Despite its relative obscurity Xinying is the largest settlement along the railway line between metropolitan Tainan City and Chiayi City. It was the capital of Tainan County prior to amalgamation in 2010 and remains the secondary administrative seat of Tainan. Located on the broad and fertile Chianan Plain, it was also an important transportation hub for the sugar industry, and what remains of the Japanese colonial era sugar factory can still be found on the south side of town. Xinying was also home to half a dozen standalone movie theaters in its heyday, but most have since been demolished. I was fortunate to visit the ruined KMT authoritarian era cinema Chenggong Theater (成功戲院) in 2017, not long before it was completely destroyed.
The obscure Lize Theater 利澤戲院 is located in the village of Lizejian 利澤簡 in Wujie, a rural township just east of Luodong in Yilan, Taiwan. Built in 1964, it once served as a cinema and playhouse, hosting a variety of films and live theater performances for the local populace before slipping into decline in the 1980s, a little earlier than most other theaters I’ve visited around the nation. Afterwards the theater was converted for use as a clothing factory but this also went out of business. Nowadays the building is more disused than abandoned, as descendants of the original owner are still making use of the structure for storage and other purposes. In a stroke of good luck I happened to visit while the door was open—and after communicating my interest in the history of old theaters in Taiwan I was invited in for a brief chat and look around. Each theater has its own story to tell—but in this case I was particularly interested in learning why a theater was built in such a small and seemingly unimportant village.
Taiwan is riddled with failed construction projects, monuments to avarice, incompetence, and bureaucracy. Building defects, mismanagement, and land ownership disputes are common causes, but legal battles, limited funding for costly demolitions, and a lack of political often ensure such projects remain a blight on the urban landscape of the nation. One such project can be found along Wanshou Road 萬壽路 at the western margins of the Taipei Basin 台北盆地 not far from Huilong Station 迴龍站, terminus of the orange line of the Taipei MRT in Xinzhuang, New Taipei. Technically this abandonment is located within Guishan, for the district boundary sweeps down from the hills and loops around a mostly industrial area sprawling along a small valley leading the rest of the way to the flatlands of the basin. Given that this road is one of the main arteries connecting Taoyuan with Taipei these twin 17-storey towers, typically identified as the Wanshou Road Residential Ruins 萬壽路廢棄社區, are regularly the subject of inquiries on PTT and other parts of the Taiwanese internet.
Linkou Lightning Building (林口閃電大樓) is an infamous ruin not far from the newly-opened Taoyuan Airport MRT line in Linkou, recently named the fastest-growing district in New Taipei. Media reports often describe it as the Linkou Monster House (林口怪怪屋) and it regularly appears alongside the Longtan Monster House and other examples of the genre. While I wish there were a good story to go along with these photos it sounds as if it is simply a failed construction project where nobody wanted to cover the cost of demolition until recently.
Recently I added yet another theater to my growing catalogue of old school cinemas in Taiwan: the derelict Dong’an Grand Theater 東安大戲院 in East Tainan. This theater opened in 1969 and closed its doors not long after the turn of the millennium, another victim of changing consumer habits. I wasn’t able to find a way inside this theater so this post only features a handful of exterior shots and some links I chanced upon after conducting preliminary research.
Today I went to investigate reports of an abandoned building on the edge of Ximending (西門町), a busy commercial district in central Taipei. It is fairly well-known due to its central location but I could find no easy means of entry for the very same reasons. From this television news report it sounds as if this was originally the Zhongwai Department Store Company (中外百貨公司) and later the Yangyang Department Store (洋洋百貨). While it isn’t surprising to find such ruins around much of Taiwan it is somewhat unusual to see in such a prosperous area. The building is for rent, as I understand it, and much of the aforementioned report seems concerned with the outrageous price tag for such a decaying monstrosity.
Despite having spent a lot of time in Yuanlin, a mid-sized city in central Changhua, Taiwan, I have only recently begun to explore some of its more famous ruins. Among these is Yuanlin Hospital 員林醫院, formally the Changhua County Yuanlin Hospital 彰化縣立員林醫院, originally built in 1963 and operational until the the turn of the millennium. Nowadays it is one of the more notorious abandoned places in central Taiwan, where it is regularly featured in news reports, particularly around Ghost Month 鬼月. Taiwanese media engage in an annual outpouring of overly sensationalized stories about haunted places—and hospitals, as liminal spaces of birth and death, often appear in such reports, complicating research into the real story of what went on.
This week I visited the small town of Xizhou in southern Changhua to locate the eponymous Xizhou Theater. I found no way into the theater but made a serendipitous discovery while walking around the block in search of another access point. Across the street I noticed the utilitarian outline of the former Xizhou Telecom Bureau (溪州原電信局), a modest building that once housed a combined post office and service counter for the state phone company, then known as the [Directorate General of Telecommunications (交通部電信總局). The sign above the entrance simply reads Dianxinju (電信局), or “telecommunications bureau”, which is all anyone needed to know in those days. Taiwan’s telecom monopoly was broken up in 1996 with the privatization of what became known as Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信). In the absence of any sort of historic information about this obscure abandoned office I’d guess it was built sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
Donghe Theater 東和戲院 is an obscure ruin in Shuangxi, a former mining town of approximately 8,000 residents in the mountains of eastern New Taipei. Despite its diminutive size and relatively remote location, Shuangxi has a colorful history extending back to the late Qing dynasty era. Its prime location at the confluence of Mudan Creek and the eponymous Shuang River made it an ideal transshipment point for people and goods traveling to and from Ruifang. The surrounding hills also contained rich deposits of gold and coal deposits, sparking a mining boom that peaked in the mid-20th century with dozens of mines and more than 30,000 miners in the area. Two theaters were in business in the 1950s, but the local entertainment industries declined along with the mining industry, and only the ruins of Donghe Theater remain to provide a glimpse into the past. Although it isn’t formally protected, the site has been tidied up and anyone is welcome to wander in and take a look.
Some people are into urban exploration for the optics—they love visiting the most visually-impressive places and taking cool photos—but I’m just as interested in documenting history and solving puzzles. Animated by curiosity, I have become proficient in navigating the Chinese language web in search of leads. Not all of these turn out to be something interesting but I enjoy those rare days where I set out into the countryside and see how many candidate sites I can knock off my list. This is what originally brought me to the gates of the humble Xizhou Theater 溪州戲院 in the small town of Xizhou, Changhua.