Yuanlin 員林 is a modest settlement of approximately 125,000 residents located on the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 in eastern Changhua 彰化, Taiwan. It was formerly the most populous urban township in the nation, but Yuanlin was upgraded to a county-controlled city in 2015, second only to the administrative capital, Changhua City 彰化市. Considerable work has been done in recent years to improve the urban environment of Yuanlin, and it feels like one of the few places between Taichung 台中 and Tainan 台南 that isn’t falling into disrepair and emptying out. That being said, urban decay remains widespread in Yuanlin, and there are many interesting ruins worth exploring before they disappear. For students of city planning and development this compact city also has quite a lot to offer—and in this post I aim to introduce some of its more intriguing features, mainly drawing upon photographs from 2013 to 2015, when I was spending significant amounts of time in the area.
Zhushan 竹山 (literally “Bamboo Mountain”) is a historic yet obscure township in southwestern Nantou 南投 mainly known for cultivating tea and bamboo. The town itself is one of the oldest in central Taiwan but it hardly feels that way. Many of Zhushan’s most historic structures were destroyed or damaged beyond repair in the devastating 921 Earthquake that struck in 1999, which is why its “old street” is lined with modern buildings. Most travellers pass through Zhushan on the way to attractions deeper into the rugged interior of Taiwan without sparing it a second glance—but I stopped for a closer look in the summer of 2017 while on an impromptu road trip. After staying the night in a sleazy love motel never meant for sleep (there was no way to switch off the lights) I wandered around in the morning haze, capturing traces of Zhushan’s history as it disappears into memory.
Quan’an Hall 全安堂 is a century-old building on Taiwan Boulevard 臺灣大道 not far from the old train station in Taichung 台中. Built in 1909 with red brick, reinforced concrete, and a Neo-Baroque style commonly attributed to Japanese architect Tatsuno Kingo 辰野金吾 (中文), it was a pharmacy for many decades, and more recently a bakery. A few years ago it was rebranded as the Taiwan Sun Cake Museum 台灣太陽餅博物館, which now operates a gift store on the ground floor and, beneath the exposed wooden beams of the restored rooftop on the second level, a cafe, event space, and interactive museum.
Jishan Gatehouse 積善樓 (Mandarin pinyin: Jishanlou; sometimes Chishan or Chijhan) is a minor historic building not far from Taiyuan Station 太原車站 in Beitun 北屯, Taichung 台中. Originally this site was occupied by the residences of the Lai 賴 family, immigrants from Zhangzhou, China, who made their home here in 1897. Decades later they funded the construction of this unusual gatehouse on the recommendation of a fengshui 風水 master; the name of the building literally translates to “accumulate goodness”. The design and some of the materials are Chinese but the structure also shows western influences and craftsmanship as filtered through Japan 日本. Five banyan trees surrounding the gate are the only other legacy of the homes that once existed here. Nowadays the area is a city park.
Taiping Old Street 太平老街 is an unusually long stretch of Japanese colonial era shophouses in central Douliu 斗六, the administrative seat of Yunlin 雲林, Taiwan. Located not far from the train station, this old street is remarkable for its length (600 meters long), consistent architectural style (almost entirely local variations on Baroque Revival), and relatively good state of preservation. Despite this, it is not a huge attraction, which is just as well if you’re not a big fan of mass tourism in Taiwan.
Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 is an obscure anachronism in the western part of Taoyuan 桃園, Taiwan. It extends from a railway station that opened during the Japanese colonial era in 1929 through the heart of this small Hakka town. The coming of the railroad brought prosperity to the area and several ornate shophouses were built around the station in a mishmash of architectural styles common at the time. Nowadays it is just another street in rural Taiwan, albeit one with a little more history than most, possibly because it is too unimportant a place for modernization to have swept away these vestiges of the past.
Khoo Tsu-song Old House 許梓桑古厝 is a scenic historic site atop a modest hill near Miaokou Night Market 廟口夜市 in Keelung 基隆. Built in 1931 while Taiwan was under Japanese rule, it is structured somewhat like a traditional Taiwanese three-sided courtyard home with some Western influences and building materials. Formally named Qingyu Hall 慶餘堂, it was the residence of Khoo Tsu-song (1874–1945), an important figure in local politics and civic affairs during the Japanese colonial era. His name is rendered here in romanized Taiwanese Hokkien, in keeping with the conventions adopted by the Keelung cultural bureau.
Yumei Hall 玉美堂, also known as known as Hong Family Mansion 洪氏洋樓, is located in Jialao Village 茄荖村, a small settlement on the eastern edge of Fenyuan 芬園 in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan. Built in the late 1920s when the village was administered as part of Caotun 草屯 in Nantou 南投, it is one of only a handful of “Western-style” country manors built in central Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period (see my post about Jukuiju 聚奎居 for another great example).
I went out riding through Hemei 和美 not so long ago, drawn by the allure of a mysterious building that I will write about sometime soon. On the return trip I noticed this old home peeking out of the woods at the side of Zhangxin Road 彰新路, better known as highway 139. I don’t stop every time I see the signs of abandonment—for I would never get anywhere at all in rural Taiwan if I did so—but this place seemed worth a look. After pushing through the overgrowth I was impressed by the beauty of the stonework and inscriptions on the outside of the building.
Jukuiju 聚奎居 is an abandoned mansion in Wuri 烏日, Taichung 台中, built in 1920 by Chen Shaozong 陳紹宗, a wealthy businessman and landowner. The architecture is a combination of the traditional Taiwanese sanheyuan 三合院 (a U-shaped building with three parts surrounding a central courtyard) and the Baroque Revival style of the Japanese colonial era. It is located on the rundown, industrial margins of the city, along an otherwise unremarkable lane next to a military base, looking completely out of place in space and time.