Keelung city skyline from Qingyu Hall 慶餘堂

Khoo Tsu-song Old House 許梓桑古厝

Khóo Tsú-song Old House 許梓桑古厝 is a scenic historic site atop a modest hill near Miaokou Night Market 廟口夜市 in Keelung. Built in 1931 while Taiwan was under Japanese rule, it is structured somewhat like a traditional Taiwanese three-sided courtyard home with some Western influences and building materials. Formally named Qìngyú Hall 慶餘堂, it was the residence of Khóo Tsú-song (1874–1945), an important figure in local politics and civic affairs during the Japanese colonial era. His name is rendered here in romanized Taiwanese Hokkien, in keeping with the conventions adopted by the Keelung cultural bureau.

Outside Qingyu Hall 慶餘堂
Qingyu Hall from the ground floor. The stairway leads up to the main entrance.
The entrance to Qingyu Hall 慶餘堂
The main entrance to the old house.

Finding the place was a matter of serendipity. Previously I had only been in the area after dark—and when I tried climbing the hill to check out the “old house” indicated by a sign at street level I encountered what I thought was a pack of angry dogs before making a hasty retreat. Returning yesterday by daylight I realized these same dogs were chained up—and while assessing the situation an old man, obviously a local resident, called out from above to come take a closer look.

A closer look at the empty nameplate at Qingyu Hall
A closer look at the empty nameplate. The faint outlines of the name of the home can be discerned.
A distinctive bamboo window at Qingyu Hall
A distinctive bamboo window to one side of the main entrance.

Up a few more flights of stairs the old man gave a whirlwind tour, pointing out interesting architectural features and explaining something of the history of the place. My Chinese isn’t all that great so I only understood the broad outlines of what he was saying—but there was one point he made that stuck with me. Reaching down into the rubble outside the front entrance he hefted a broken brick emblazoned with the initials “TR”, something I have seen before but never really researched. Now, with the benefit of internet access and machine translation, I discovered this refers to Taiwan Renga, the romanized name of the main brick producer in Japanese times1.

The process of rewilding at Qingyu Hall
A banyan tree balanced at the corner of the central chamber of the building.
Rewilding from the inside at Qingyu Hall
Rewilding from the inside out.
A network of roots covering a wall at Qingyu Hall
A network of roots grips the wall at the far side of the main chamber.
A room becomes a forest
A room inside the old house becomes a forest.

Inside the old house I found several scenes strongly reminiscent of the Anping Tree House 安平樹屋 in Tainan. Banyan trees and their extensive networks of aerial roots can be found all over most of the remaining walls. No furniture or personal possessions remain; only rubble and bare stone flooring can be found in these upper chambers. The site was designated a historic property in 2004 and plaques have been mounted down at ground level. Perhaps the city also cleansed the grounds of potentially historic artifacts at that time?2

Banyan empire at Qingyu Hall
The aesthetic appeal of banyan roots is universal.
The banyan root network at Qingyu Hall
An extensive network of banyan roots grips the walls of Qingyu Hall.
A roofless room at Qingyu Hall
Another roofless room inside the old house. Here, too, a forest grows.

I have not uncovered much of anything about why this beautiful old mansion was abandoned in the first place. This is not altogether uncommon for certain kinds of Japanese colonial era ruins in Taiwan, many of which owe their abandonment to massive changes that took place after the defeat of Japan and the arrival of the Kuomintang. Taiwanese history has a habit of growing vague and indistinct in the tumultuous period of martial law that began in 1949. While the original resident passed away in 1945, apparently not long after the Japanese surrender, this alone doesn’t explain what happened to the building itself. Khóo Tsú-song might not have had any heirs but it’s still somewhat peculiar that nobody else seems to have moved in afterwards.

The decaying ruins of Qingyu Hall
The process of decay continues.
Stairway to heaven
Watch out for these gaps in the floor; the wooden stairways have rotted away long ago.
A peek inside the ground floor at Qingyu Hall
Down on the ground floor, not so much to see. Notice the outlines of the old stairway on the wall.
Beautiful decay
Beautiful decay. This piece of rubble must have fallen from a nearby wall into the central chamber.

Naturally this historic and accessible ruin has attracted the attention of local bloggers. Some of the better Chinese language features I found can be read here, here, here, and here. I haven’t seen this place mentioned anywhere in the English blogosphere.

Keelung city skyline from Qingyu Hall 慶餘堂
The city skyline from within Qingyu Hall. Apart from the landmark Keelung side on the hill an abandoned temple is also visible amidst the clutter of buildings on the hillside…

Interested in visiting this ruin? It is located in a labyrinth of alleyways extending up the hillside not far from the intersection of Àisì Road 愛四路 and Rénsì Road 仁四路. Here you should notice a sign for the old house outside the entrance to an alleyway. March up the stairs as far as you can go—and don’t mind the barking dogs, though you won’t want to get too close. For reference, the actual address is 愛四路2巷15號.

  1. Renga is the romanization of the Japanese word “煉瓦”, which means “brick”. Read more about the most famous of the Taiwan Renga Company Ltd. 台灣煉瓦株式會社 brickworks here (in English) and here (in Chinese with far more information). 
  2. Update: a group of volunteers by the name of Keelung Youth Front 基隆青年陣線 has been taking care of the site

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