* 2023 Taipei Book Fair Award
This palatial edifice overlooking Taipei has always been the meeting place of Taiwan’s elites and international dignitaries. From its beginnings as a Shinto shrine, journalist T.H. Lee guides readers through the pivotal events of a half-century of Taiwan’s history as witnessed from within the vermillion walls of the iconic Yuanshan Grand Hotel.
As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, a torii gate was erected on the slopes of Mount Jiantan, marking the entrance to the Taiwan Shinto Shrine that would stand watch over the lower reaches of Keelung River on Taipei’s northern border for the duration of Japanese colonial rule. After World War II, this potent symbol of the Japanese empire took on a secular significance, becoming the site of the palatial Yuanshan Grand Hotel, a favored location for the lavish state events of the succeeding Chiang Kai-shek regime.
With The Red Mansion, author T.H. Lee revisits the first fifty years in the life of this fabled hotel that hosted countless dignitaries, and bore witness to the major events of its time: the visits of American presidents; the 1978 talks that ended formal diplomatic relations between the Republic of China and the U.S., secret meetings of opposition groups during KMT rule; the crash of a movie tycoon’s private plane; a banquet to honor the Young Marshall, Chang Hsueh-liang, the last warlord of Manchuria; to say nothing of countless parties that attracted the film, television, and radio stars of the era.
Digging beyond the official accounts and the records of the wealthy and powerful, author T.H. Lee paints a comprehensive history of the Yuanshan Grand Hotel that incorporates the perspectives of common people by also drawing on interviews with longtime hotel staff, personal attendants to visiting dignitaries, and even the barber who cut the hair of the presidents of Taiwan. This humanizing approach brings the towering figures of history down to earth, and situates the Yuanshan Grand Hotel as a unique site where ordinary people bore witness to extraordinary events.
Within the pages of The Red Mansion, the story of the Yuanshan Grand Hotel is brought to life, vividly populated by people from all walks of life. More than just the history of an illustrious landmark, this is an intimate history of mid-to-late twentieth century Taiwan as told through the collective memories of an iconic hotel.