looking back

Looking Back: Sister City Pavilion

By Kinen Carvala

How could a large gift for Golden Gate Park from Taiwan not have “Taiwan” or the older name “Formosa” on it? What is lyrical about the acronym “R.O.C.”?

An octagonal pavilion, 28 feet tall and 27 feet wide (including a 4.5-foot spire), was built in Taipei as a sister city gift before being shipped to San Francisco. The columns and foundation were built at the Stow Lake site. San Franciscans can enjoy the colorful pavilion today, whether as casual passersby or with a wedding site reservation from the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. 

Boaters on Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park pass the pavilion which was a gift from San Francisco’s sister city, Taipei. Photo by Michael Durand.

A March 1979 draft environmental report from the San Francisco Planning Commission detailed what accepting the gift involved. Taipei’s cost of building and setting up the pavilion was planned for approximately $120,000, with San Francisco bearing the cost of maintenance. The San Francisco-Taipei Sister Cities Committee mentions on its website fundraising for ongoing maintenance. 

The San Francisco Arts Commission specified that the tiles on the pavilion roof should be “grey-green to blend in with the environment.” The green is a similar color to the Chinatown Gate, instead of yellow as Taipei planned. The columns supporting the roof would be red to attract attention of those strolling around the lake, “as the Pavilion would be alternatively revealed and hidden by the foliage along the lake’s perimeter.” 

One argument conveyed for opposing the pavilion was that accepting it from one sister city would oblige San Francisco to accept other structures from other cities. One argument favoring the pavilion was that there was nothing related to Chinese culture in the park, though any such addition would need to be addressed sensitively, in light of the “two Chinas” situation.

The Chinese sign over each pavilion entrance states a Chinese year in the top right corner not in the Gregorian calendar, but as the “69th year of the Republic,” referring to the Republic of China (R.O.C.). The 1911 Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty in China, and established a republic. Year one of the Republic of China calendar corresponds to 1912, so the year on the sign is 1981. 

The table in the pavilion has a bilingual poem inscribed in its center. The Republic of China is the formal name used by the island republican government that claimed sovereignty in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Chinese Empire (the Qing Dynasty) and is still used by the government on Taiwan. The corresponding word in the Chinese text, Zhōnghuá, also inscribed in the table, is a more general term for China that is not as specific as “Republic of China.” 

There is also a bilingual dedication plaque dated April 15, 1981, a few steps north of the pavilion. As part of a sister-city relationship, not only did Taipei give the pavilion to San Francisco, but San Francisco gave a children’s playground to Taipei on July 14, 1981, with Carol Ruth Silver from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors representing then-mayor Dianne Feinstein at the dedication.

The indigenous peoples of Taiwan have spoken languages classified in the Austronesian family (meaning “southern islands” from Greek and Latin), which includes distantly related languages like Tagalog, Malay and Hawaiian. The overwhelming majority of Taiwanese people today speak Chinese and have Chinese ancestry due to migration from mainland China over the past 400 years. Hokkien, the Chinese dialect spoken on the mainland area nearest to Taiwan, was also brought to Taiwan as part of this migration. (Hokkien from Taiwan is sometimes referred to as just “Taiwanese.”) 

Japanese imperial expansion led to Taiwan being lost from the Chinese Empire under the Qing dynasty to Japan via the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki. At the end of World War II, Japan returned Taiwan. With the Chinese Empire collapsed due to challenges from foreign powers and domestic strife, the Republic of China struggled to exert control over all of China, leading to the Chinese Civil War between Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists (a.k.a. Kuomintang or KMT) and Mao Zedong’s Communists. 

Adding to the Chinese Civil War was a conflict between China and militarily expansionistic Japan which merged these hostilities into World War II in Europe, so in 1949 the Nationalists fled the mainland for Taiwan, establishing a one-party Mandarin-speaking state on the island. Chiang Kai-shek envisioned re-uniting China but was never able to accomplish this. Due to illness, Chiang Kai-shek transferred powers to his son Chiang Ching-kuo (born in 1910) before the elder Chiang died on April 5, 1971. With Chiang Ching-kuo unable to maintain legitimacy by failing to retake control of mainland China, the Nationalist party enacted affirmative action programs to bring local Taiwanese people into government, and, over time, tolerated the formation of other political parties, according to “Taiwan’s Transition to Democracy” by Jeffrey D. Maclay.

April 1971 was also when the mayor of Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, visited San Francisco and proposed a gift for the U.S.A.’s approaching 200th birthday.

“Two Chinas” refers to the lack of formal resolution to the Chinese Civil War as separate Chinese governments were established on the mainland and Taiwan. Over the course of the 1970s, the U.S. shifted from having diplomatic ties only with Chiang Kai-shek’s government on Taiwan to normalizing relations with Communist China under a “one China policy” where the U.S. would have formal relations with the mainland but only informal relations with Taiwan. President Richard Nixon visited mainland China in February 1972, paving the way for establishing formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the mainland (the People’s Republic of China) in 1979.

The pavilion is on the shore on the east side of Strawberry Hill, an island in the middle of Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake. Both bridges on the north and south sides of Strawberry Hill connect to a trail that runs around the edge of the island and connects with the pavilion.

Find an archive of Looking Back columns at richmondsunsetnews.com.

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