Everyone recognizes one structure in Taiwan, but that’s not the structure I visited–Taipei 101 is beautiful skyscraper that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Instead of paying a small fortune to ride an elevator near the top of that huge building, I opted for hiking up Elephant Hill for a better view of the city that included Taipei 101. Really, what other buildings in the city would you want to see? What other buildings are there to see from above?
That’s when I found the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. It is flanked by the National Concert Hall and National Theater, which are indistinguishable but beautiful. I don’t imagine it’s such a sight to see from far above in Taipei 101, but all three are wonderful structures to behold and walk around for half a day–and it helped me to escape a bit of light rain. It is also more colorful to see at night with the lights, especially when the little pandas are on display for added cuteness.
The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is a monument for the former president and military leader of the Republic of China who was driven out of mainland China along with the rest of the Kuomintang by Mao Zedong’s communist army. Chiang died in 1975, ending martial law in Taiwan. Direct presidential elections in Taiwan were not held until 1996.
While history surrounding Chiang’s rule in mainland China and Taiwan is controversial to say the least, he is still revered as a great leader on the island. He does not secure the same reverence, however, as his predecessor Sun Yat-sen.
Arriving at the memorial hall at the top of the hour, visitors are treated to the changing of the guard–every hour of the day (seems a bit excessive). A carefully choreographed ceremony that involves twirling and tossing firearms and plenty of stomping of boots. As a taller tourist, it’s easier to stand in the back and hold a camera above everyone else’s heads to record the ceremony.
Inside the museum beneath the huge statue of a seated, benevolent Chiang Kai-shek visitors can learn a bit of history of the former leader’s military successes and relationship with Sun Yat-sen. You can even have your picture taken next to Chiang’s Cadillac. There’s also plenty of whitewashed Taiwanese political history that’s probably intended for the mainland Chinese tour groups.