Jīnxīng Theater 金星大戲院 is located in the small town of Zhīběn 知本 on the southern outskirts of Taitung City 台東市, Taitung 台東, in southeastern Taiwan. Zhiben is home to the Katipul group 卡地布部落 of the Puyuma people 卑南族, one of Taiwan’s recognized Indigenous groups, but this theater was constructed in 1967 to cater to the many KMT veterans who settled here after the completion of the Central Cross-Island Highway 中部橫貫公路. Named after Venus (literally “Golden Star” in Chinese), it went out of business shortly after it was sold to a lumber company in 1980 and has been abandoned ever since.
Despite its remote location, this theater is no secret to urban explorers and history buffs alike. It is regularly featured in television news and print, most prominently in this excellent article from the state-owned Central News Agency 中央社, this Hakka TV segment, and this 15-minute piece produced for local television news. The first human interest story focuses on former projectionist Lǐ Míngshèng 李明盛, a former KMT soldier responsible for three theaters in the Zhiben area in its cinematic heyday1. He relates some interesting stories about screening films during the long years of the KMT authoritarian era, when close monitoring and censorship of movie theaters was the norm. The others feature commentary from community leader Wáng Zhèngyuán 王正元.
The history of theater in eastern Taiwan is inexorably linked with the opening of the Cross-Island Highway and subsequent influx of KMT veterans, many of them single men. The population of most settlements in eastern Taiwan nearly doubled in the 1960s and 1970s, drawn by the booming lumber and mining industry and guaranteed employment through state-sponsored retirement programs like the Eastern Development Corps 東部警備開發總隊. Zhiben was the site of a major flood protection and land reclamation project as well as the eponymous Zhiben Farm 知本農場2, employing a workforce of thousands. But this period of great prosperity was short-lived; by the 1980s the population began to shrink as employment opportunities dwindled, and most theaters (including this one) soon closed.
If you perused some of the video footage I linked to earlier you will notice that the theater was still relatively intact, whereas it is obviously open to the elements in the photographs shown here. After poking around I learned the structure suffered devastating damage when the powerful Typhoon Nepartak 颱風尼伯 roared ashore in 2016, making landfall in Tàimálǐ 太麻里, immediately to the south of Taitung City. Now that the roof is gone the process of decay is likely to accelerate.
Jinxing Theater takes some effort to reach, but once you’re there it’s easy to access. There are no barriers to entry, and visitors are warmly welcomed by local residents, but the interior is far from safe. Apart from the usual hazards (rusty nails and such), there are several deep holes in the floor near the stage, and some of those may be obscured by overgrowth. Exercise caution should you wish to see it for yourself!
If you find yourself in the area, Zhiben is also home to Dōngxìng Theater 東興大戲院, already featured on this blog. I visited both theaters while cycling down the Huādōng Valley 花東縱谷 in 2018, a trip documented at length in this series of posts.
- The small town of Zhiben was once home to three theaters: the eponymous Zhiben Theater 知本戲院 (demolished long ago), Dongxing Theater, and Jinxing Theater. ↩
- KMT veterans constructed the levees lining the Lìjiā River 利嘉溪, just to the east of Zhiben. For more about Zhiben Farm check out this article about some of the heritage buildings on the original site of the farm. ↩