Friday, February 22, 2013

City Walls, City Gates: How Taiwan's Towns Tried to Stay Safe (

In places inhabited by Han Chinese, walled towns and cities have long been symbols of civilization and imperial authority. A few centuries ago in China, a major settlement without a wall was almost unthinkable. The Chinese character cheng (城), it is often pointed out, can mean either "city" or "city wall." Taiwan before the Japanese occupation was no exception to this phenomenon, and fascinating remnants of the walls which once surrounded Taipei, Tainan and other places still exist.

Tainan was Taiwan's administrative capital from the island's incorporation into the Qing Empire in 1684 up until 1885. Because of its political importance
not to mention the wealth that could be plundered many of the rebel armies which ravaged Taiwan during the 18th and 19th centuries tried to seize the city. Zhu Yi-gui (朱一貴) and his followers were the only ones to succeed, in part because the settlement at that time lacked a defensive wall. It took the Qing authorities two months to recapture Taiwanfu (台灣府), as Tainan was then known. Four years later, in 1725, the city's first wall was built–a simple wooden barrier reinforced with thorny bamboo.

Lin Shuang-wen (林爽文) and his partisans were unable to overrun Tainan, but their 1787-1788 uprising – the bloodiest in Taiwan's history – showed wood or bamboo defenses were ineffective. Consequently, Tainan's wall was upgraded in 1788-91. The new structure was 5.76m high, 6.4m wide at the base, and 8,064m long. To see the mix of materials used–river stones, slabs of granite, bricks and soil–there is no better place to go than the campus of National Cheng Kung University (國立成功大學, NCKU), where two short yet original segments of wall flank the Little West Gate (小西門).

This stretch of wall survived because it formed one side of an Imperial Japanese Army barracks. The relic has been in a sorry state for years, but a renovation effort was launched at the beginning of 2013.

The Little West Gate was reassembled at NCKU in 1970, having originally stood near what is now the intersection of Ximen Road Section 1 and Fuqian Road (西門路一段府前路口), about 2km away. Ximen Road means "West Gate Road." Less than 20m from the Little West Gate's current location is where the Little East Gate (小東門) stood between 1725 and 1916, when the Japanese colonial authorities finished demolishing almost all of Tainan's walls, five of the original eight gates and five of the six gates in the outer walls. The latter had been added in 1835-36 as the city sprawled both inland and toward the Taiwan Strait...

The rest of this article can be read on the website. The photo above shows part of Hengchun's town wall.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Homes away from home (Taiwan Review)

When Charlies Liu quit his civil service job with the Kaohsiung City Government and returned to the place where he grew up so he could be with his ailing mother, he did not think he would soon be embarking on a new career in the tourism industry, and that within a decade he would have hosted visitors from more than 40 countries.

In November 2003, on land that has belonged to his family for more than 80 years, Liu opened Small Swiss Homestay, a lodging establishment with four rooms and mountain views. Located in a tea-growing district in Chiayi County, southern Taiwan, not far from Alishan National Forest Recreation Area, Small Swiss Homestay is in many ways a typical minsu, as bed-and-breakfast (B&B) establishments are known in Chinese.

Over the past decade, Taiwan’s tourism industry has transformed significantly. Perhaps few of the changes have enhanced the travel experience more than the proliferation of minsu. In these small lodges, guests can stay in a family-run establishment and enjoy a blend of informal hospitality, local knowledge and natural scenery that few hotels can match. Liu, for instance, takes many of his guests to Fenqihu, a nearby town famous for its quaint character, and Yushan National Park, where they can see Taiwan’s highest peak.

Until December 2001, when the Regulations for the Management of Home Stay Facilities were issued, minsu existed without a legal framework. The regulations define “a home stay facility” as “a lodging facility run as a family sideline business, using the spare rooms of a self-used residence to provide tourists with a rural living experience.” 

In practice, while many homestay businesses match these criteria closely, quite a number are purpose-built accommodations that provide the family’s main source of income. Most of these latter establishments are fairly modest, though, and retain the personalized service of a family-run business. The rules state that such operations should have “no more than five guest rooms, with a total floor area of no more than 150 square meters,” although local governments can authorize up to 15 rooms for homestays with “specific tourism features” such as those located on a tourist farm or in a remote area.

To be licensed, a B&B must satisfy fire safety rules and undergo inspections that check, among other things, whether each “guest room and bathroom [has] adequate ventilation and ... sufficient light,” according to the website of the Tourism Bureau under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications. Operators must purchase insurance, and cannot be individuals with convictions for drug, firearm-related, sexual or other serious criminal offenses.

Since the regulations came into force, the number of fully licensed establishments has been growing nonstop. According to statistics issued by the Tourism Bureau, new minsu registered with the authorities at a rate of more than one per day between 2004 and 2008.

“At the end of September 2012, the national total of legal B&Bs was 3,619,” says Chen Yu-chuan, director of the bureau’s Hotel Inspection and Supervision Center. This central government unit oversees Taiwan’s homestay industry, but local governments are responsible for day-to-day enforcement. “City and county governments do from time to time, in accordance with the provisions, carry out inspections of B&Bs,” Chen says, adding that violations, such as a lack of firefighting equipment, are dealt with as dictated by the law.

“The Tourism Bureau offers operators of legal B&Bs guidance so they can upgrade their services. The bureau has also held many business management classes, and granted money to local governments and industry associations so they can organize workshops,” Chen says... 

The entire article, which appears in the February edition of Taiwan Review, can be read online