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The Tour

We began with a tour of Taipei requiring several long bus legs both through the city’s opulent areas and larger areas of more traditional accommodation, not dissimilar to old Hong Kong.

First stop was the Presidential Palace. It looks colonial British but is actually colonial Japanese.  

 

Presidential Palace Taipei
Compare this building with Burma's High Court building in Rangoon (now Yangon) - click here

 

The Japanese built it after they acquired Taiwan as war reparations in 1895.  Taiwan remained a Japanese colony until 1945.  As a result the US bombed the Palace in 1944 and then the Taiwanese restored it.  Unlike the Koreans who had also come under Japanese rule until the end of WW2, the Taiwanese seem to quite like the Japanese.

There was an excellent presentation by a volunteer guide who gave us a potted history since 1945, effectively during her lifetime.  She remembered that under Chiang Kai-Shek everyone lived in poverty, dependent on American Aid for survival and when the only new clothes her school friends and she had were made from the cotton bags that had held food relief.

She recalled the first economic plan when women were organised into collectives to make Christmas decorations and silk flowers for export.

Things were still dire economically for the next thirty years or so.  Despite being a predominantly agricultural economy the country was initially unable to feed itself and continued its dependency on United States aid well into the 1960’s.  One of the first economic initiatives was land reform and a program of import replacement.

Taiwan was one of the poorest places on Earth, despite a strong military investment with US support, dedicated to ‘retaking’ mainland China.

Our guide was reluctant to say anything negative about the oppressive government and economic mismanagement of that period but it was obviously a difficult time.

The Taiwanese ‘economic miracle’ is said to be rooted in the early land reform under Chiang Kai-Shek and of course where we are now always depends on the circumstances of the past, so it must be true.  But more plausibly it actually arose out of the Ten Major Construction Projects plan by his son and successor President Chiang Ching-kuo, who invested over three hundred billion Taiwan Dollars in infrastructure between 1974 and 1979.

More of this later.

 

 

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Travel

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A Little Background

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