Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall | Taipei

Born in south China in 1866, Sun Yat-sen was the founding father of the Republic of China (ROC), as Taiwan has been known officially since Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island in 1949. Some biographies refer to him as Dr. Sun, although the diploma he obtained in Hong Kong only permitted him to work as a herbalist. He practiced medicine in nearby Macau, then a Portuguese colony, before devoting himself full-time to revolutionary politics. Sun, then aged 45, was raising funds in the United States when he heard the last emperor of China had been overthrown. He hurried back and became the ROC’s first president on January 1, 1912 but stepped down just ten weeks later, believing it would be best for the new government.

A few years later, Sun married for the third time. His bride was Soong Ching-ling, elder sister of Soong May-ling, who later became Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Sun’s connection with Taiwan is tenuous. He paid just three very brief visits to Taiwan and died in 1925, long before Taiwan was incorporated into the ROC. His tomb is in Nanjing, China’s former capital, and his widow (who died in 1981) never visited the island.

Because Sun is still held in high regard by both the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang (Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalists), unificationists on both sides of the Taiwan Strait hope his ideals can heal the Taiwan-China divide. However, very few modern politicians in Taiwan pay no more than lip service to his ideology, which is known in English as ‘The Three Principles of The People’. The original ROC national anthem, which quotes his words, is still sung at official events.

The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, completed in 1972, is a relic from the era of Nationalist dictatorship. It’s an interesting piece of architecture, neither traditionally Chinese nor noticeably Western. At weekends and on evenings, the spacious grounds are filled with families flying kites, senior citizens doing Tai chi, and groups of teenagers practicing hip-hop dance moves. Like Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, the venue has been depoliticised in the minds of most Taiwanese.

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