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Monday, August 16, 2010

A capital idea

We spent this Sunday afternoon in the capital of Taiwan. No, not Taipei (Táiběi) 台北, but Jhongsing New Village (Zhōngxīng Xīncūn) 中興新村, the capital of Taiwan Province 台灣省. In order to maintain the fiction that Taiwan was but one of many provinces of China, the KMT 中國國民黨 decided in 1956 to designate a site other than Taipei as the provincial capital. They chose a village in Nantou County (Nántóu Xiàn) 南投縣 called Jhongsing, and moved the functions of the Taiwan Provincial Government there. Taipei thus became a provisional seat for the government of the Republic of China 中華民國, until such time as the Nationalists could "retake the Mainland". In practice, Taipei continued to be the capital city of Taiwan (as it has been doing so since 1894), while the so-called "provincial government" in Jhongsing basically just duplicated many of the functions of the national government. Eventually, reality had to be faced, and so in the mid/late Nineties, the central government assumed most of the provincial government's duties, leaving the latter a shell of its former self.

As for Jhongsing Village, it has faded into obscurity. In its heyday as the seat of government for Taiwan Province, Chunghsing was considered a "model village", and the KMT set about creating a planned community. The result was unlike anything resembling the rest of Taiwan, with the possible exception of some exclusive neighborhoods in Taipei. What the visitor to Jhongsing today will find are wide streets lined on both sides with shady trees, and well-ordered residential areas with (gasp!) sidewalks, benches and cul-de-sacs. There are spacious parks ideal for activities like kite-flying, and plenty of playground space for children. Most of all, there is an air of quiet serenity absent from most populated areas of Taiwan, helped in part by the village's location at the foot of lush, green hills. It's too bad the KMT's vision of an ideal Taiwanese town never caught hold in the rest of Taiwan.

The sometimes rainy weather this afternoon didn't stop Amber from enjoying the playground - she came prepared!

The layout of the residential neighborhoods shows a postwar American influence. The village is dominated by single-story houses, most of which are now showing their age. Still, the relative spaciousness of the homes and gardens was a nice contrast to the claustrophobic, high-rise crowding you see in even the smallest of Taiwanese cities, like Fengyuan (Fēngyuán)豐原.

Jhongsing may be a "new town", as the British would say, but it already is noted for some of its snacks and drinks, one of the latter being pearl milk tea 珍珠奶茶. The main shopping area, like the rest of the village, was pretty quiet on this Sunday.

Typical scenery on the way back to the car after checking out Jhongsing's "downtown". Apparently, gardening is a popular hobby among the villagers.

Everywhere you look in Jhongsing, there seems to be a government building of some kind or another. This one had been turned into an "NGO Conference Center".

Shade on many residential streets was provided by longan trees. Pamela started picking the fruit off the branches (actually, it was her 6'3"/189.5cm husband who did the work) and giving them to our daughter to eat. Amber got so hooked on what in Chinese is called "Dragon's eyes" 龍眼 that she insisted we buy some for the drive home.

Despite the fall in fortune of its main employer, Jhongsing still seems to bring in the visitors, at least on this rainy day. A number of stylish-looking cafes lined the main road leading into the village.

KMT model village it may have been, but as is the case in the rest of Taiwan, the Japanese legacy is never far away.

You won't find Jhongsing in either the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide Taiwan books, and for good reason - there isn't a whole lot to do other than just stroll around and enjoy the park spaces. Still, if you have your own transport and are looking for something a bit different to do on off-day, the village might be worth an excursion.

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