Before entering the National Museum of Taiwan Literature (國立臺灣文學館, NMTL), you should spend a few minutes scanning the exterior of this 1916 Baroque-style edifice, which once served as Tainan's city hall. The mansard roof is especially splendid. Architect Moriyama Matsunosuke (森山松之助, 1869-1949) deserves credit for creating what's likely the most beautiful colonial era edifice in south Taiwan. Yet his design wasn't without it faults, notably a lack of resistance to the mild but frequent radial earthquakes that strike the island.
The NMTL's definition of Taiwanese literature is very broad, embracing works written in standard Chinese, Holo, Hakka, Japanese and indigenous languages. Many of the writers mentioned here were not born in Taiwan, and some were living overseas when they wrote their greatest works. Even if you speak none of Taiwan's languages, you'll still find this place enjoyable and educational. However, because many of the materials aren't labeled in English, you're advised to get an English-language audio guide from the cloakroom on the right as you enter (free; hand over your passport or NT$1,000 as a deposit).
The permanent exhibition is divided into two parts. Old Architecture, New Life tells the building's story, including how it was restored and expanded to become a museum.
The Development of Taiwanese Literature traces the writing and publishing of poetry, fiction and non-fiction on the island from the early 17th century to the present day. Motifs such as water buffalo (a symbol of the countryside) and railroads (an emblem of modernization) are explained. Dozens of writers are profiled, and lots of original manuscripts are on display. If you plan to sample some Taiwanese literature, you'll find the section on exporting literature especially useful, as it features many books that have been translated and issued in Western countries. The Butcher's Wife (殺夫), a 1983 novella by feminist author Li Ang (李昂, b1952) has been a notable success outside Taiwan; the museum displays editions in seven languages.
Make a point of touring Hall D, the Taiwan Literature Exhbition of Mother Tongues, to get an idea of Taiwan's fabulous linguistic diversity. Use the headphones to hear aboriginal tongues such as Bunun and Atayal. Unlike Sinic languages, indigenous speech lacks tones or self-developed script, yet linguists believe these languages form the root of the entire Austronesian language family. In another part of the hall, you can listen to recordings of Hakka poetry and songs.
Anyone interested in Taiwan literature and able to read Chinese should also visit the museums in Tainan dedicated to Bo Yang and Yang Kuei.
The museum is within walking distance of Tainan TRA Station. Follow Zhongshan Road away from the station and when you reach the end of the road you'll see the museum across the traffic circle. City bus no.2 links the museum with the TRA Station, Anping and several other tourist sights.