. Half of them were government officials and professionals, and about one third settled in Taipei city which remained the capital of Taiwan.
Since Japan’s emphasis was on rural Taiwan, urban growth was relatively slow. Still the Japanese did begin large-scale building projects. These included the construction of new government buildings like the Foreign Ministry Guest House, the Presidential Office Building, the Central Post Office, the Central Railroad Station, the main campus of National Taiwan University and its hospital, and the Old City Hall.
Built in a “colonial” fashion which was inspired by Central European baroque and renaissance styles, all of these buildings remained in use throughout the Cold War period.
Infrastructure projects included a sewage system, flood control, and a highway improvement program which resulted in the destruction of the walls surrounding the Inner City. In fact, during the Japanese period, most of the oldest buildings (along with the walls) were torn down to build defense structures. Steel framed, brick faced buildings replaced the older Chinese style shop buildings which had been destroyed.
Also, almost immediately, Taipei’s boundary expanded to include two old market towns which had been outside the walled city, adding 47,000 residents to the city’s population.
At this time, Taipei became functionally specialized with certain areas of the city designated for specific services. For example, there was an entertainment district with brothels, a tea center, and an embryonic business district.
Now, too, segregated residential patterns became the norm.