Lee Teng-Fang Historic Residence (李騰芳古宅)

Over my years of living in Taiwan, I have been the subject of a lot of jokes and comments from friends for living here in Taoyuan. Admittedly, when I first decided to come to Taiwan I read some information about the area where I'd be going and from what I read, the reviews of the county (now city) weren't particularly that great with a lot of expats referring to the area as the "armpit" of Taiwan.

When I arrived however I quickly learned to appreciate Taoyuan for a lot of different reasons. The city may not have a massive and super convenient public transport system like Taipei does, but what it does have is close access to nature, the mountains, the airport and also gives me the ability to travel to a lot of places in northern Taiwan quite easily.

Taoyuan might not have have a lot of popular tourist attractions but there are a lot of under appreciated historic sites that I've been lucky enough to visit and not have to deal with crowds of tourists.

If I'm to be blunt, in the first few years of living here we had KMT heavyweight Eric Chu (朱立倫) who was then followed up by John Wu (吳志揚) serve terms as the county magistrate and it was quite obvious that they basically did nothing of any significance during their terms.

Fortunately the political tide in Taiwan turned a few years back and Cheng Wen-Tsan (鄭文燦) of the DPP was elected mayor of the county by a thin margin. The election of Mayor Cheng has been nothing short of amazing for Taoyuan and it is easy to see that the mayor has not only spent a considerable amount of time modernizing and revitalizing the area but has also spent a considerable amount of effort in restoring Taoyuan's various historical places of interest into attractive tourist destinations for both domestic and international tourists.

For some, this may not be a big thing, and I'm sure that many people haven't even really noticed, but for someone like me who has lived here for a long time, I see the Taoyuan of today as a place where people will want not only want to live, but to visit to experience Taiwan's history and that of the vibrant Hakka culture that is so well-preserved here.

Under Mayor Cheng's leadership Taoyuan is becoming a place that people want to visit rather than a place that people try to avoid. I'd give the guy a prize if I could, he's doing an amazing job and I have to say that whenever someone makes a comment about Taoyuan, I just ask if they've visited lately.

The subject of today's post is yet another example of one of the many accomplishments of Mayor Cheng (and all of the people elected across party lines at the Taoyuan City government) and is one that has been going through a period of renovation for almost as long as I've been running this website.

Coincidentally I had planned for this to be one of the first posts on my blog a few years back when I started all of this, but I felt that I didn't have enough photos to really do it justice and it was shut down for renovation meaning that I'd have to wait until work was completed.

The Lee Teng-Fang Historic Mansion (李騰芳古厝) reopened to the public in late April and I made sure to get over as quickly as possible to check out the work that had been done as well as getting the photos needed to write a blog about it.

With this blog post I'm going to depart from my usual style of delving (way too much) into the history and instead talk about some of the renovations and my general feelings about the difference in visiting the mansion today than when I originally visited it a few years back.

Part of the reason for this is that one of my favourite Taiwan authors, Richard Sanders has already written extensively about the mansion in an article in a much more eloquent way than I ever could - If you want to know more about the history of this beautiful mansion, I suggest checking out some of the photos here and then checking out Richard's article for more context.

Article: Li Teng-fang House - One of the finest surviving examples of a Hakka residence in Taiwan 

History

In my blog about the popular Daxi Old Street (大溪老街) I touched upon the history of the village which was at one time a major player in the early Taiwanese economy. Daxi, like quite a few other villages in Taiwan found its early commercial success thanks to its proximity to the mountains and because it had a once thriving river that gave merchants the ability to transport tea and camphor out of the village in a time when modern forms of transportation were unavailable.

The area we refer to as the "Old Street" today was originally constructed as a shortcut to transport goods to the river and as the economy grew in the village, businesses soon starting popping up along the street.

As people started to become wealthy, they wanted a way to show off a bit of their prosperity so they hired artisans to come and help design and carve beautiful stone designs on their homes and businesses along the main street and the streets around it.

The wealthiest of the villages merchants however built their homes away from the hustle and bustle of the busy village area and the Lee Teng-Fang mansion, which was the biggest of its time remains the most well-preserved to this day.

