CKS Memorial Hall

AS MAJESTIC & PHOTOGENIC AS MONUMENTS GET

Before Taipei 101 was built, CKS Memorial Hall was probably the most iconic structure in Taipei. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall was built in the 70s to commemorate the late leader. In a way, it’s similar to the Lincoln Memorial, with a large statue being the center of attention. But it’s much more than that. The blue-roofed monument is flanked by (& perfectly complemented by) two shiny orange roofed buildings on the other end of the park, the National Concert Hall and the National Opera House. And all of the cultural buildings live within a 25 hectare green campus, a walled public garden that serves the daily lives of locals as much as it does the cameras of travelers.

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KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Address No. 21, Zhongshan South Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
Getting there Take the red or green MRT line to CKS Memorial Hall Station, use exit 5
Price Free, though there are also ticketed exhibitions
Hours 9am to 8pm for the hall, 5am to midnight for the park
Wifi free (just ask for the password at the desk)
Tourist friendliness Very tourist friendly. There’s signage in English and a lot of helpful employees and volunteers to guide you. They also offer tours in several languages (Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish and German)

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A LITTLE BACKGROUND

While the monument was initially commissioned to honor of President Chiang Kai Shek, it has over the years evolved to become a national monument that celebrates the history and culture of Taiwan beyond its namesake.

The history of the monument (& it’s namesake) is pretty loaded. Just check out his Wikipedia page. Chiang was the leader of the Republic of China through pretty much all of the mess of the 20th century. From the Chinese Civil War to retreating to Taiwan to the authoritarian government he established, it’s no surprise he’s a polarizing character.

Throw in the politics and it gets even messier. While the Kuomintang party reveres him, the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) isn’t so fond. During the 80s and 90s the monument / park was host to many demonstrations and rallies that helped democratize Taiwan. For this reason, President Chen Shui-Bian (who’s Wikipedia page is also v juicy) of the DPP party decided to rename the main gate Liberty Square and drop the mention of the CKS name. Protests ensue.

Anyways, today things have calmed down. CKS Memorial Hall serves as not only a gathering place for events, but also just an everyday park for the public to enjoy. From the history museum in the main hall to the changing of guards to the visiting exhibitions and performances, the park has become the cultural center of Taiwan.

A random but important note: Chiang Kai Shek went by several names. For some reason the romanized version happens to be the Canton pronunciation of his courtesy name, 蔣介石 (Jiang Jie Shi in Mandarin). But just a few years after he adopted that name, he started using a different one, 蔣中正 (Jiang Zhong Zheng in Mandarin). This is the same 中正 that the district (LINK) is named after. Not a clue why the romanization uses a different name in this case, but in Mandarin the monument is called 中正紀念堂, consistent with the name of the district.

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AESTHETIC PERSPECTIVES

Like most national monuments, CKS Memorial Hall is full of architectural symbolism. The colors represent the blue sky and white sun, freedom and equality. There are 89 steps leading up to the bronze statue, one for each year of his life.

The roof is octagonal, the lucky number 8 in Chinese culture. Each side represents one of the eight moral principles: loyalty (忠), piety (孝), altruism (仁), love (愛), trust (信), knighthood (義), harmony (和), and peace (平). The shape of it makes the form of the character 人, or people, and symbolically reaches toward the sky, uniting people with heaven.

The surrounding garden is beautifully designed in a traditional Chinese style. The walls have latticed “windows” with 26 variations in motif. The roof extends over a path around the park (great for shade and for when it rains!). It’s worth taking a walk around the gardens and finding unique perspectives.

OTHER FEATURES

The first floor of the main hall houses the permanent museum of Chiang Kai Sheik’s life and legacy, as well as ticketed visiting exhibitions (they’ve hosted everything from Dalí to Hello Kitty). It also is home to a post office branch (perfect for sending off a postcard with fancy stamps).

Upstairs is the much more formal room with the giant bronze statue of Chiang Kai Shek. At the top of every hour from 9am to 5pm, they do a changing of the guards.

There are three gates leading into the park, from the north, south and west (main gate). Surrounding the entire park is a walled corridor of sorts that shelters a path around the park.

The park itself is made up of completely human-designed gardens and ponds. It’s basically a curated collection of flora and fauna that serves the purpose of convincing visitors that they’re not in the middle of a congested city. The two carp ponds (one on each side of the square) are fun for all. Kids can feed the fish (they have vending machines with fish food) while millennials can get the perfect shot of the bridge reflected in the water, while bird lovers gawk at the exotic birds that hang out there. Again, fun for all!

Even if you don’t catch a performance in the National Theater or National Concert Hall, it’s still worth taking a peek inside. There’s a café on the mezzanine terrace of the Theater (the one on your right if you’re facing the Memorial Hall), great for soaking in the view. If you’re actually hungry, go inside the Concert Hall where the bottom level has some gift shops and eateries. There’s a Chun Shui Tang for traditional bites, and a MOS Burger if you’re feeling fast food.

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#AESTHETICTIPS

When to go: Any time weather permits! Maybe avoid the hottest hours of the day during the summer. If you want to see the guards change, make sure you’re at the top of the hall at least 10 minutes to the next hour

Who to go with: Anyone, really. It’s a great place for families with kids

Worth multiple visits? Yes! Definitely worth revisiting any time you’re in Taipei, even if just for a walk

Great for: Some peace and quiet in the gardens (& the obligatory ‘gram)

Don’t miss: Feeding the carp in the picturesque ponds

ALSO CHECK OUT:

  • SEE | Presidential Building (about a 15 min walk)
  • SHOP | NanMen Market (about a 6 minute walk)
  • EAT | Hangzhou Xiao Long Bao (right across the street on the east side on Hang Zhou South Road)