T’aipei or Taipei, also Taibei, temporary capital of the government on Taiwan and the island's largest city, located on the western bank of the Tanshui River at the northern end of Taiwan Island. T’aipei, which means "northern terrace" in Chinese, is the political, economic, cultural, and transportation center of Taiwan. The city owes its prominence and growth to its designation as an administrative capital in 1894, a role that was enlarged in 1949 when the Kuomintang lost the Chinese civil war against the Communists and retreated to Taiwan.
T’aipei has a humid subtropical climate, with warm summers and mild winters. Rainy precipitation occurs year round, though rainfall is greatest from October to March when the northeast monsoon prevails. Typhoons, sometimes quite destructive, are common from June to October.
T’aipei covers a total area of 275 sq km (106 sq mi). East and west of the central railroad station is an old central business district, and north and south of this area lie the old major commercial neighborhoods of Tataochen and Mengchia. Major industrial zones are located in the north of Tataochen and the south and west of Mengchia. Southeast of the central business district is the main administrative area, where the Presidential Building, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other central government buildings are located. Also here is the National Central Library, which lies across from the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. East of this administrative district are two industrial zones, divided by a small commercial area.
Several new commercial districts were established north and east of old T’aipei. The Hsinyi area in the east is a commercial center containing major new businesses as well as cultural and administrative institutions, including the T’aipei City Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the T’aipei World Trade Center. Farther east lies a major industrial area at Nankang. Other newly developed commercial districts include Neihu in the northeast, Shihlin in the north, and Mucha in the southeast. Sanch’ung, located to the west across the Tanshui River, and Hsintien, located to the south across the Hsintien River, are separate cities within T’aipei County and are considered part of the larger T’aipai metropolitan region.
Residential areas, often of high density, are located amid and around the commercial areas. Housing in T’aipei is mostly comprised of traditional shop-houses and newer high-rise apartments. The average amount of housing space per person is only about 13 sq m (about 140 sq ft). T’aipei’s limited amount of housing space has escalated real estate costs, though most people own their homes. To relieve the city’s housing shortage, which is particularly problematic for low-income residents, the T’aipei municipal government has built public housing complexes and initiated urban renewal projects since the 1960s. Despite this effort, squatter housing still remains in some parts of the city.
The population of T’aipei city was estimated to be 2,605,374 in 1997. For most of the 20th century, the city experienced rapid population growth. Since 1970, however, this trend has slowed because T’aipei’s birthrate has declined and fewer people are migrating to the city. Instead, more people are choosing to settle in newly developed suburban areas to avoid the traffic congestion and expensive housing of T’aipei city. Foreigners, including Southeast Asians, Japanese, Americans, Koreans, and Indians, account for less than 1 percent of T’aipei’s total population. The majority of T’aipei residents are Han Chinese who speak Mandarin, Taiwan’s official language.
T’aipei offers both traditional and modern cultural activities and institutions. There are many museums, libraries, and universities. Most notable is the National Palace Museum containing major art collections moved from Beijing, Nanjing, and other locations when the Kuomintang (KMT) left mainland China to escape the Communists in 1949. In addition, the Taiwan Provincial Museum and the National Museum of History contain art collections dating back more than 3000 years. Among important cultural events is the birthday celebration of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, held annually on September 28 at the Confucius Temple. Popular social gathering places are movie theaters, night clubs, discos, wine houses, and tea shops.
T’aipei has several major universities. These include National Taiwan University, founded by Japanese colonialists in 1928, the National Taiwan Normal University (1946), the National Chengchi University (1927), Soochow University (1900), and Tamkang University (1950). Among T’aipei’s important libraries are the National Central Library (1943) and the Taiwan Branch Library (1915). T’aipei’s oldest temple is Lungshan (Chinese for Dragon Mountain), originally constructed in the 18th century. The temple has undergone several restorations as a result of earthquake and typhoon damage in the 19th century, and bombing in 1945 during World War II.
