The Taiwanese economic miracle has been well-documented and the rapid development that the country has experienced is evident in all walks of life here. When a country goes through such a fast economic development, it is perhaps inevitable that some parts of its history and culture get left behind. Some of these are lost forever, while some leave remnants that we can still see and experience today.
Perhaps, the most tangible of these are the old buildings which are abandoned and fall into despair as they cease to be useful or wanted. While many have been torn down or redeveloped, there are still no shortage of abandoned buildings all over Taiwan.
Some are part of museums and easily accessible, while others are inaccessible to all but the most innovative of urban explorers. But all still offer a valuable insight into Taiwan’s past and can be fascinating for tourists and locals alike. A quick Google search will reveal some comprehensive websites dedicated to Taiwan’s abandoned buildings, but in this article, I am going to give a short overview of my personal favorites.
- The Remains of the Thirteen Levels (十三層遺址)
The rather romantically named Remains of the Thirteen Levels also goes by the rather more pragmatic name of the Shuinandong Smelter（水湳洞精煉廠. It is a Japanese colonial era copper smelting refinery that is located in the north of Taiwan, close to the popular tourist towns of Jiufen and Jinguashi.
The Shuinandong Smelter was worked by prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation and saw mining for gold and copper throughout its time in operation. Output began to decline in the early 1970’s and profits of Taiwan Metal Mining Company, which was by then operating the site, declined.
They eventually went bankrupt and the site was abandoned. But its ruins remain, dominating the hillside and is one of the most impressive abandoned sites in the whole country.
(Credit: Flickr user – David Wong)
- Wanli UFO Village
The Wanli UFO Village is a semi-abandoned holiday resort located in the north of Taiwan. Mystery surrounds the origin of the site, which is thought to comprise of several rare and highly-prized Futuro and Venturo houses. Designed by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, these houses resemble flying saucers and were retro futuristic pre-fab house models.
It is thought that there are now only around ten true Venturo homes left in existence, although mystery dogs this particular site and there is much debate about whether they are genuine examples or copies, as was the case at the sadly now demolished Sanzhi UFO Village. But whatever the truth, Wanli UFO VIllage remains a fascinating site which visitors can wander around and a few pod houses even have squatters living in them.
- Former Japanese Navy Radio Station, Fongshan (原日本海軍鳳山無線電信所)
The former Imperial Japanese Navy Fongshan Wireless Communications Station is located in the Fongshan District of Kaohsiung and offers a fascinating insight into a dark period of history for Taiwan and especially the KMT.
During WWII, the building served as a wireless station and some evidence of this history remains. But after the KMT took control of Taiwan, it was repurposed as a detention and interrogation center for military prisoners.
The role it played in the White Terror saw it being given the ironic nickname of the "Fengshan Guest House" by locals. Today, it is abandoned but visitors can still explore the building and the grounds around it.
(Credit: Bureau of Cultural Heritage, Ministry of Culture)
- Jukuiju Mansion, Taichung (聚奎居)
The spectacular Jùkuíjū Mansion is situated in Wuri, Taichung District and features a mixture of traditional Taiwanese and Japanese era Baroque revival architecture. It was built in the 1920’s by a businessman called Chen Shaozong (陳紹宗) but is more famous as the residence of poet Chen Ruoshi (陳若時), although this fact is disputed by some.
The site was abandoned after the death of Chen but was an active tourist attraction until as recently as 2010. Today, it stands deserted and while the local government is interested in restoring it, they have so far not been able to reach an with the current owners, thought to number at least six. This is a common problem with inheritance in Taiwan and is why Jukuiju Mansion is a beautiful ruin rather than an impressive tourist attraction.
Jukuiju Mansion in 2013. (Wikimedia Commons)
- Encore Garden Theme Park (亞哥花園)
Also situated close to Taichung is the Encore Garden Park. This huge site first opened as a theme park in 1981 and at its peak attracted more than a million visitors a year. But after the devastating 9/21 earthquake attendance dropped dramatically and it eventually closed in 2008. The site was bought by a Taichung-based construction company, but they have done nothing with it to date and so it has returned to nature.
