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Remapping Taipei: How Politics Transforms a City

2007: Remapping Taiper: How Politics Transforms a City
By: Professor Lung Yingtai

2007 Chuan Lyu Lecture
The University of Cambridge,
Department of East Asian Studies
Tuesday, May 15, 2007 at 5pm
Room LG 17, Law Faculty Building, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge

Subject:Remapping Taipei:How Politics Transforms a City

By: Professor Lung Yingtai
Chair Professor at the Centre for General Education, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan

I have chosen to talk about Taibei today for three reasons: it is the capital of a democratic country, the first laboratory for democracy in Chinese history, it is a cultural powerhouse in Greater China, and as a result it has had an impact on China as well. It is a city of contradictions. On the one hand, it is highly educated, with 45% of its population the recipients of a BA (as opposed to just 13% in Hong Kong). On the other hand, it has a bad infrastructure (e.g., less than 70% of its sewerage is covered), and looks makeshift: there are still many buildings with tin roofs.Why is this the case? Part of the reason is geophysical: it lies in a basin whose soft soil is prone to suffer earthquakes (one has to dig 150 metres into the soil to have hard ground). It was heavily bombed during the World War II. A bigger reason is that for 37 years it was ruled as a temporary capital under martial law, and so its infrastructure received little investment from government and banks and its major construction projects began only from the 1980s.

The political changes of democratization in the 1980s and since then have changed the city's government irrevocably. Firstly, it feels like a bigger city. Many once hidden spaces have now become accessible to the ordinary citizen and made into public spaces and gardens. State monoplies have also left the center of the city, thereby leaving as many as 50 acres to become culture zones. Secondly, the city also has become more transparent and humane, as the person elected to be its mayor has to please his voters. The city has become more colourful, its exterior has softened, and even efforts to accommodate the handicapped are made in public spaces.

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