Old Tainan Prefecture Hall (National Museum of Taiwan Literature)

Tainan Prefecture Hall

The old Tainan Prefecture Hall is now the National Museum of Taiwan Literature.

Whether a tourist or resident of Tainan, it is unlikely the large European-style building on the Minsheng traffic circle has escaped your eyes. It seems a bit out of place and is so well-restored that it almost looks like it was recently built to serve as the newly conceived National Museum of Taiwan Literature that it now houses. Many people may only know it as the museum. Some may know it as the former City Hall. This building, however, does have a longer history than that. It was the government offices for Tainan Prefecture under the Japanese.

Old Tainan Prefecture Hall

For much of the Japanese colonization, Old Tainan Prefecture Hall was the heart of the city. In 1911, the Japanese organized an administration reform and divided Taiwan into various prefectures. The Tainan Prefecture Hall was completed in 1916 to house the government offices that administered the prefecture. It was basically a city hall and county hall set under one roof. This building became the anchor point for the Japanese administrative district in the city. Important buildings such as the fire hall, the weather bureau, the police headquarters, Wude Hall, and the old courthouse are all within shouting distance of the Prefecture Hall. Alongside this civic center is Zhongzheng Road, which the Japanese developed into the first modern boulevard of the city. It was lined with banks, department stores, and fashionable shops that catered to the Japanese ruling class. To further prove its centrality, you can look across to diagonally-aligned Zhongshan Road which allows you to draw a straight line from the train station to Prefecture Hall.

Like many other buildings built by the Japanese, the architectural style was reflective of contemporary European buildings. Tainan Prefecture Hall was designed by famed Japanese architect Moriyama Matsunosuke who was also responsible for the Taipei Guesthouse and the Presidential Office Building of Taipei. You can see the similarities. The buildings use a mixed mannerist style of architecture with heavy French influences particularly in the Mansard roofs. Tainan’s hall is V-shaped with a front foyer, long office wings, and it once had a courtyard garden in the back.

The building was badly damaged during World War II. The Mansard roof and the two domes were destroyed at the time. It served as offices for the air force before becoming Tainan’s City Hall. The building was never fully restored until a new renovation project began in 1997 when the city government offices were moved to Anping.

Literature Museum Interior

The rear exterior of the old Prefecture Hall is now part of the interior walls of the Literature Museum.

National Taiwan Literature Museum

Since 2003, the Tainan Prefecture Hall has been the home to the National Taiwan Literature Museum. The building has been transformed into a modern facility that mostly uses the Prefecture Hall as a facade. What was once the courtyard is now the indoor body of the museum, and what was once the rear wall of the hall is now an interior wall within the museum. The architects have done a great job of merging old and new, and the exhibition halls merge seamlessly between the old and new parts of the building.

The building is worth checking out for its architecture alone, but it also houses the only national museum dedicated to literary arts in Taiwan. As you can guess, most of the exhibits are on the great figures of Taiwan’s literary history. Unless you’ve really studied this subject, these exhibits might not mean much to you. The English descriptions are few and incomplete, however there are English audio tours available that may prove more helpful. Other exhibits include a language exhibit where you can listen to the variety of indigenous, Chinese and foreign languages that have been spoken on the island. They also have recordings of indigenous lullabies from throughout the island. There’s also an exhibit on the Prefecture Hall itself, and some rotating exhibits from the vast archives of their research center.

Literature Museum exhibit

Literature Museum exhibit

In addition to the various exhibits, there is also a library, a seating area and a cafe where many students come to either study or just take advantage of the free air-conditioning. There is also a children’s literature reading room. The library doesn’t lend books, but people are welcome to use the books in-house and there are books for sale. The cafe has indoor and outdoor seating on Nanmen Road.

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00AM ~ 9:00PM; Closed Mondays

Admission: Free

Phone: (06) 2217201

Location: No.1 Zhongzheng Road (Jhongjheng Road 忠正路), West Central District, Tainan City

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