Ershui is a rural township located in the southeastern corner of Changhua, bordering Yunlin and Nantou. 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 Bābǎo 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.
Ershui offers an interesting case study in small town urban planning in Taiwan. The original Qing dynasty era settlement can still be found at the southern edge of town, distinguished by a maze of laneways and a motley collection of traditional three-sided courtyard homes. The railway station—which originally opened in 1905—was built some distance to the north of the existing village, and the main street connecting the two is where you’ll find most remaining traces of colonial times1.
Not far from the railway staton you’ll encounter a trifecta of red brick buildings: Zhèng Dǐng House 鄭鼎宅, Xiè Máo House 謝毛宅, and Zhāng Lǎoyīng House 張老嚶宅, all named after their original owners, wealthy members of the local gentry in Japanese times. Zheng Ding studied medicine in Taipei and returned to his hometown to found Yīngyuán Hospital 英源醫院, the first western-style clinic in Ershui, which was based in the building that still bears his name. The other two were more focused on trade and commerce from what I’ve read.
The administrative center of colonial Ershui is immediately south of the old red brick shophouses. Here there is a bend in the road, which curves east to run along the perimeter of the old Qing dynasty settlement area. Along the outer rim of the bend: a new post office (almost certainly built on the original site of the first post office in town); an old fire station, apparently a repurposed colonial house on private land; an open patch of ground that was until recently an old police station (see this link for a photo); the historic but unprotected ruins of the Ershui Assembly Hall 二水公會堂 (follow the link for my full post); and finally, a rare and historic wooden office of the Hoko system (also described in my full post about the hall). From what I understand a legal battle over the fate of these buildings has not been resolved—but if the land owner has his way the remaining structures will be knocked down just like the police station.
Further around the bend one will find several more shophouses and the Hónghé Hospital 宏和醫院, built in 1933 (if the date on the facade is to be trusted). I’m somewhat surprised that none of my many sources about the history of Ershui have much to say about this building, though from what I gather it is still owned by the founder’s family, which would explain its present state of neatness despite having not seen any real use in decades. I was intrigued to learn that the text below the sign—Kō-Wa Hospital—includes the Japanese romanization for “Honghe”. Something tells me this is a late addition to the design of the building.
Head out into the countryside and you might find traces of the tobacco industry in Ershui’s many small villages. Tobacco is no longer cultivated here but several tobacco barns—chimneyed buildings purpose-built for curing tobacco before shipping leaves to market—can still be found. The flat-topped chimneys are unique in my experience—nowhere else have I seen tobacco barns with such a design. From what I’ve read Ershui was the only part of Changhua deemed suitable for tobacco cultivation in the late Japanese colonial era2.
No post about Ershui would be complete without at least one picture of the historic Bābǎo Canal 八堡圳, originally built in the early 18th century to capture part of the Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪, the longest river in Taiwan, and irrigate the Changhua Plain. The canal system has been extensively modified since it was first built with the guidance of the mysterious Mr. Lin, the fabled progenitor venerated at a nearby temple I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit3. Nowadays the water entering the canal system is diverted from the Jiji Weir 集集攔河堰, an engineering project only completed in 2001. The sluice gates in this picture might have been built at the same time.
Back in town one may notice the ruins of the Zhānghóng Woodworking Factory 章宏製材工廠. I’ve not found much in the way of credible historic information about this building—only this post came up in a search—but it evidently dates back to the late colonial period. Ershui was once a transfer point for timber coming down from the mountains of Nantou so it makes sense that you’d find some woodworking shops in town. While the front of the building is sealed tight an open window around back will afford a glimpse of the rusting hulks of old, discarded machinery inside.
On one of my most recent trips to Ershui4 I was surprised to see an old steam engine and fighter plane on display a little west of the railway station. These are located in a small park that was under reconstruction when I visited, but the workers didn’t mind me poking around and taking a few photos. The CT278 steam engine displayed here was purchased from Japan in 1953 with the assistance of USAID and was in service until 19835. The Republic of China Air Force (RCAF) fighter plane is a Northrop F5-E Flying Tiger II built and assembled here in Taiwan, probably in the late 1970s. Much more information about this line of fighter planes can be found here and here.
Since Ershui is easy to visit thanks to its location on the Main Line there are many Chinese language travelogues available online. For a taste, have a look here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. For a more extensive and in-depth local history (again, in Chinese), this article is worth reading.
- Have a look at the map in this post for a visual diagram of the older and newer parts of town. ↩
- Some additional information about tobacco cultivation in Ershui can be found here, here, and here. For more insight into how Taiwanese tobacco barns function have a look at my original post about the subject. Linnei, the district immediately to the south, is similarly the only part of Yunlin where tobacco was grown. ↩
- As is often the case, I only learned about Mr. Lin’s Temple 林先生廟 after drafting up this post. I never claim my posts about obscure places in Taiwan are comprehensive; nobody’s helping me out with anything so I often stumble upon important details later on! ↩
- This post compiles photographs from something like four or five visits to Ershui over a four year timespan. ↩
- Railfans might be interested in this video of the CT273 in action. It was on display at the Taiwan Folk Village 台灣民俗村 but later returned to the Changhua Roundhouse and totally refurbished. ↩