Chiang Kai-Shek Official Residence 士林官邸 & Martyrs Shrine 忠烈祠 @ Shilin, Taipei

Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS), ‘leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in exile in Taiwan’, arrived in Taiwan in 1949 with his wife, Soong Mei-Ling.  A year later, they moved into their new home, the Shilin Official Residence 士林官邸 and stayed there until Chiang Kai-Shek’s death in 1975.  Visitors were many and famous, including then US Vice-President Nixon in 1953, and President Eisenhower in 1960. This is the building today….

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During the Japanese Colonial Era (1895-1945), the building was the location of the Shilin Horticultural Experimental Station, and surrounded, of course, by beautiful gardens.  These days, house, chapel, pavilions and garden are all open to the public.  The gardens are free, the house costs NT$ 100 entrance fee for ‘general visitors’ (that’s most of us), and a free audio tour is available in English and other languages.  No cameras or cellphones are allowed inside the house, so I have no photos of the inside, sorry about that.  Just use your imagination…

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The gardens are popular with many local people and visitors.  Deservedly so.  The flowers and shrubs – especially the rose gardens – are beautiful, all well-maintained and with lots of colour.  There are workers everywhere tending to the plants.  As a result, I think the gardens are much better than even the botanical gardens in Taipei. Check out these photos..

The house is also popular with tourists.  Lots of them, and mostly from overseas.  I went to visit the house for the first time today, a little reluctantly I admit.  Chiang Kai-Shek is nowhere near as popular these days as he used to be – as more and more of the truth of what really happened under his rule is brought to light.  But then every country has its own terrible secrets, and the UK is no exception.  So I tried to go with an open mind to learn…

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Firstly, the house, as a house, is really lovely, and each room is decorated and furnished beautifully in a mixture of Chinese and western styles.  And with no cellphones and cameras allowed, the atmosphere is like a real museum.  It’s a serious place.  Many of Taiwan’s historical places, in an effort to attract tourists, have brought in tons of touristy things to do, which many would say lowers the tone considerably.  Shilin Official Residence shows how it can be done properly.  The audio tour though is due for a remake.  It’s similar in style to the CKS Memorial in Taipei, full of how wonderful the Chiangs were, presenting their daily life as idyllic, and their relationship as perfect.  Intriguingly, their Christian faith is central to the presentation.  Chiang Kai-Shek had a large picture of Jesus in his room and the story of how he became a Christian (through his wife and her parents) and the couple’s daily prayer and Bible reading habits are well-explained on the audio tape.  His faith, of course, only adds complexity to the whole paradox of his life and actions, but that is for thought and discussion another time, another place.  There’s also a chapel in the grounds where the couple and their visitors attended Sunday services.

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And there’s a grand piano, made of plants…

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And it just wouldn’t be the same without any mascots of any kind, so at the back of the gift shop near the main entrance to the gardens, are Chiang Kai-Shek Teddy and Soong Mei-Ling Teddy, ready for your photos…

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Oh yes, and Soong Mei-Ling’s Cadillac, with an interesting number plate (Chiang Kai-Shek’s own cars and all his official possessions are at the CKS Memorial in Taipei)…

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From the Official Residence, going around Jiantan Mountain, it is not far to the Grand Hotel, also built by Chiang Kai-Shek, and not far from there is the Martyrs Shrine – officially known as the ‘National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine‘ 國民革命忠烈祠, also built under the orders of Chiang Kai-Shek, and dedicated to the war dead of the Republic of China…

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I’ve passed by this place many times, but today was my first visit.  And the main reason for going to the Martyrs Shrine is to see the Changing of the Guard, which happens every hour on the hour throughout the day (can also be seen at the CKS Memorial and the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei)…

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I was there for the 12 noon ceremony, the hottest time of the day and just before the rain came down – got there as the tourists were just arriving…

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The guards stand completely still and swelter for a whole hour in their uniforms, while their assistants mop their sweaty brows and generally keep them from keeling over in the heat.  There are 2 guards at the main entrance, and 2 more up at the entrance to the actual shrine.

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The Changing of the Guards Ceremony involves 5 of them marching up to the shrine, changing the 2 guards up there, then they march back again and change the 2 at the front, and perform at both places.

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Amazing choreography.  Worth it for that alone.

Due to an incident at CKS Memorial a few days ago, when protesters threw red paint on the statue of Chiang Kai-Shek (see that news report here) the actual shrine was closed to visitors today.  All the other buildings in the compound were closed too, like this one….

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And probably will be for some time to come.  So we watched from afar – along with at least 3 coachloads of tourists, mostly from the USA, who arrived for the Changing of the Guard just as it was starting and left immediately it finished.  This was taken after they’d all gone. Quiet once again…

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Just before the rain came down…

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So, do go to visit both places with an open mind – in order to learn something of the recent history of Taiwan and the Republic of China.   No country’s history is devoid of war and conflict, and Taiwan has plenty of both, much untold and unresolved.  It’s well on its way in trying to bring to light events of the past, but progress is slow, protesters are restless, and many are the struggles and stumbling blocks in the road ahead.

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