It never ceases to amaze me what can be learned from keenly observing the streets of Taiwan 台灣 and following up with a little research online. I only spent one full day in Taitung City 台東市 at the tail end of a bicycle trip down south this June but managed to chance across a number of interesting sights in that time, this historic building among them.
Located at 143 Zhongzheng Road 中正路, this is the Taitung Branch 台東分社 of the Chinese Association 中華會館, originally built in 1927 while Taiwan was under Japanese rule. A plaque out front features historic information in English (shocking in this part of the country) as well as a direct translation of the name, “Taitung Chunghua Hostel”, but it was more of a clubhouse or assembly hall, not a place to secure lodging for the night. Interestingly, the proper Chinese name is the same one used by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of America. Have a look at the photos on Wikipedia and you’ll see the same characters—as well as the Republic of China flag flying overhead at their historic headquarters in San Francisco!
Presumably the Taitung Chinese Association served a similar purpose to its contemporaries in America, namely to advocate for ethnic Chinese (中華人) living outside of China 中国, which was in the 1920s nominally controlled by the Republic of China 中華民國 (in a twist of fate, now the rulers of modern-day Taiwan). Concurrent with the full-scale invasion of China in 1937 the Japanese authorities launched the Kōminka Movement 皇民化運動 (literally “to make people become subjects of the emperor”), a policy of cultural assimilation designed to assist the growing war effort. As such, the Chinese Association was evicted from the building and outlawed in 1938.
From 1938 until the end of the war the building was occupied by a chapter of the Xīnmín Society 新民會 (also referred to in English as the New People or People’s Rejuvenation Society), a pro-Japanese organization based in Beijing. This organization was disbanded after the Japanese defeat and the building fell into disuse after a half-hearted attempt to repurpose it for use by another civic group. Finally, after decades of neglect, it was restored to its current condition for Retrocession Day in 1986. Apparently this is the only Chinese Association building remaining in Taiwan, for what it’s worth!