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.
Day three of cycling down the Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 began with a hearty Taiwanese breakfast not far from the train station in Fenglin 鳳林, Hualien 花蓮. I was still recovering from a brush with heatstroke (a story documented in the previous entry in this series) so a traditional breakfast of danbing 蛋餅 (pan-fried egg rolls) and sweet black tea really hit the spot. A glance at the weather forecast indicated another full day of sunny skies and 35°C temperatures on the road—and even fewer opportunities for air-conditioned rest stops. I wasn’t too worried though; my loosely-planned itinerary of former Shinto shrines, industrial ruins, and other historic sites didn’t look all that challenging. Ultimately I ended up putting 60 kilometers of valley behind me, ending the day in Yuli 玉里.
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 林內, Yunlin 雲林, 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.
Built in 1887, Huangxi Academy 磺溪書院 is one of dozens of Qing dynasty era schools of classical studies in Taiwan. Located in Dadu 大肚, a small town in southwestern Taichung 台中, it provides a window into a time when scholarship was more closely interwoven with spirituality. Apart from classrooms and areas for quiet study the academy also has an altar to the Five Wenchang 五文昌: Kui Xing 魁星, Zhu Xi 朱熹, Guan Yu 關羽, Lu Dongbin 呂洞賓, and, of course, Wenchang 文昌 himself. Collectively these Taoist gods represent classical Chinese culture and several are commonly venerated by students prior to writing exams. Structurally the academy follows a plan similar to a traditional Taiwanese courtyard home or sanheyuan with the addition of a large gatehouse and pavilion.
Daodong Academy 道東書院 is one of many Qing dynasty era academies scattered across central and southern Taiwan. Located in Hemei 和美 in Changhua 彰化, it was built in 1857, the 7th year of the Xianfeng Emperor 咸豐帝 (清咸豐七年), and operated as a private school devoted to classic Chinese literature, philosophy, and ethics, among other subjects. Commonly known to locals as Wenci 文祠 or Wenmiao 文廟, or “temple of literature”, the academy also venerates Song dynasty scholar Zhu Xi 朱熹 and Kui Xing 奎星, the god of examinations.