The Hakka-style mansion, which is now classified as a grade two historic mansion complex was built in 1859 and consists of two main buildings with four side buildings with a large courtyard in front of the building, one in the centre of the building and a brick wall surrounding it.

Built on the banks of the all-important Dahan River (大漢溪), the mansion today blends in with the beautiful fields of rice and farms that surround it making it a quiet and peaceful place to visit compared to the hustle and bustle of the old street. If you visit during the summer, you are likely to see the rice paddies replaced with fields of wild flowers which makes the ride over from the old street even more enjoyable.

The Lee Family was a wealthy one that originally hailed from the Fujian Province area of south-eastern China. Making its fortune in the rice industry, the family patriarch Lee Bingsheng (李炳生) opened the Lee Family Store (李金興商號) in Daxi village (near the old street) and was one of the most well-respected merchants in the area.

Wealth allowed the family to make education a priority and the academic excellence achieved by Lee Teng-Fang, one of the three sons in the family brought a lot of pride to the people of the Daxi village region.

In 1856, Lee Teng-Fang (at the age of 43) passed the first of his important civil examinations achieving the level of a "scholar" (秀才). Soon after, he travelled to China on a few separate occasions for higher level exams achieving the rank of a middle-ranked official (中舉) and then as a high-ranked official which brought with it a commendation from the Emperor.

The Lee Teng-Fang mansion was built as a gift to the prestigious student with construction starting (as mentioned above) in 1859 after Lee passed the first of his important examinations and was completed a few years later in 1864.

After passing the exam, the people of Daxi got together and in Teng-Fang's honour constructed a special road from the village to his family home and renamed the area after him - Daxi's original name was "Daguxian" (大姑陷) and was renamed to "Dakeken" (大嵙崁溪). The road is still in use today and is the one that brings you from the old street to the mansion. The village however has since been renamed.

Since its completion in 1864, the mansion has been expanded upon on several different occasions with a new hall being completed in 1926 and then several renovations and restoration projects since then with the latest being completed at the end of April 2017.

Renovation

The renovations of the complex are where I'd like to spend a little bit of time - For the most part not a lot was done to change the overall look of the mansion. The restoration process took care of some of the wooden carvings on the walls and on the roof as well as restoring some of the artwork on the walls as well as adding some interactive exhibits for people to learn about the history of the area as well as that of the mansion and other traditional houses like this.

The restoration process took a few years to complete and I suspect that the majority of time was spent on having local historians and artisans come in to repair and recolour the murals on the walls as well as on the outside of the halls as well as the traditional decorations on the various sections of the roof which have been fully restored.

The major difference between the most recent renovation and my previous visit is that the rooms to the sides, which were originally bedrooms, kitchens and dining rooms have since been filled up with interactive exhibitions that explain the function of each.

One of the "cutest" additions is that of a holographic display of the family's pet cat sleeping on the floor and chasing a rat that appears out of a whole in the wall. The whole thing seems completely unnecessary and isn't really the kind of thing I want to see while visiting a place like this, but I suppose it does its part to keep the children interested while visiting.

If you have a bit of time while visiting the mansion, there are guided tours available and there are also rooms which have projectors that teach a bit of the history of the building. I feel like if you want to really have a full understanding of the history of the Daxi area, the mansion and the story of how the family became so wealthy, then by all means take a seat and check it out.

In most cases when buildings like this undergo a restoration process of this kind they end up adding a bunch of kitschy and unnecessarily 'cute' things that ruin the historic aesthetic of the building. In the case of this mansion, the cuteness was kept low-key and the majority of the time was spent in the areas where the building needed the most attention to ensure that its history could be enjoyed by future generations.

Getting there 

 

Website: English | 中文

There is a lot to do in Daxi and if you are making plans to visit the historic village, you have quite a few options for places to visit to spend your time. Most people will spend their time on the historic Old Street while others might check out the Daxi Martial Arts Hall, the Daxi Tea Factory, Zhai-Ming Monastery, the Cihu Mausoleum, the TUBA Church or the Sanmin Bat Cave.

No matter what your plans are, if you are visiting the area, a stop over at the Lee Teng Fang Mansion is recommended. The village is equipped with the popular Ubike public bicycle sharing system so getting to the mansion from the main area of the town is quite easy. You could also drive or scooter over to the mansion, but I think the experience of bicycling along the pathway that Lee Teng-Fang himself would have walked each and every day is a great experience.

