The corpses of a thousand factories lay strewn across the plains of central and south Taiwan, stark reminders of an extraordinary period of economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century. Those located in more rural areas are readily forgotten and may remain derelict for years to come—but the more prosperous districts are busily excising these unsightly engines of economic growth from their urban landscapes. Progress is inconsistent, however, and it isn’t at all unusual to chance upon the hulking ruins of inner city factories that have yet to disappear. One such factory is the Yicheng Cannery 義成罐頭工廠, an impressive complex hemmed in on all sides by residences in a network of winding alleyways not far from the train station in Yuanlin 員林, the second-largest city in Changhua 彰化. No doubt this ugly eyesore will be demolished sometime in the near future—but in the meantime it has become a shadow world for local youth and curious outsiders such as myself.
Postcards From Ershui 二水明信片
Ershui 二水 is a rural township located in the southeastern corner of Changhua 彰化, bordering Yunlin 雲林 and Nantou 南投. Ershui Station 二水車站, constructed in 1935, is the primary point of transfer between the Main Line 縱貫線 of the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) and the Jiji Line 集集線, a tourist railway leading into the interior. Ershui, which literally means “two water”, is named after the Babao Canal 八堡圳, an extensive system of artificial waterways still responsible for irrigating much of the Changhua Plain 彰化平原 three centuries after it was devised. During the Japanese colonial era this small town prospered as a center of woodworking while farmers in the countryside cultivated bananas, grapes, guava, and tobacco, among other crops. Nowadays it is mainly known as a sleepy stopover on the way to parts beyond—but a closer look will reveal several points of interest for anyone curious about Taiwanese history, architecture, and vintage style.
Hsinchu Xinyi New Village 新竹信義新村
Pictured here is a bronze bust of generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in front of the faded emblem of the Kuomintang (KMT) in Xinyi New Village 信義新村, a military dependents’ village in Hsinchu City 新竹市. Chiang and the KMT retreated to Taiwan with more than a million Chinese soldiers and their dependents in 1949, bolstering an existing population of seven million Taiwanese. This instantly created a massive housing crisis—all those people needed places to live! The new regime attempted to address this through the development of hundreds of military dependents’ villages, gated enclaves of KMT soldiers and their families, but those were chaotic, desperate, and uncertain times, and many more ended up in informal and often illegal settlements all around Taiwan.
Nanyun Gas Station 南雲加油站
Nanyun Gas Station 南雲加油站 is one of hundreds of abandoned gas stations found all around Taiwan. Located on a section of Provincial Highway 3 in Yunlin 雲林 known as Linshan Highway 林山公路 (for it connects Linnei 林內 with Zhushan 竹山 in neighboring Nantou 南投), it was affiliated with CPC Corporation 台灣中油 (中文), a state-owned enterprise that controls or supplies 80% of gas stations in the nation, and was probably abandoned more than a decade ago.
Shezi Theater 社子大戲院
Shezi Theater 社子大戲院 was founded in 1965 as the first open-air theater in Taipei 台北. Located in southwestern Shilin, it was a fairly informal venue from the sounds of it: an empty lot surrounded by bamboo fencing with films projected on a single screen for up to 500 people every night, stars wheeling overhead. Within three years of opening the owners reinvested some of their profits in filling out the space, adding a balcony level and some rudimentary shelter from the elements. Eventually the theater moved into a more permanent building on the same site, perhaps as late as 1976, when it first appears in business records. The rise of home video in the 1980s gravely impacted the theater business, leading the owners to divide the cinema into two halls, but there was no way to survive the new economy. Shezi Theater closed in 1996, another victim of changing consumer habits in Taiwan.
Shifen Luxing Theater 十分陸興戲院
Luxing Theater 陸興戲院 was one of the very first abandoned buildings I explored in Taiwan after arriving back in 2013. I had only been in Taipei 台北 for about a week when I took a day trip out to Pingxi 平溪, a popular tourist destination in New Taipei 新北, and disembarked from the train at Shifen Station 十分車站 on a whim. Everyone else on the train had the same idea—which meant the narrow street leading east to Shifen Waterfall 十分大瀑布, reputedly one of finest in the Greater Taipei Area and my intended destination, was immediately overwhelmed with pedestrian traffic.
Yixin Vocational High School 益新工商職業學校
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.
Dongping Tobacco Barn 東平菸樓
Only traces remain of the tobacco cultivation and manufacturing industry in Taichung 台中, Taiwan. For the better part of a century tobacco was cultivated across wide swathes of the Taichung Basin 台中盆地, cured on location, sold at regional marketplaces, and shipped to factories for further processing into cigarettes and other tobacco products. Taiwan’s accession to the WTO in 2002 marked the end of domestic tobacco production but the industry was already in steep decline, a consequence of globalization and the end of the government monopoly system in preceding decades. Several buildings related to Taichung’s tobacco industry have earned heritage status in recent years—but this decaying tobacco barn hidden down an laneway in Taiping 太平, a suburban district on the eastern side of the burgeoning metropolis, is not among them.
Postcards From Xiluo 西螺明信片
Xiluo 西螺 is a small historic town on the south bank of the Zhuoshui River 濁水溪 in Yunlin 雲林. It emerged as an important center of trade in central Taiwan during the Qing dynasty era and continued to prosper into the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule. Disaster struck in 1935 when the devastating Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake ripped through north-central Taiwan, reducing much of Xiluo to rubble. Colonial authorities and the local gentry worked together to rebuild, taking the opportunity to completely remodel the main commercial thoroughfares with an intriguing blend of influences from Baroque Revival, Art Deco, and Modernist architecture. A short stroll down Yanping Old Street 延平老街 reveals that many of these unique shophouses and commercial buildings remain standing today.
Beigang Theater 北港劇場
Beigang Theater 北港劇場 in Beigang 北港, Yunlin 雲林, is among the finest and most well-preserved of Taiwan’s remaining Japanese colonial era theaters. Built in 1937 with investment from a local businessman by the name of Tsai Yu-Hu 蔡裕斛 (whose old house is also worth a look), this three storey theater featured a revolving stage, seating for 800 guests, and simple western-style facade with a trace of the Baroque Revival architecture popular at the time. It was not only a cinema—Taiwanese opera, glove puppet shows, musical concerts, wedding banquets, and other events were also held inside. The theater went out of business in 1988 and was converted for use as a department store and restaurant for some time thereafter. Nowadays it is apparently still in use as a pool hall and, inexplicably, a kidney dialysis center, but I saw no evidence of this when I visited in the summer of 2017.