In Search of Salt on the Outskirts of Lukang

A mysterious brick building on the outskirts of Lukang
A mysterious brick building on the outskirts of Lukang.

Several months ago, after researching and writing a piece about the Qingkunshen Fan-Shaped Saltern 青鯤鯓扇形鹽田 of Tainan 台南, I ventured out to Lukang 鹿港 in search of the Lukang Saltworks 鹿港鹽場, a Japanese colonial era saltern that shut down in the 1960s. Whereas there are several good resources outlining the history of southern Taiwan’s salt industry I found nothing similar for anything north of the Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪, the traditional dividing line between north and south Taiwan. Turning to Google Maps I browsed satellite imagery for evidence of salt evaporation ponds (here is a historic photo of one of Lukang’s salt fields to give you an idea of what I was looking for). I soon noticed a street by the name of Yánchéng Lane 鹽埕巷, literally “Salt Yard Lane”, as well as several sites with grid-like structures obscured by overgrowth. When the opportunity arose to borrow a scooter in the area I jumped at the chance to put this cartographic sleuthing to the test. Was there any chance I’d find some relic of an industry that vanished half a century ago?

Home on the strange
Home on the strange.

One particular location seemed most promising in my initial research. After arriving at this site I found row upon row of overgrown concrete enclosures stretching toward the horizon. Traversing this manmade landscape I summoned what I knew of traditional salt production methods and attempted to figure out the purpose of the short walls surrounding each enclosure. Salt fields fed with seawater have no need for walls nearly so high. I began to doubt this site had anything to do with salt production.

Concrete enclosures on the outskirts of Lukang
Concrete enclosures on the outskirts of Lukang.

A closer inspection of a red brick building near the entrance to a set of enclosures revealed nothing. It had been exposed to the elements for quite some time and no artifacts nor identifying marks could be discerned anywhere inside or out of it. And then it came to me—this was formerly a pig farm! If you’ve ever cycled through the rural-industrial sprawl of the Taiwanese countryside you will have smelled and then seen commercial pig farms in operation. These concrete enclosures would have once formed the base for sheet metal sheds to raise pigs. Now that I knew what to look for I soon found the bleached jawbone of a pig, confirming my hunch, as well as bits and pieces of broken roofing.

Porcine jawbone
Porcine jawbone at an abandoned pig farm on the outskirts of Lukang.
Inside an abandoned farmhouse on the outskirts of Lukang
One last look inside the abandoned farmhouse. Nothing much to see here!

So much for salt, I found bacon instead! Still, it was interesting to deduce the purpose of this ruin on the outskirts of Lukang. And, as it turns out, I soon puzzled out the location of at least one of the salt fields I was looking for. It’s just around the bend from this abandoned pig farm—inside a compound owned by a local high school. If I’m not mistaken the site is now being used to teach classes related to aquaculture or something along those lines. From a quick look through Google Street View’s history there used to be an old wooden shack by the gates that definitely looks to be of Japanese vintage—but it has been removed sometime since 2009. And that’s all there is to say this time around.

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