The Second Air Force New Village (二空新村) is a former military dependents’ village in Tainan, Taiwan. It was established east of Tainan Airbase in 1950, primarily for members of the Republic of China Air Force and their families, and it eventually grew to become the sixth most populous of the official military villages in Taiwan. From 1950 into the 1960s several waves of construction and development increased the village to nearly 1,000 households, with a sizable number of unregistered structures scattered around the periphery. As with most other military villages this one was steadily dismantled and demolished over the course of many years in the late 2000s and early 2010s, part of a nationwide urban renewal program that relocated the remaining residents into more modern apartment blocks.
The earliest military villages often accreted around existing Japanese colonial structures, particularly dormitory groups already situated near bases and other facilities, but demand for housing far exceeded supply immediately after approximately two million ROC soldiers and the dependents retreated to war-torn Taiwan in 1949. Many families endured a season in tents or rudimentary bamboo huts with thatched rooftops before provisional housing was constructed out of whatever material was available. Later into the 1950s, as the Chinese Civil War stagnated—and the Cold War deepened—more robust structures made from reinforced concrete became the norm.
Second Air Force New Village was established in otherwise empty pastureland east of the airbase in Tainan1, supplementing existing housing for military personnel further north and west2. Initially fewer than 100 families lived here in red brick houses, but the population exploded as hundreds of new homes were built in successive waves throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Residents had to rely on groundwater for their daily needs until 1972 when the village was finally connected to a water supply.
Soong Mei-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek and First Lady of the Republic of China, popularized the cause of military veteran housing through the Chinese Women’s Anti-Communist and Anti-Soviet League (中華婦女反共抗俄聯合會) in the early 1950s3. This same organization is credited for raising funds to build more than half of the homes in the Second Air Force New Village. The fourth round of housing was largely funded by a fruit trading association, hence the presence of a gateway bearing the honorary name Fourth Trading Village (貿易四村). Although it isn’t much to look at, this old gate is among the few remaining relics marked for conservation by the Bureau of Cultural Heritage4.
Decades later, with the ROC dream of “retaking the mainland” fading from the collective consciousness, the government embarked upon an ambitious program of urban renewal to relocate qualifying veterans and their families from crowded, often unhygienic conditions, to roomier and more modern apartment blocks. While there were nearly 900 registered military villages around the country only a handful in each region were earmarked for preservation—and apart from a handful of relics, this sprawling settlement was not among them.
Construction on a gleaming residential towers immediately east of the former village began in 2007 and finished in 2011. New units were ready for use beginning in 2009 but many residents of the village protested the amount of the subsidy provided by the government5. Although an agreement was eventually reached, this period of self-organization and change also inspired residents to explore different ways of preserving the memory of their lives in the Second Air Force New Village.
Enter Huang Rulong (黃如龍), more generally known as Uncle Huang, who was born and raised in the village, and knew almost no other life. As eviction notices were served and residents emptied out of their homes he led an effort to scavenge relics of the life they were leaving behind. With the help of several of his fellow residents he built a treehouse in a 50 year-old banyan tree where community members could meet and reminiscence (二空眷村樹屋). This treehouse soon became something of a minor tourist attraction, and you’ll find numerous articles about it if you search for the name. Three portraits are displayed on the front of the treehouse (from left to right): Tse Wei (紫薇), who married an ROC soldier and later embarked upon a career in popular music as a singer6, achieving fame with Green Island Serenade in the mid-1950s; Soong Mei-ling, who was instrumental in fundraising many of the homes in this community; and Teresa Teng, the most famous singer of her generation, and also someone raised in a military village. Uncle Huang and more than a dozen community members additionally organized and raised funds for a village museum (二空眷村文物館) to display old photographs, documents, artifacts, and various other mementos7. An old wooden warehouse built for distribution of USAID supplies was appropriated for this purpose8.
Aside from the old gateway, the only other structure recognized for its heritage value is an old Japanese colonial era air defense bunker (仁德二空防空碉堡)9, dating back to the later years of World War II. It was damaged by American bombing runs but repaired by ROC forces in the event of an invasion by the PRC. Just about the only remarkable thing about it is the choice of building materials—the cobblestone exterior is uncommon, and likely reflects adaptation to available supplies toward the end of the war. When it was built there was almost nothing else around except for taxiways leading from the airbase. Prior to the demolition of this part of the village it had been surrounded by and incorporated into several houses, the foundations of which are still visible in photographs10.
In 2022 the mayor of Tainan broke ground on an official museum and exhibition space for the former military village11. It will be located in the area around the air defense bunker, where a small number of original structures remain. Neither article I consulted made any mention of the treehouse nor the community museum, but I seriously hope they’ll be incorporated into the plan somehow.
I drove through the vanishing remnants of this old military village while on a motorbike trip around central and south Taiwan in summer 2017. By chance I made a second visit toward the end of that same year, mostly to see if anything had changed. Cleanup crews were hard at work removing more rubble from the former village site and the air defense bunker remained behind metal fencing. I wasn’t able to check up on the iconic treehouse, but based on Google Street View, both the treehouse and the community museum are still standing today, surrounded by green, grassy fields, probably looking much like the scene that greeted the first families who built homes here in 1950.
- Tainan Airbase was also the site of US nuclear weapons deployment from the mid-1960s until 1974 as part of the United States Taiwan Defense Command. ↩
- Shueijiaoshe Cultural Area (水交社文化園區) is home to the primary Japanese colonial era dormitory group associated with the airbase. The best houses would have been allocated to officers, with overflow housing built nearby for the general population. ↩
- If you’re curious about what is now known as the National Women’s League of the ROC (中華民國婦女聯合會), this article in the Taipei Times features some interesting background reading. ↩
- More information about this monument can be found under its official entry: 仁德二空貿易四村興建碑. ↩
- Such protests and negotiations were extremely common with this sort of urban renewal and relocation project. ↩
- Thanks to TC Lin for identifying Tse Wei; I don’t think I would have figured this out otherwise. Read more about her contributions to popular music in Taiwan here. ↩
- Although the museum was not open when I visited in 2017 there are many Chinese language posts online sharing impressions of treehouse and the museum, for example here and here. ↩
- From 1950 until 1965 the USAID program provided training and material support to Taiwan. More about this period can be read here. ↩
- The official entry for the air defense bunker is available here. ↩
- Parts of this old village are also visible on Google Street View when using the history feature, so you can go back and have a look at how the air defense bunker was incorporated into those now-vanished homes. ↩
- Both CNA and Liberty Times carried the mayor’s announcement. ↩