Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Keeping behind the times in Lugang (Verve)

Nothing ever changes in Lugang (often spelled "Lukang"), and that's why so many people adore it. Halfway down Taiwan's west coast, the town is a place where tradition has stood firm against modernity.

For this we can thank the crude pursuit of profit that used to dominate the town, some stick-in-the-mud thinking, and the selfishness of a colonial power. Old school commerce made Lugang what it is. For over 100 years, from the early 18th century, the only settlement in Taiwan larger was the then capital, Tainan. Qing Dynasty mandarins seldom made their presence felt in Lugang, as disputes were mediated by the eight guild-like trade groupings called

The shape-shifting nature of Taiwan's coastline dealt the town a series of blows. Silt choked the harbor in 1717, but by 1740 it was again broad and deep. When times were good, thousands of vessels per year unloaded Chinese cloth and crockery, then shipped Taiwanese rice, sugar, hemp and ramie to the Chinese coast. In the late 19th century, sediment again blocked the port. And when the Japanese took control of Taiwan in 1895, they reoriented the island's economy, at a stroke rupturing ancient trade links between Lugang and Fujian. The town might have recovered were it not for the conservative outlook of local leaders. In the early days of the Japanese occupation, believing rail transportation would never catch on, they lobbied against a rail link...

This article appeared in the August issue of Verve, EVA Air's monthly inflight magazine.

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