Lei Song


The Biopolitics of Architectural Conservation in Postcolonial Taiwan: Body, Space, and Media

Advised by K. Michael Hays

Taiwan, once a colony of Imperial Japan, is left with many Japanese legacies today, both physically and culturally. Since the 1990s, Taiwan has witnessed a burgeoning quantity of Japanese colonial relics that were designated as Gǔjì (historic sites) and were further renovated into multiple types of museums. Completed in 1921, the Chiayi Prison has undergone political and cultural changes of three political regimes (the Japanese colonial regime, the Chinese Nationalist Party, and the Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party). It is also the first Japanese-built prison to receive official preservation efforts in Taiwan.

Using the Chiayi Prison as a primary case study, this thesis examines the power and politics behind architectural conservation, because the Chiayi Prison exemplifies a problematic heritage under the dissonant ideologies, and its transformation into a museum reflects the shifting attitudes toward conservation of physical space and construction of cultural identity. This thesis questions: How does architectural conservation manipulate historical memories and narratives? How can cultural production change the local imagination and identity? To what ends has the fabrication of heritage been deployed?

Drawing on critical theories on heritage, national allegory, biopolitics, and dark tourism, this thesis understands architecture and media as a biopolitical apparatus for producing disciplined bodies and brains. Ultimately, this thesis argues that the architectural conservation in postcolonial Taiwan changes the meaning of the buildings, not only physically, but also ideologically. In the transformation from a colonial prison to the penal museum, this thesis argues that both institutions are instilled with the same mission. The colonial prison was a place of discipline, training the prisoners’ bodies and minds to adopt certain behaviors and modes of thinking. Similarly, the penal museum is strategically preserved and curated as a propaganda tool. Through bodily discipline, discursive formation, and visual techniques in space and media, the heritage fulfills the ideological missions: to neutralize the tragic colonial past and to reconstruct a new identity as polycultural.

Lei Song, MDes. The plan of Chiayi Prison, 1945. A scan of a hand-drawn architectural drawing on paper.
Image Credit: Taiwan Governor’s Office Archives. Collection Number: 00011488001.
Lei Song, MDes. The axonometric of Chiayi Prison. Diagram by the author.
Lei Song, MDes. Examples of architecture and structures built in Japanese Occupation period that have been designated as historic sites in Taiwan. Collage by the author. All images are from open resources.
Lei Song, MDes. The timeline of histories, attitudes toward heritage, and shifting ideologies in Taiwan. Diagram by the author.