From Tung Ho Zen Temple, we again boarded our van and went on our way to our next destination, the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, erected in memory of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (October 31, 1887-April 5, 1975), Taiwan’s long-time leader. Here, we were to observe the 9 AM Changing of the Honor Guard ceremony.
Along the way to the hall, we passed the Neo-Renaissance-style Presidential Office Building, an elaborate red brick edifice built in 1919. It was already drizzling when we arrived at the Memorial Hall’s tremendous, 30 m. (98.4 ft.) high and 80 m. (262.4 ft.) high arched main gate (which faces Chiang’s beloved China) – the Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness.
The main gate opened into Liberty Square with its grand vista reminiscent of my visit to Beijing’s Forbidden City, with the massive and ornate National Theater (on the south) and National Concert Hall (on the north) flanking it. Both, completed in 1987, were modeled after the Forbidden City’s Halls of Supreme Harmony and Preserving Harmony and painted in the same brilliant Ming Dynasty style.
Added to it are immaculate grounds featuring lovely traditional Chinese sculpted gardens, miniature hills, an ornamental bridge, waterfalls and serene ponds (filled with colorful koi), truly a scene from the 1987 Bernardo Bertolucci classic film The Last Emperor. The Gate of Great Loyalty also stands at the north side (along Xinyi Rd.) while the Gate of Great Piety stands at the south side (along Aiguo East Rd.).
From the gate, we all walked along the Boulevard of Homage (bordered by manicured bushes), to the east end of the square where the magnificent, 76 m. (250 ft.) high 240,000 sq. m. memorial hall stands. It has a marble facade and octagonal (the octagonal shape picks up the symbolism of the number 8, a number traditionally associated in Asia with abundance and good fortune), twin-eaved roof of brilliant blue tiles crowned by a golden spur.
The memorial’s design was based on the winning competition entry of the late, internationally renowned Chinese architect Yang Cho-cheng. Yang’s design incorporated many elements of traditional Chinese architecture. Started on October 31, 1976 (the 90th anniversary of Chiang’s birth), the hall was officially opened on April 5, 1980 (the fifth anniversary of the leader’s death). The hall has 2 sets of stairs, each with 89 steps, representing the age of Chiang Kai-shek at the time of his death. We didn’t climb the stairs. Instead we entered the hall via a huge doorway by the side of the stairs.
We arrived early, still minutes before the hall’s opening, so we first listened to Mr. Pang’s narrative of Chiang’s life. Also at the ground floor is a museum with exhibit related to the late president’s life including his personal effects, photos, a mock-up of one of his offices and his bulletproof Cadillac.
Chang Kai-shek Memorial Hall: 21 Zongshan South Rd., Section 1, Zhongzheng District, Taipei, Taiwan. Tel: (+886-2) 2343-1100. Open daily, 9 AM-6:30 PM. Admission is free.
National Chiang Kai-shek Cultural Center: Tel: (+886-2) 3393-9888.
How to Get There: Take THSR or train to Taipei Station then transfer, via Taipei MRT, to Chiang Kaishek Memorial Hall Station.