Group in Keelung, Taiwan fosters pride in city’s distinct history, culture

The Keelung Youth Front was founded to foster awareness of Keelung's history of development and pride in the city

Zhupu Altar is the main venue for Keelung Ghost Festival events. (Taiwan Today Image)

Zhupu Altar is the main venue for Keelung Ghost Festival events. (Taiwan Today Image)

KEELUNG (Taiwan Today) -- In August 2014, a group of young cultural preservation enthusiasts launched a campaign to spruce up a long-abandoned mansion overlooking Keelung City on Taiwan’s northern coast.

The building dating to 1931 was formerly the home of Ko Zu-song, a political leader and opinion-maker during Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945). Ko helped shape the development of the prosperous port town, though in recent decades his life and impact had largely been forgotten.

By halting the decline of the structure, the Keelung Youth Front hoped to right this wrong, said Chang Ji-ho, who founded the group the same year. “We wanted to do something concrete to pass down this history to our generation.”

The Ko Zu-song mansion is open to the public thanks to a campaign launched by the KYF in 2014 (Taiwan Today Image)

After the campaign proved a hit with locals, the KYF staged the inaugural Ko Zu-song Festival in 2015 featuring guided tours, lectures and performances. The following year, the event was expanded after gaining sponsorship under the Youth Village Cultural Development Project, a Ministry of Culture initiative providing technical support and funding of up to NT$1 million (US$33,330) for community programs led by 20- to 45-year-olds.

Located on Taiwan’s northern coast and home to the nation’s second largest port, Keelung boasts a rich maritime history. It was an early point of contact between locals and Western seafarers during the Age of Discovery.

According to Chang, the KYF was founded to foster awareness and pride in the city’s distinct development. “Bordering Taipei and New Taipei cities, Keelung has a somewhat peripheral cultural role in northern Taiwan and needs to redefine itself by emphasizing its unique identity,” he said.

KYF founder Chang Ji-ho (back, second left) offers a guided tour of the former residence of Ko Zu-song, a local political leader during Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945) (KYF Image)

The Ko Zu-song Festival was one of two KYF projects to receive funding under the MOC youth village initiative in 2016. The other centered on training young people to serve as tour guides for the city’s most significant cultural event: Keelung Ghost Festival.

Celebrated during the seventh month of the lunar calendar in Taiwan and Mandarin-speaking societies around the world, Ghost Festival carries a special significance in the northern coastal hub. The local variation originated in the mid-19th century as a way to ease deadly conflicts between different immigrant groups. “In the city, it tops even Lunar New Year in terms of fervor and significance,” Chang said.

Another KYF project aimed at encouraging residents to examine Keelung’s cultural identity is the Cinemaging Taiwan filmmaking contest. Open to local youths, the event offers a top prize of NT$50,000 and other awards for short films and documentaries about the city shot over no more than three days.

“New cultural interpretations begin by recording and re-examining local landscapes and events,” Chang said. “In time, residents and visitors will come to identify more closely with the city, and Keelung will emerge as a first-rate cultural destination.”

A handheld fan bearing the logo of the KYF’s initiative to foster youth engagement in the Keelung Ghost Festival is displayed in front of Dianji Temple (Taiwan Today Image)