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  • Taipei: City of Displacement by Joseph R. Allen
  • Liang-Yi Yen (bio)
Joseph R. Allen. Taipei: City of Displacement. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012. xv, 280 pp. Paperback $30.00, isbn 978-0-295-99126-9.

Taipei: City of Displacement is an interesting and insightful book about the cultural politics of public space in a postcolonial East Asian city. Combining investigation of historical material and long-term observation of contemporary urban spaces, Joseph Allen presents a brilliant spatial reading of historical and present-day Taipei. As Allen mentions in the book (p. 186), the theoretical framework of his study is primarily informed by Lefebvre, Harvey, and Hayden, whose works usually see space not as a backdrop for social and historical events, but as a type of agent actively engaged in these events. Similarly, Taipei focuses on how the visual representation of public spaces in Taipei supports the construction and reconstruction of ideology, especially the ideology of Taiwanese national identity.

The picture of Taipei Park on the front cover—which shows the juxtaposition of a neoclassical museum built by the Japanese colonial government, a Chinese pavilion built during the post–World War II period, and a skyscraper built in the post–martial law era—accurately reflects the key subject of the book. In fact, the chapter on Taipei Park occurs in the middle of the book. This implies that the Taipei Park case study is central to all other material in the book, including maps, photos and films, city gates and roads, museums, and statues, and thus deserves close examination. In the Taipei Park chapter, Allen offers a detailed description and interpretation of selected spaces in the park that exist physically or psychologically, namely, Tianhougong (the temple of an important Chinese goddess), the Taipei Club, two memorial arches, a music pavilion, a gay park, and the Tudigongmiao (Earth God shrine).

According to Allen, before Japanese rule, Tianhougong was located in the center of Taipei and was extremely important to the local Han population during the Qing dynasty. The Japanese destroyed the temple and began constructing Taipei Park because “the ruling powers regarded this religious space as part of the [Qing] colonial core, which needed to be neutralized by its quick secularization” (p. 95). The first colonial building constructed in this neutralized zone was the Taipei Club. It was a privileged site for the colonialists and a center for promoting physical education and public sports, which were “part of a larger Japanese effort during the Meiji period to form a new civil society, both in the Japanese homeland and in the new colony” (p. 100). Unlike Tianhougong, the memorial arches erected during the Qing dynasty were not demolished. Instead, they were relocated from their original sites to Taipei Park. This is because the Japanese somewhat admired elite Chinese culture and sought to preserve Chinese cultural objects. However, because the memorial arches contradicted colonial and modern construction projects, they were preserved inside Taipei Park, “where they would be relatively safe—safe from [End Page 416] modernization efforts, but also safely displaced, away from a position of power in local culture” (p. 104). With its European style and its function to host Western classical and military music performances, the music pavilion in Taipei Park was significant in the colonizers’ cultural “transplantation” program (p. 104).

If the analysis of these sites in Taipei Park reflects the cultural strategies deployed by the Japanese ruling powers, then the discussion on the gay park and the Tudigonmiao depicts the spatial tactics employed under the postwar rule of the Nationalist Party (Guomindong). Since the 1960s and 1970s, despite (or because of) homosexual relationships being seen as deviant in public discourse, Taipei Park was a primary meeting place for the gay population in Taiwan. This caused an ironic situation where the most private activities occurred in the most public and visible place in Taipei. Similarly, the Tudigonmiao was not an officially documented site in Taipei Park, but it was an important religious center for the local neighborhood. After a petition by local residents, the city government recognized the temple as the February 28th Peace Park Fude Temple in 2003. Above all, Allen demonstrates that the meanings and...