Yesterday’s impromptu ride around the riverside bikeway network delivered me to the palatial Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店 (pinyin: Yuánshān Dàfàndiàn), a famous landmark in Taipei 台北. Located on a hilltop overlooking a bend of the Keelung River 基隆河 in Zhongshan District 中山區, it was established in 1952 at the behest of generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正 to provide the ruling elite with a luxurious place to host and entertain foreign dignitaries. The distinctive building seen in these photos was completed in 1973 and was the tallest building in the Free Area of the Republic of China until 1981.
The story of the Grand Hotel also fits into a broader narrative of (re-)sinicization, the process by which the Kuomintang imposed Chinese culture upon Taiwan 台灣 during the authoritarian decades of the White Terror. This was partly to counter the Japanification of the previous decades—but also to legitimize the colonial ruling class and make the millions who sought refuge from the Chinese Civil War feel more at home. One of many ways in which this was accomplished was by destroying culturally Japanese sites and replacing them with a traditional Chinese equivalent. In this case the hotel occupies the site of the former Taiwan Grand Shrine, the highest-ranking Shinto shrine in Japanese-ruled Taiwan, and was built in the style of a Chinese palace complete with interior decor representing a different Chinese dynasty on each floor.
The opulent lobby of the Grand Hotel provided a bizarre spectacle that immediately brought to mind the idiosyncratic work of filmmaker Wes Anderson. It was absolutely ostentatious—and filled with rowdy groups of Chinese and Japanese tourists. I am somewhat surprised that nobody stopped me to ask what I was doing wandering around with camera in hand and a look of wry amusement on my face.
There is something oddly unsettling about this garish monument to the culture of another land—but this is precisely what made it so interesting to photograph. Something about the rigidity and regularity of the design speaks to the dark history of the oppressive regime that built the Grand Hotel.