The site is secured but plenty of urban explorers have found a way in. The site that greets them is one of carousels, bumper cars, and all manner of other amusements. Everything appears to be as it was the day the site closed, which means that intrepid visitors to Encore Gardens can still imagine the theme park in its heyday.
- Wuchang Temple 武昌宮
Wuchang Temple is another site abandoned as a direct result of the 9/21 earthquake. But the reasons for this abandonment are much more obvious and instantaneous. The temple, which is located in the village of Jiji collapsed during the earthquake. However, while the outer walls concertinaed, the colorful and decorative roof remained largely and as a result, rather than demolish the rest of the building, it has been retained as a powerful reminder of the impact of that devastating earthquake.
While a new temple has been built close by, most visitors to Jiji are more interested in seeing the collapsed one, which has become a popular tourist attraction in the area. This may not be to taste, and the strings of lights that adorn the site or numerous street traders cashing in on the site may not be either, but it is nonetheless one of most iconic abandoned buildings.
- Green Island Penal Colony
During the White Terror, the KMT regime thought to have imprisoned up to 140,000 Taiwanese citizens across the country. Many were shipped to Green Island, off the east coast of the island, where they were held at a site which was first known as the New Life Correction Centre and later the Green Island Reform and Re-education Prison.
As the names suggest, these were the locations for all sorts of grizzly forms of torture and many prisoners died here. Today, the site is known as the Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park, but aside from a rather shabby museum, all that can be seen is the abandoned site, which comprises various cell blocks and other buildings. Propaganda images and slogans can still be made out on the walls and site is a chilling flashback to a dark time in Taiwanese history.
- Minxiong Ghost House (民雄鬼屋)
The Minxiong Ghost House is located close to Minxiong, near Chiayi City. It dates to 1929 and was built by a local businessman by the name of Liu Rongyu (劉溶裕). The architecture is baroque revival in style but as it has been empty since at least the 1950’s, much of this is difficult to make out these days.
The building has now been very much reclaimed by nature with trees and vegetation covering much of the exterior. The can be easily accessed but have largely gone about from a few brick features. The site is a popular destination for tourists, with local students keen to impress their girlfriends by braving the ghosts commonly seen here. Then they head to the safety of the neighboring café to buy some ghostly souvenirs.
(Credit: Flickr User - Bunkichi Chang)
- Yonghe Theater 永和大戲院
The Yonghe Theatre is situated in Taipei and is one of many abandoned cinemas which can be around the city. This building can be hard to spot as the front of it is now a 7-Eleven convenience store and a mediocre Italian restaurant, but the rest of the old structure remains. It is secured and access is not possible, but that has not stopped some intrepid urban explorers from breaking in.
What they discovered was a labyrinth of passages and tunnels leading to movie theaters and offices that have not changed since the theater closed doors for the final time. Vintage projectors and retro décor abound and there are even items still on desks and in drawers in offices and ticket booths. It is a window to the past and for now at least, still remains that way.
(Google Map image)
- Wuri Police Station - 烏日警察官吏派出所
Wuri Police station is situated in the same area of Taichung City as Jukuiju Mansion and is no less fascinating. Dating from the 1930’s, it would have been under Japanese occupation and served as a police station until the 1960’s when it was converted for residential use. It was subsequently abandoned and while it has been declared as a historic site, restoration is yet to commence.
Perhaps that is a good thing as many of the original features, that will no doubt be lost when that process gets underway, remain. Furniture and evidence of habitation from the early 1990’s can be seen inside as well as original fitted furniture, windows, and doors. But such is the structure of the building, if it is left in this state for much longer, there may soon be nothing left to see at all.
(Credit: Taichung City Government)