Old Tainan District Courthouse
Old Tainan District Courthouse (Táinán Dìfāng Fǎyuàn 台南地方法院)
Compared with the new courthouse on Jiankang Road in Anping, which is a modern building that looks large enough to employ half the city, the old courthouse seems antiquated and small. That wasn’t the case when the old courthouse was built. It was an immense and modern building at the time. However, time has taken its toll on the once grand structure. People have to use their imagination to see the glory of what now stands as a derelict and dilapidated building. Ugly metal support beams surround the building, holding up a metal shelter that puts a temporary delay on the decay of the building’s roof and dome. Plans to refurbish this historic site seem weighed down by the immensity of the project. Talk of an art museum has been kicking around for some time, but who knows when and if that will actually happen. While the future of this building remains uncertain, its past is clearly marked in history as a remarkable piece of architecture and as the home of one of Taiwan’s darkest events.
The building was constructed by the Japanese in 1912. It pre-dates the old Tainan Prefecture Hall by four years, and it doesn’t take a trained eye to see their architectural similarities. They both have a heavy French Baroque and mannerist influences, particularly in their Mansard roofs and oeil-de-boeuf windows. But while their decorative treatment is similar, they have a very different layout. The old Tainan District Courthouse is an asymmetrical building. The eastern wing is anchored by a dome and a classical porch at its entrance, while the entrance to the western wing was highlighted by a tall tower that no longer exists. The building uses red brick walls accented with cement to create decorative patterns around the windows and doorways.
The courthouse was built on the grounds of Zheng Chenggong’s old cavalry camp, and perhaps the tumultuous clops of running horses left their echoes there, for the building is mostly remembered as the site of the turbulent trials involving the Xilaian uprising. This was a rebellion against Japanese rule that began on April 9, 1915, in the nearby town of Yujing and then spread across the island. It was the largest uprising against the Japanese ever, and was put down by heavy force and massacre. Many villages were destroyed and thousands of people were killed. On August 25th of the same year, 866 people began a sixty-day trial at the Tainan District Courthouse for their involvement in the incident. All were found guilty and sentenced to death. International outrage pressured the Japanese government to reduce the number of executions to about a hundred, but the incident still stands as one of the darkest times during the Japanese rule.
The building survived WW II and the take-over by the KMT who considered demolishing it. It would later go on to become the first Japanese-era building in the city to be registered as a historic landmark. The building was in use up until 2008, but these days it sits empty. The tower has been demolished, the roof is in disrepair, and its only residents appear to be rats and cockroaches. Right now, visitors can only look from the outside and try to imagine what the building once looked like. Hopefully, the proper repairs will be completed and the building will have a new place in Tainan’s tourism industry.
One thing you can see at the old Tainan District Courthouse is an old marriage license window that has been made into a small monument along the west side of the building. The dates from 1972 to 2008 mark the years of its operation and perhaps give people better memories of the building than its historical legacy under the Japanese. 19,505 marriage licenses were issued during those years.
Location: No.307 Fuqian Road (Fucian Rd. 府前路) Sec. 1, West Central District, Tainan City