I'm happy to see that this beautiful mansion has finally been reopened to the public and I'm also quite pleased that I waited to blog about it until now. The day I visited had beautiful blue skies and the photos turned out quite well, especially compared to the last time I visited.

If you are interested in Taiwan's history at all, I think a visit to a beautiful old mansion like this is a great learning experience and a much better one than you'd have in a museum I might add. I may not enjoy some of the new additions but they don't really take away from the overall experience of visiting the mansion. Be sure to check it out if you're in the area!


Kaohsiung Martial Arts Hall (高雄武德殿)

Over the past few months I've posted a few times about some of the beautiful remnants of Taiwan's Japanese Colonial Period. The colonial era lasted only five decades but in the short time that the Japanese controlled Taiwan, they helped to modernize the islands infrastructure and education and helped foster the importance of democratic governance all of which has had a lasting effect on the people of this tiny island nation.

It has been more than seven decades since the Colonial Era ended and while there are still quite a few well preserved examples of Japanese architecture left in Taiwan, most of the remaining buildings are in a state of decay and are in desperate need of not only recognition for their historical significance but some much needed maintenance and renewal.

In the past few months I've posted blogs about several Martial Arts Halls ( 武德殿), the beautifully renovated Taoyuan Shinto Shrine (桃園神社) and Tungxiao Shrine (通宵神社) as well as the decaying (but soon to be renovated and converted into a park) Jhudong Timber Dormitories (竹東東林新村) and the Japanese Police Dormitories (中壢警察局日式宿舍群).

These Martial Arts Halls, Shinto Shrines and former dormitories were quite common in almost every city in Taiwan during the colonial era but few are left remaining today and that is why their preservation and telling their story are so important.

Legacy Of Taiwan's Japanese Colonial Era (日治時期)

A lot can be said about the crimes committed by the Japanese Empire leading up to the Second World War. The bitter memory of that era is still felt today throughout Asia and a day doesn't go by that Japan isn't reminded of the horrific atrocities that were committed during that period.

Taiwan's experience under Japanese colonial rule is considered to be a bit tamer than that of neighbouring countries as the regime sought to transform the island into a "model colony" and develop the islands infrastructure and economy as well as provide a modern education to the people living here.

As Taiwan was Japan's first colony, the Japanese Empire wanted to show the world that being under Japanese control wasn't such a terrible thing and that the people of Taiwan would only benefit from becoming a part of the empire. Unfortunately history has shown that things didn't exactly turn out that way for some of Japan's other colonies.

The colonial period (1895-1945) which lasted for a half century had its fair share of resistance from the local people and the colonial power was guilty of a great many atrocities, however the general feeling today is that people of this country share a strong bond with the Japanese and enjoy a friendship that despite a troubled history is based off of mutual understanding and respect for each other.

When Japan surrendered to the allies at the end of the war, control of Taiwan was handed over to Chiang Kai-Shek and his Republic of China. The Sino-Japanese War which ravaged China for so many years before caused a lot of resentment for the Japanese among the Chinese population and leaders of the government in China had a hard time understanding why the people of Taiwan looked upon their period of Japanese control with so little disdain.

The government decided that it would force Chinese culture upon the people of Taiwan which meant that traces of Japanese culture would have to be destroyed. These policies became a problem however when the KMT and over two million refugees were forced to escape to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War and were faced with a major housing shortage.

While there are remnants of the colonial period visible throughout Taiwan today, most structures that were dedicated to Japanese culture (temples, shrines, etc.) were torn down and are few and far between. When the housing situation eventually settled down and Taiwan was in the midst of its economic miracle, a lot of the homes that were occupied by the refugees were abandoned and thus left to decay on their own.

Butokuden Halls (武德殿)

Butokuden Halls were established in 1895 under the authority of the Japanese government and with the endorsement of the Meiji Emperor (明治天皇). The halls were meant to help solidify and preserve Japan's martial arts disciplines where the virtues of the samurai-like warrior and noble Japanese heritage and dominance were promoted.

