New travel route aims to spotlight vitality of Taiwan's Hakka culture

A 150-kilometer section of Provincial Highway No. 3 is being transformed into the Hakka Romantic Avenue

Founded in 1886, Yimin Temple in Toufen Township, Miaoli, is a religious center for the local Hakka community

Founded in 1886, Yimin Temple in Toufen Township, Miaoli, is a religious center for the local Hakka community (By Agencies)

TAIPEI (Taiwan Today) -- In northern and central Taiwan, a 150-kilometer section of Provincial Highway No. 3—also known as the Inner-Mountain Highway—is being transformed into the Hakka Romantic Avenue. Inspired by Germany’s Romantic Road, the avenue links Hakka villages in 16 townships, stretching from Longtan District in Taoyuan City through the counties of Hsinchu and Miaoli to Dongshi and Shigang districts in Taichung City.

Launched in 2017, the four-year project is a central plank in government efforts to preserve and promote Hakka culture. According to the Cabinet-level Hakka Affairs Council, some 18 percent of the country’s 23.5 million citizens are Hakka, which can also be found in large numbers in many parts of Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. Roughly half of Taiwan’s Hakka population lives in the four cities and counties highlighted under the project, while the featured villages are well-known for their Hakka architecture, cuisine and history.

Traditional urns used for making various kinds of preserved vegetables sit along a wall in Miaoli’s Nanzhuang Township. (Image from Huang Chung-hsin)

The Hakka Romantic Avenue falls under the urban-rural category of the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, a NT$420 billion (US$14 billion) initiative aimed at meeting Taiwan’s development needs for the next 30 years. Albert Lin, director of Miaoli County Government’s Culture and Tourism Bureau, said that “the project is key to helping Hakka villages retain a traditional way of life defined by slow food, slow living and a slow travel ethos.”

Notable attractions along the route include Yimin Temple in Hsinchu County’s Xinpu Township. While all Hakka places of worship in the nation bear the name Yimin, the temple in Xinpu is considered the Hakka people’s foremost religious center. Built in 1788, it is Taiwan’s oldest Yimin temple.

Visitors are also drawn to the Hakka villages from mid-fall to early winter for persimmon-drying season. During this period, large quantities of the round orange fruit are dried in the sun for preservation. And a visit to a Hakka village is never complete without sampling the cuisine.

Persimmons dry in the sun in Xinpu Township of northern Taiwan’s Hsinchu County. (Image from Huang Chung-hsin)

Ku Cheng-ching, an assistant professor in the Department of Cultural Tourism at National United University in Miaoli, considers the project well-planned and believes it has every chance of success. If objectives like cultural landscape shaping, environmental improvement and industrial development are implemented effectively via partnerships between the central and local governments, as well as the public and private sectors, the project will deliver upgraded facilities, enhanced services and more meaningful travel experiences, he said.

Born and bred in one of Miaoli’s Hakka communities, Ku hails from a family once involved in the county’s traditional industries of lumber and tea production. He anticipates the project breathing new life into such sectors, while spurring the creation of fresh opportunities for young people in modern industries such as cultural and creative and ecotourism.

HAC Minister Lee Yung-te said the initiative marks the beginning of a Hakka renaissance movement aimed at promoting local economic development and highlighting diverse ecological and cultural landscapes. The next step, the minister said, is to expand such Hakka cultural revitalization measures across the nation.

Hakka ground tea can feature a wide variety of ingredients, though peanuts and sesame are almost always among them. (Image from Hung Chung-hsin)

(This article is adapted from the photo essay Hakka Renaissance in the January/February 2017issue and the article Cornucopia of Culture in the January/February 2018 issue of Taiwan Review. The Taiwan Review archives dating to 1951 are available online.)