Sprawled over the flat coastal plains west of the mountains, TAICHUNG (台中; táizhōng) is Taiwan’s third-largest city, the unofficial capital of central Taiwan and an important transport hub for the region. It’s also regarded as the country’s most attractive place to live: the climate is drier, the air less polluted, housing cheaper, and the streets greener and less crowded than Taipei or Kaohsiung. Taiwanese tea culture is particularly developed here; the city’s appealing mix of elegant classical teahouses and stylish contemporary cafés are the perfect setting for a varied range of teas. Taichung’s old centre still contains attractive remnants of its Japanese colonial past and a smattering of unusual temples, while in the modern western half of the city, I.M. Pei’s Luce Memorial Chapel is a striking piece of modern architecture and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts is a world-class contemporary art gallery. Beyond the suburbs, the chief attractions are Dajia and its famous Mazu Pilgrimage, and the 921 Earthquake Museum.
Taichung traces its origins to a military post and village known as Datun, established in 1733 on the site of today’s Taichung Park, but the modern city is an amalgam of several places, explaining why its oldest buildings and temples appear to be scattered all over the city – the western district of Nantun grew up around another army camp, founded in 1721 on the site of a farm that was built sixteen years earlier, and was absorbed by Taichung in 1950. Datun was briefly the capital of Taiwan after the island became a province of China in 1885, but local infrastructure was poor and Taipei, which was provisional capital, assumed the official role in 1894. After the Japanese occupied Taiwan in 1895 the city’s name was changed to Taichung, or “Central Taiwan” and development began in earnest, with Englishman William Barton hired to design the new road layout for the city. The economy boomed in the 1970s and 1980s, with manufacturing and particularly shoe making leading the way, and by the 1990s the commercial centre of the city had drifted west towards Taichung Port (Taiwan’s third largest). The city’s population topped the million mark in 2003 (the current population of the metropolitan area is around 2.3 million).