The Liu Family Mansion 劉家古厝 in Mínxióng 民雄, Chiayi 嘉義, is one of the most famous ruins in all Taiwan. Situated in the countryside just outside of town, this old Baroque Revival-style red brick building is more informally known as the dreaded Minxiong Ghost House 民雄鬼屋. It was built in 1929 for Liú Róngyù 劉溶裕, a businessman with seven children, and appears to have been abandoned sometime in the early 1950s, not long after the end of Japanese colonial rule.
Why was such a beautiful home abandoned and left to the elements? I am not entirely sure. There are so many myths and legends surrounding this place that I haven’t been able to separate truth from fiction. I am also relying on machine translations for much of my research—my nascent Chinese language ability isn’t up to the task of making sense of what I have been able to turn up. This article (in Chinese, of course) appears most credible if you’re interested in the actual historic record of the Minxiong Liu Mansion.
Minxiong Ghost House is located on the Chianan Plain 嘉南平原, a nearly endless expanse of rice paddies, tin shacks, and concrete-lined irrigation and drainage canals. It isn’t uncommon to chance upon the ruins of a traditional Taiwanese courtyard home in the countryside—but a three-story mansion? Quite unusual.
Getting to the old haunted house requires a scooter—or a bicycle and a little patience. It is not hard to find, just follow the signs directing you to the place. The entrance is unbarred and—as far as I know—the owners of the property welcome visitors. In urban exploration culture it is frowned upon to provide exact location details so I won’t say much more—but the location is certainly no secret.
I did not have high expectations during my visit to the ruins of the Minxiong Ghost House. It is such a popular destination that I figured there probably wasn’t much to it—and I was right, in a sense. These ruins have been picked clean long ago. No artifacts remain and no traces of the former occupants can be found. There is evidence of vandalism too—an extremely rare sight in abandoned buildings in Taiwan.
That being said, I was still impressed by the sight of the Minxiong Ghost House, even if the atmosphere wasn’t particularly spooky. Unlike many visitors, I do not believe in ghosts (though I have been been spooked at times), so the stories I have heard did little to affect my mood. I suspect that Taiwanese people consider visiting this place to be a bit risqué, something you might do on a dare. I’m told that it is popular with students from the nearby universities for this very reason. Want to act tough in front of the girl you like? Be brave and venture into the ghost house! Even so, I would not be at all surprised it most of the college kids who drove out here to explore the ruins went to visit a temple immediately afterwards. Fear of ghosts is endemic to Taiwanese culture—and one of the reasons why so many ruins here are left more or less untouched.
So, about those ghost stories. I am sure a lot has been lost in translation but in my understanding there are two main narratives. The first concerns the Liu family maid. Supposedly she was in love with the family patriarch, or perhaps they had an affair and were discovered, or maybe she was depressed for some other reason. (Remember: I am working from terrible translations of what amounts to rumours and hearsay.) At any rate, she supposedly committed suicide by drowning herself in the well on the property, thereby bringing bad luck to the entire household. This might have even been the catalyst for the abandonment—if the story has any truth to it.
The other ghost story commonly told has to do with the Japanese imperial army. Supposedly a group of soldiers were stationed here during the war. One night, while most of the troop was sleeping, one soldier on watch saw a figure step out of the moonlit mist at the edge of the property. Gunfire rang out and soon the rest of the soldiers woke up to join the battle, shooting at the shadows from within the old house. By morning there was nobody left alive—the soldiers had hunted each other to extinction in a fit of bloodlust and paranoia. Nowadays there are occasional reports of a mysterious mist enveloping the old manor at night, and with a little imagination one may picture a contingent of Japanese troops marching across the plain.
Even without these stories the old house is an interesting place to explore. The brick facade remains but the interior is all emptied out, the wooden floorboards having rotten away long ago. There are small piles of rubble here and there but for the most part the floors are packed dirt and leaf litter. The Liu family mansion is slowly becoming an extension of the earth again, a fusion of organic and artificial forms.
One of the most remarkable things about the old Liu family mansion is the forest growing within and around it. There aren’t many places on the Chianan Plain where you can see a grove of trees like this—pretty much every patch of flat land is in service to some human need or another. And it is quite a forest—unruly, wild, bursting with life and energy, reclaiming everything it can. Nature has found refuge here in a place where humans fear to tread.
In the gathering gloom there wasn’t much more to see. The wan light of afternoon faded rapidly, a warning to all trespassers from the realm of mortals. Though I am not by any means superstitious I knew it was time to leave—and besides, I hadn’t brought a tripod along.
There is one more thing worth mentioning about the haunted house in Minxiong. Some enterprising locals—perhaps the present-day landowners, though I haven’t been able to confirm that—have opened a cafe immediately next door.
The haunted cafe (as it is called) is filled with a mixture of ghoulish, kitschy junk and actual historic information, all in Chinese of course. I stopped by to enjoy a coffee since I was in the mood for one anyway—and marveled at this peculiarity of Taiwanese culture. People here may be fearful of ghosts but they are also very business-savvy.