Located on the outskirts of Zhushan, Kezikeng New Community 柯子坑新社區 is one of several public housing projects constructed in the aftermath of the 921 Earthquake that devastated central Taiwan in 1999. Despite providing much-needed relief for those who lost their homes in the disaster there were few buyers—and today the complex remains mostly empty and disused. Built with government funds, this poorly-conceived housing project has become yet another example of what Taiwanese call mosquito halls, a term popularized by artist Yao Jui-chung 姚瑞中 and a team of student researchers known as Lost Society Document. Since 2010 they have published six volumes of Mirage, a series of works identifying more than 800 disused public properties all around the country. Some of their work was translated into English—which is how I found out about this particular locale, which I briefly visited in the summer of 2017.
Taiwan is an unusually rich place for anyone interested in mapping out urban and industrial histories through the exploration of abandoned, disused, and neglected places. Gathered here are full reports and field notes from some of my many adventures around the country.
Guobin Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓
Guobin Commercial Building 國賓商業大樓 is an ugly ruin in the heart of Zhongli, a city of around half a million people in Taoyuan, Taiwan. Built at the dawn of the booming 1980s, it was home to a variety of entertainment businesses over the years, and appears to have been mostly abandoned sometime around the turn of the millennium. Much to my surprise I’ve not found much about this place online, which suggests whatever newsworthy calamities befell this derelict commercial building predate the era of digital journalism. Without any sources to draw upon I can only make some educated guesses about what I captured during a brief visit in the early days of 2017.
Dalin Xinxing Theater 大林新興戲院
What remains of Xinxing Theater 新興戲院 can be found just east of the train station in Dalin, a modest town of approximately 30,000 just north of Chiayi City in Taiwan. Despite its relatively small size Dalin once supported five movie theaters, providing entertainment for sugar factory workers and the many soldiers stationed at nearby military bases. Xinxing Theater (not to be confused with the one in Xinpu) originally opened as Renshan Theater 仁山戲院 in 1954 and remained in business until 1992. Eventually the theater was renovated and subdivided into a billiards hall and KTV (also known as a karaoke box) before it was finally abandoned sometime around 2013. Recently there was talk of buying the property and transforming it into a creative market but its ultimate fate remained unknown until it was finally demolished in 2019.
Yicheng Cannery 義成罐頭工廠
The corpses of a thousand factories lay strewn across the plains of central and south Taiwan, stark reminders of an extraordinary period of economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century. Those located in more rural areas are readily forgotten and may remain derelict for years to come—but the more prosperous districts are busily excising these unsightly engines of economic growth from their urban landscapes. Progress is inconsistent, however, and it isn’t at all unusual to chance upon the hulking ruins of inner city factories that have yet to disappear. One such factory is the Yicheng Cannery 義成罐頭工廠, an impressive complex hemmed in on all sides by residences in a network of winding alleyways not far from the train station in Yuanlin, the second-largest city in Changhua. No doubt this ugly eyesore will be demolished sometime in the near future—but in the meantime it has become a shadow world for local youth and curious outsiders such as myself.
Nanyun Gas Station 南雲加油站
Nanyun Gas Station (南雲加油站) is one of hundreds of abandoned gas stations found all around Taiwan. It was formerly affiliated with CPC Corporation (台灣中油), a state-owned enterprise that controls or supplies 80% of gas stations in the nation, and located on a section of Provincial Highway 3 in Yunlin known as Linshan Highway (林山公路), for it connects Linnei with Zhushan in neighboring Nantou. It was likely abandoned more than a decade ago, and for reasons that are less mundane than you might expect.
Shezi Theater 社子大戲院
Shezi Theater 社子大戲院 was founded in 1965 as the first open-air theater in Taipei. Located in southwestern Shilin, it was a fairly informal venue from the sounds of it: an empty lot surrounded by bamboo fencing with films projected on a single screen for up to 500 people every night, stars wheeling overhead. Within three years of opening the owners reinvested some of their profits in filling out the space, adding a balcony level and some rudimentary shelter from the elements. Eventually the theater moved into a more permanent building on the same site, perhaps as late as 1976, when it first appears in business records. The rise of home video in the 1980s gravely impacted the theater business, leading the owners to divide the cinema into two halls, but there was no way to survive the new economy. Shezi Theater closed in 1996, another victim of changing consumer habits in Taiwan.
Shifen Luxing Theater 十分陸興戲院
Luxing Theater 陸興戲院 was one of the very first abandoned buildings I explored in Taiwan after arriving back in 2013. I had only been in Taipei for about a week when I took a day trip out to Pingxi, a popular tourist destination in New Taipei, and disembarked from the train at Shifen Station 十分車站 on a whim. Everyone else on the train had the same idea—which meant the narrow street leading east to Shifen Waterfall 十分大瀑布, reputedly one of finest in the Greater Taipei Area and my intended destination, was immediately overwhelmed with pedestrian traffic.
Yixin Vocational High School 益新工商職業學校
Yixin Vocational High School (益新工商職業學校) is a relatively obscure but not entirely unknown ruin in central Taiwan. Located along the main road running through Linnei, Yunlin, it seems to have been abandoned in the aftermath of the devastating 921 Earthquake, nearly two decades ago. Many schools were destroyed in the quake and scores more were condemned (most famously an entire university campus in Dongshi) but whether this particular school suffered the same fate isn’t certain.
Dongping Tobacco Barn 東平菸樓
Only traces remain of the tobacco cultivation and manufacturing industry in Taichung, Taiwan. For the better part of a century tobacco was cultivated across wide swathes of the Taichung Basin 台中盆地, cured on location, sold at regional marketplaces, and shipped to factories for further processing into cigarettes and other tobacco products. Taiwan’s accession to the WTO in 2002 marked the end of domestic tobacco production but the industry was already in steep decline, a consequence of globalization and the end of the government monopoly system in preceding decades. Several buildings related to Taichung’s tobacco industry have earned heritage status in recent years—but this decaying tobacco barn hidden down an laneway in Taiping, a suburban district on the eastern side of the burgeoning metropolis, is not among them.
Xiluo Huasheng Theater 西螺華聲戲院
Xiluo is justifiably famous for Xiluo Theater, the Japanese colonial era theater located close to the architectural wonders of Yanping Old Street 延平老街, but this small town on the south bank of the sluggish Zhuoshui River 濁水溪 was once home to two additional theaters. Almost no mention of these other theaters can be found except in this news report about a local painter—but while browsing around satellite view on Google Maps I managed to locate Huasheng Theater 華聲戲院 (also known as Yisheng Theater 一生戲院).