Located in the heart of Taipei, Liberty Square is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting the city. The square is home to several important landmarks, including the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, the National Theatre, and the National concerts Hall.
The Three Landmarks
The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is a popular tourist destination, with its beautiful white marble architecture and large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek. Visitors can pay their respects at the memorial hall, which is open to the public every day from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
The National Theatre, located just across from the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, is another popular attraction at Liberty Square. The theatre hosts a variety of performances, including traditional Chinese opera, ballet, and concerts.
The National Concert Hall, located on the north side of the square, is a state-of-the-art venue that hosts a wide range of music and performing arts events. The concerts Hall is home to the Taipei Symphony Orchestra, the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, and the Taiwan Philharmonic, among other groups.
The Ponds and Parks of Liberty Square
The ponds and parks surrounding the memorial and cultural centers feature well-maintained lawns, trees, and pathways. The ponds are filled with colorful koi, which are traditionally found in gardens in East Asia. The parks regularly play host to quieter forms of public activity, such as Go games and practices of taekwondo, Tai Chi, and other martial arts. Holiday marching band and drum and bugle corps concerts, honor guard drill shows, and traditional Chinese dances are also held within the grounds.
Liberty Square regularly serves as the site of mass gatherings in Taiwan. It is the scene for red-carpet ceremonies when Taiwan’s president greets foreign dignitaries. Crowds gather at the square throughout the year for outdoor festivals and concerts. The Taipei Lantern Festival regularly takes place on the square. On many days, students, athletes, and soldiers may be seen at the square, working on drills and dance routines. The National Theatre and concerts Hall host over 800 events every year and provide iconic backdrops for events on the square.
The Controversial History of the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
This grandiose memorial to Taiwan’s former dictator is perhaps one of Taiwan’s most memorable landmarks, and certainly one of its most controversial. A giant statue of the Generalissimo sits atop 89 steps (one for each year of his life), overlooking a 240,000 square meter public square and (perhaps more importantly for the general) looking out towards the China he lost and always vowed to re-take. Beneath the giant statue is a museum offering Chiang’s account of the turbulent 20th century Chinese politics, including the invasion of China by Japan, the rise of the Republic of China, its defeat to the communists, and subsequent retreat to Taiwan, which it has occupied since.
The Role of Liberty Square in Taiwan’s Transition to Democracy
While the memorial is an important relic of Taiwan’s totalitarian past, the public square itself played a pivotal role in Taiwan’s transition to democracy, being the most popular spot for the mass rallies of the 1980s and 1990s. It’s still widely used for a range of social and political gatherings today, and is a very pleasant place to stroll around and watch the crowds, weather-permitting. It also has several small gardens.
The square had its beginnings in the 1970s at a time when Taiwan remained under martial one-party rule by the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party). Architect Yang Cho-cheng conceived the plaza as part of a grand design for a memorial to Chiang Kai-shek, the President of the Republic of China who relocated to Taiwan after the overthrow of the Kuomintang regime in China during the Chinese Civil War. The square first opened to the public as Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Square after Chiang’s death in 1975.
Architecture at the site incorporates many traditional elements and recalls earlier Kuomintang monuments erected in Republican China. Yang’s design symbolically assigned civic virtues to each area of the square. The main gate, the Gate of Integrity (大中至正), was placed at the west end on Zhongshan South Road, with the Gate of Loyalty (大忠門) standing at the north side on Xinyi Road and the Gate of Piety (大孝門) at the south side on Aiguo East Road. A Boulevard of Homage, bordered by manicured bushes, connects the square to the memorial hall.
The square became Taipei’s site of choice for mass gatherings as soon as it opened. The nature of many gatherings gave the site new historical meanings. The square became the hub of events in the 1980s and early 1990s that ushered Taiwan into its era of modern democracy. Of the many pro-democracy demonstrations that took place at the square, the most influential was the Wild Lily student movement of 1990. The movement provided the impetus for the far-reaching political reforms of President Lee Teng-hui. These culminated in the first popular elections of national leaders in 1996.
The plaza’s importance in the development of Taiwan’s democracy led to its rededication as Liberty Square by President Chen Shui-bian in 2007. Though the announcement of the new name was initially greeted with hostility by officials in the Pan-Blue camp, the name was eventually affirmed by officials across the political spectrum.
The inscriptions over the archways, including the main gate that declares the plaza as “Liberty Square”, recall the calligraphic style of Wang Xizhi in the East Jin Dynasty. The style is noted for its sense of vitality, movement, and freedom. The characters are placed in left-to-right sequence, following modern practice in Taiwan, rather than the right-to-left order of ancient Chinese tradition, which had been adopted at the site previously.
Liberty Square remains popular as a public meeting place and a symbol of democratic progress. Within weeks of its re-dedication, the square was the scene of demonstrations on behalf of freedom for Tibet, and within the year it was the scene of rallies for speech and assembly rights by the Wild Strawberry student movement. In February 2017, Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture announced plans to transform the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall itself into a national center for “facing history, recognizing agony, and respecting human rights.”
Taipei Liberty Square is a destination that has played a crucial role in the history and development of Taiwan. Its controversial origins as a memorial to Chiang Kai-shek, a former dictator, are overshadowed by its more recent role as a site for pro-democracy demonstrations and a symbol of Taiwan’s progress towards modern democracy. Today, Liberty Square is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Taipei, offering a blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. From the grandiose National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, to the cultural performances at the National Theatre and concerts Hall, to the peaceful ponds and parks, there is something for everyone at Liberty Square. So if you’re planning a trip to Taipei, be sure to add this iconic landmark to your itinerary and experience the best of what the city has to offer.