With a skyline of contemporary buildings, crowned by the impressive Taipei 101 skyscraper, it’s hard to envisage a world outside of glass, steal and concrete. And yet Taipei’s modern structures are woven with the greenery of old trees reflecting in ponds. Songs of birds echo on the falling leaves that glide gracefully to sit on the water where turtles camouflage themselves with statuesque poise. A 10 minute walk from my hotel and I reach 228 peace park, one of the many parks you wander across when roaming the steets. Under various ruling this parks name has changed, becoming 228 peace park in 1996 in recognition of one of the pivotal events in Taiwanese modern history, which began here.
Strolling the pathways that lead to pavilions and shrines, this park is an eclectic blend of cultural history, modern art and memorials. Dark shadows move in the bushes and reveal themselves to be curious squirrels. Old men exercise among the trees as children point gleefully to every turtle they discover in the ponds. The park holds two museums; the Taiwan National Museum which currently holds a magnificent collection of cut stone art, and a museum dedicated to the 228 incident.
February 28th 1947 was the beginning of an anti-government uprising. Violently suppressed by the government, thousands of civilians lost their lives. The estimated number of Taiwanese who fell is around 10,000. This marked the beginning of the White Terror period where tens of thousands more Taiwanese went missing, died, or were imprisoned. Being one of the most important events in Taiwanese modern history it came up in a conversation with a friend as we wandered through the park discussing Taiwan’s independent movement.
I had walked in this park alone the first time I discovered it. I looked upon its beauty as I do with every park. I chose the grand building of the Taiwan National museum to explore over the 228 peace park memorial museum. If it wasn’t for exploring this park again with a local friend I would have looked at its memorials and appreciated them only as art and not symbols of the devastation once felt by the people of Taiwan.
The incident, once a taboo topic, is now openly discussed since the early 1990s. It has become the subject for many artists and musicians and stories told in both film and literature. Yet, I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing of it. Visiting as a tourist I feel you can be excused of educating yourself on every aspect of the country you visit, you have
less time and generally the desire to unwind from your daily life. But as a traveler choosing to call a country home for a period of time it would be reprehensible to neglect enriching yourself with the history that surrounds you and merely look upon the beauty of the places that hold the past.
There are many beautiful parks within Taipei that offer perfect refuge from the bustling city. But when you come across one such as 228 peace park stop for a moment. Look past the modern structures and see the memorial. See the story that lies here and know the people who have gone, not just those who are wandering the pathways along side you.