Budo basically refers to Japanese martial arts, but for more clarity I asked my Japanese friend for more information and she sent this definition: Budō is a compound of the root bu (武:ぶ), meaning "war" or "martial"; and dō (道:どう; Dao in Chinese), meaning "path" or "way. The term refers to the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a "path" to realize them. Dō signifies a "way of life". Dō in the Japanese context, is an experiential term, experiential in the sense that practice (the way of life) is the norm to verify the validity of the discipline cultivated through a given art form. Modern budō has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one's ego that must be fought.

While martial arts dojos were common throughout Japan, the Butokuden Halls were different because they were part of a state sponsored attempt to standardize Japanese martial arts while at the same time fostering fervent nationalism as well as the idea of Japanese exceptionalism though samurai-spirit which helped stoke the fires of militarism in the early years of the 20th century.

The Halls were part of a large organizational structure called the "Dai Nippon Butoku Kai" (大日本武德會) which sought to promote Japanese martial arts throughout the Japanese empire.

Wishes written on cards and wrapped around the tree. 

Starting in 1900 the halls spread to Taiwan with large buildings constructed in Taipei, Taichung and Tainan. In 1906 the Taiwan Butokuden branch (大日本武德會臺灣支部) was established and oversaw the construction of around seventy smaller halls throughout the island.

In Taiwan, the Butokuden Halls initially served the purpose of training the police, military and prison guards in Japanese martial arts and discipline. Later on the halls opened up more to the public in an attempt to train the citizens of Taiwan in Japanese martial arts as well as instil "Japanese Spirit" which is better known as "Yamato-damashii" (大和魂).

When the Second World War ended and subsequently the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, there were over seventy Butokuden halls throughout the country. The fate of those halls however was similar to a lot of other Japanese constructed buildings after the arrival of the Chinese Nationalists at the end of the Chinese Civil War. The buildings were either repurposed, used for housing or destroyed.

Today only about a dozen of these halls continue to exist in Taiwan - Some of the halls have been recognized as National Historic Buildings and have either been repurposed or renovated while others are in a sad state of disrepair and are in desperate need of attention.

Likewise, the "Dai Nippon Butoku Kai" organization was dissolved and then reestablished after the war with a new philosophical vision of preserving Japan's martial arts heritage while at the same time contributing to "world peace, international goodwill, mutual understanding and respect and prosperity through Budo education."

Butoku Kai centres have since spread throughout the world with halls constructed in the US, Canada, UK, France, Russia, etc. Here in Taiwan however, the halls are under appreciated historical relics and while they are historically relevant their original purpose - the promotion of Japanese martial arts has all but disappeared.

Kaohsiung Martial Arts Hall (高雄武德殿)

Kaohsiung is home to two beautiful Martial Arts Halls, one of which I've already blogged about - the beautifully restored Qishan Martial Arts Hall - and the Kaohsiung City Martial Arts Hall.

From the research I had done about Taiwan's few remaining Butokuden Halls, I knew that the Kaohsiung Hall was a special one. It was older than most of the others which were (for the most part) built in the mid 1930s and was also designed a bit differently with a mixture of architecture from both the west and the east which meant that it would look considerably different than what I have become accustomed to with these halls.

To explain why the Kaohsiung Martial Arts Hall was designed differently we have to talk a little bit about the history of the Port of Kaohsiung (高雄港) - The port and its development goes back to the 1620s when it was nothing more than a natural lagoon on the south western coast of the island. The port developed gradually through the Dutch era, the Kingdom of Tungning Era and the Qing Dynasty before being completely transformed during the Japanese Colonial Era. The colonial government carried out large development projects to modernize the port, the harbour and the infrastructure around it which offered the ability to support major import/export industries from the south of Taiwan.

The development of the port in addition to the nearby Takao Railway Station (高雄港車站) meant that the economy of the area flourished with international trade. The economic prosperity experienced by the people living in the port area created a lot of opportunity and made fortunes for the residents.

Like a lot of other areas in Taiwan that experienced an economic boom at the time, the people decided to construct their homes and storefronts with modern construction techniques and a fusion-style "baroque" design which was influenced by the European architecture of the time, but also infused eastern design. This type of architecture is still common today throughout many of Taiwan's "old streets" and a walk through Daxi, Sanxia, Hukou or any of the others gives tourists a quick crash course into what was considered hip at the time.

