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Indigenous village protests man digging for gold in east Taiwan

Man hoping to fulfill father’s dying wish gets official approval for excavation

(Pixabay, Steve Bidmead photo)

(Pixabay, Steve Bidmead photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A man digging for “hidden gold” in Zhiben, Taitung, has caused controversy by excavating despite protests from an Indigenous village.

The 69-year-old man, surnamed An (安), was cited by UDN as saying that in his childhood, he heard his father talk about working in Zhiben as a police officer during Japanese rule (1895-1945) and that when the Japanese left Taiwan, they were rumored to have buried “treasure” in the area. Prior to his death, An’s father had asked him to investigate the rumors.

After moving from Chiayi to Taitung for work and hearing local stories about hidden treasure, An became convinced that his father’s story may hold some truth. Thus, An began working with a partner, surnamed Liu (劉), and the two hired a “Polish expert and a National Taiwan University professor” to search for the treasure with a spectrometer.

According to Liu, the spectrometer indicated there was gold beneath the site. The team estimated there was around 2 tons buried seven to 15 meters underground.

With the discovery, An and Liu applied to excavate the area in 2020 and received approval from Taitung County Government and the National Property Administration, per UDN. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were not able to begin digging until April 7, 2022, and soon after excavation started they were met with protests from the local Indigenous village, as the area is traditional tribal land.

Though An and Liu halted their plans, saying their attempts to negotiate with the village “received no response,” they resumed digging on Wednesday (May 4), less than 24 hours before official permission expired. Liu claimed that he and An had invested over NT$3 million (US$101,700) to get approval and prepare for the excavation.

The Liberty Times reported that the chiefs of Katratripulr Village said their people were “taken aback and disappointed” by the government’s apathy toward their land autonomy rights despite it having promised to respect and stand with the villagers. They said they had conveyed their opposition to the project during the two negotiations in March and April and had concerns about the excavation contract’s terms and conditions, which had not been resolved.