Three of T’aipei’s major parks and gardens are located near the central business district: New Park, the Botanical Gardens, and the grounds of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. South of these is Young Park, to the east are Taan Forest Park and the grounds of the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and to the north is Rong Shin Garden. The T’aipei City Zoo is located in the southeastern section of the city. Among the youth-oriented recreational facilities are the Children’s Amusement Park and the Chien Tan Youth Activity Center, both situated in the north. The T’aipei Municipal Stadium, located in the eastern part of the city, is the venue for baseball and basketball games.
As T’aipei’s economy has grown and diversified during the 20th century, the importance of agriculture has diminished. Once a chief contributor to the local economy, agriculture now accounts for less than 2 percent of the employed population. Manufacturing and services are now the major economic activities. Approximately 1 in 5 employed people in T’aipei work in manufacturing, producing such goods as textiles, wood and metal products, machinery, electronics, food products, and chemicals. The central government seeks to maintain T’aipei’s importance as Taiwan’s major industrial center. The government is promoting the development of light and precision industries in T’aipei’s Neihu district and a software industry in suburban Nankang. The service sector dominates T’aipei’s economy, employing nearly 3 of every 4 working people. Most service employees work in trade activities, though business and personal services are also important. Transportation services employ a lesser number of people. In addition to T’aipei’s formal employment, some people work in the informal sector as unlicensed street vendors and in illegal factories.
T’aipei is Taiwan’s chief transportation center. The main domestic airport, Sungshan, is located northeast of T’aipei’s old central business district. A superhighway connects the city with Chiang Kai-shek International Airport in T’aoyuan County, 72 km (45 mi) to the southwest. To help lessen the city’s acute traffic congestion, the railroad in T’aipei was partially reconstructed underground to open more roads. Other transportation facilities include the Mass Rapid Transit System (first opened in the early 1990s), elevated highways, and the Sun Yat-sen Freeway. When completed, the T’aipei Mass Rapid Transit System is expected to service more than half the city’s daily commuters.
As the capital city of Taiwan, T’aipei’s urban government operates under the direct administration and supervision of the central government. A mayor and city council govern T’aipei and set policy for the city’s administration. The mayor and city council members are directly elected to four-year terms. Prior to 1994, the mayor was appointed by the president of Taiwan. The mayor’s office, which includes a secretariat and 23 departments, supervises the city bus system, the city bank, public pawnshops, and municipal hospitals, among other duties.
T’aipei suffers some of the same social problems found in other large metropolitan cities. The crime rate has increased markedly in recent years, with particularly sharp increases in robbery, assaults, and gambling. Juvenile delinquency and organized crime have also increased. Prostitution, including teenage prostitution, is also a problem. In response to the overall increase in crime, the government expanded law enforcement and called for public cooperation to fight crime.
T’aipei has a number of environmental problems, which the T’aipei Department of Environmental Protection is working to address. These include water pollution from industrial effluents and other sources, and increasing air and noise pollution. Perhaps T’aipei’s most visible problem is its serious traffic congestion. A 4-km (2.5-mi) trip can take one hour by car. The difficulty this poses for businesses has caused many companies to move to suburban areas. Several measures attempted to address the congestion, including stricter traffic laws, road accessibility restrictions, reconstructing the railroad below ground in the city, improvements to the city bus system, and the construction of the T’aipei Mass Transit Rail System.
Chinese from Fujian province in southern China began settling in Taiwan in the 15th century. By 1820 T’aipei’s original occupants, the aboriginal Ping-pu, were pushed out of the T’aipei area. In 1809 Mengchia was made the official seat of T’aipei County, an administrative area of Fujian province on the Chinese mainland, and in 1875 T’aipei became a separate prefecture. By the 1890s a new settlement at Tataochen replaced Mengchia as the center of T’aipei. In 1894 T’aipei was set as the capital of the recently established province of Taiwan. The following year, Japan seized Taiwan after their defeat of China in the First Sino-Japanese War. T’aipei remained the capital of the Japanese colony of Taiwan and the city grew rapidly under Japanese colonial administration. Chinese control of the island resumed in 1945 following Japan’s defeat in World War II. When mainland China fell to the Communists in 1949, the Kuomintang government fled to Taiwan and proclaimed T’aipei its temporary national capital, a status it retains today.