- Heavily influenced by both Chinese and Western traditions, Taipei is a multicultural city that prides itself on its openness.
- ‘Design thinking’ is at the centre of the city’s urban planning and strategies for citizen participation.
- Taipei has a thriving indie music scene which developed alongside the democracy movement of the 1980s.
City data: Key facts
- Geographical area: 272 sq. km
- Total population: 2,702,315
- Percentage of total national population living in the city: 11.5%
- Education level – percentage with degree level or higher: 71.20%
First settled by the Taiwanese aboriginal peoples, then by Han Chinese in the early eighteenth century, Taipei has long been a place where cultures meet. Although it became a provincial capital in the late nineteenth century, it did not become the capital of Taiwan until the island was ceded to the Japanese in 1895.
Lasting until the end of World War II, Japanese rule led to significant urban development. Many major buildings in the city date back to this era, including the National Taiwan Museum. After the war, Taiwan came under the control of the Chinese Nationalists. In 1949 Taipei became the provisional capital of the Republic of China – usually known as Taiwan.
Modern Taipei is a diverse city which prides itself on its openness to other cultures. It considers itself a meeting point between Chinese and Western traditions, with additional cultural influence from Japan and South East Asia, the latter a result of recent immigration. The city aims to become a “global showcase of Chinese culture,” taking advantage of its Western links to develop international tourism. It also increasingly has highlighted the culture of Taiwanese aboriginal peoples, who represent 2.3% of the island’s population.
Once known for the “Made in Taiwan” label – first attached to inexpensive consumer goods, and later to high technology – Taipei now aims to become known for design. In 2016 it has been named the World Design Capital, and intends to put ‘design thinking’ at the heart of its urban planning.
Taipei is the centre of cultural and creative life in Taiwan. All of the country’s large cultural organisations, and just under one-third of its cultural and creative industries organisations, are based in Taipei. The city has over one thousand registered performing arts groups.
Its National Palace Museum is known for one of the best collections of Chinese art and antiquities in the world. Many of its nearly 700,000 items were moved to Taiwan for safekeeping during the Chinese Civil War. Other important cultural institutions include the National Museum of History, the Taiwan Museum, the National Theater and Concert Hall, City Stage, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines.
New cultural facilities are being built: soon to be completed are the Taipei Performing Arts Center, including three theatres seating between 800 and 1500, and the Taipei Music Centre, a mixed-use development including major pop music performance venues, shops and restaurants. It aims to be a 24-hour attraction. A new arts museum and concert hall are currently in the planning stages; these will feature enhanced broadcasting and digital capabilities.
Taipei has a thriving indie music scene which started in the universities and developed alongside the Taiwanese democracy movement in the late 1980s and 1990s. Performance spaces including The Wall are a major part of the city’s cultural landscape, sites of tourism and fan pilgrimage.
Despite the city’s cultural richness, Taipei’s cultural sector faces significant challenges, often driven by high rents. A tight public budget means that important projects – such as the Cultural and Creative Parks – have relied upon large private funders, leading to concern about corporate influence. There is a limited amount of space available for start-ups and other creative organisations: despite programmes such as Art Space, there is still a need for further intervention to ensure that Taipei retains room for art and creativity. Finally, training and development in technical skills is necessary to ensure that organisations can access the expertise they require.
For Taipei, “social design” is the way to meet these challenges: developing the design abilities and creativity of citizens so that they are able to contribute the solutions that the city needs. ‘Refocusing on people and their lives’ is the guiding principle of Taipei’s cultural policy. This includes the provision of education which can benefit the creative and cultural sector: from specific vocational and business training, to more broadly exploring educational models which can foster creativity rather than simply focusing on exam results. The city also aims to encourage cultural participation through initiatives such as “Citizen Café” and “Idea Taipei,” which are designed to involve the public in the early stage of policy development, turning them from consumers into cultural producers and policymakers.
With a unique blend of Chinese and Western cultural influences, Taipei celebrates its cultural diversity. It has turned to “design thinking” to underpin its planning and policy, taking a people-focused approach which it hopes will help to foster creativity across the city.