The design of the buildings in the area also influenced that of the local Martial Arts Hall which itself looks considerably different than any of its contemporaries that are still in existence around the country and blends both western and eastern architectural design.

The Kaohsiung Martial Arts Hall (高雄武德殿), otherwise known as the "Kaohsiung Butokuden Hall" completed construction in July of 1924 in what is now Kaohsiung's Gushan District (鼓山區). Like all of the other Martial Arts Halls, it was built in a strategic location near Gushan Elementary School (鼓山國小) as well as the local police precinct which allowed for it to offer classes to both the police, military and young students of Taiwan. 

For at least two decades the Kaohsiung Martial Arts Hall served its purpose as a training centre for the military and the people of Taiwan teaching Judo (柔道), Kendo (劍道) and Kyūdō (弓道) but when the colonial era ended in 1945 and the Japanese left Taiwan, the hall was put under new ownership.

The facts about who actually controlled the building are a bit mixed up - My research has shown that it was either given to the elementary school with the purpose of it becoming a teachers dormitory while other resources insist that it was handed over to the Kaohsiung City Police. In both cases was never actually used for anything other than storage - This meant that the hall was pretty much abandoned for several decades and fell into a state of disrepair.

In 1999 the Kaohsiung City Civil Affairs Bureau (高雄市政府民政局) recognized the Martial Arts Hall as a historic property and started to make plans to both renovate and restore the hall. The renovation project took a few years and in 2004 it reopened to the public as the "Wude Martial Arts Hall Performance Centre" allowing for tourists to visit to experience the historic building but also enjoy various performances throughout the year.

The building is now under the ownership of the Kaohsiung City Kendo Culture Advocacy Society (高雄市劍道文化促進會) making it the first historical building in Taiwan that was revitalized for purpose for which it was originally designed.

When it comes to the design of the hall, I'm going to be honest, if I didn't see pictures before visiting, I might have walked right past it and not noticed that it was the place I was looking for. It looks unlike any of the other Martial Arts Halls that I've visited thus far. The uniqueness of the exterior's design however is a reflection of the architecture of the time while the interior is probably the most beautiful of them all.

Lets start with the interior - The building consists of a single room with a beautiful hardwood floor that shines in the hot Kaohsiung sun. It is said that the interior is big enough to fit at least one hundred people for training sessions and would have been split in half allowing for more than one class to take place at the same time.

When you walk into the hall from the main entrance there is a small shrine on the wall opposite with several trophies, banners and wooden kendo swords and a plaque above it all that reads "武德殿“ (Martial Arts Hall). There are five different doors to the building with the main entrance and a few on the sides which would have allowed a fresh breeze to flow freely into the building.

From the road, you have to walk up a set of stairs to get to the Hall. The building was constructed on the side of Shoushan Mountain (壽山) and the most prominent feature that you're likely to notice is that the walkway and almost the entire front of the building are blocked by a giant tree (making it difficult for photographers to get the photos they want) that towers over the building and offers it some much needed shade in the summer.

Setting the building apart from the other Martial Arts Halls around the country, the Kaohsiung Hall was built with a mixture of cement and brick. The roof of the building is a very simple one of Japanese origin but is (currently) entirely unlike the other halls throughout Taiwan as it doesn't have the typical four sided "hip-and-gable roof" (懸魚). It is also one of the only Martial Arts Halls that I have seen south of Taichung that doesn't have the words "武" (Bu) or "武德" (Budō) on the "owl's tail" (鴟尾) decorations on the edges of the roof. The reason for this is very simple - The renovation project in 2004 constructed a new roof for the building and took a bit of liberty with the design.

While the building for the most part doesn't particularly look Japanese in design, the entrance is where you are able to really notice the Japanese architectural influence. The entrance is a lot like you'd see at the other buildings with a "karahafu door" (唐破風) that is indicative of Japanese architecture dating back to the Heian Period (平安時代) and is common in Japanese castles, temples, and shrines.

I suppose the major difference with this entrance however is that the pillars that hold up the roof above the entrance are made of cement while the roof itself is made of wood. The columns are also said to have been influenced by the Tuscan Order (托次坎柱式) which is a classical Roman style of architecture that is common around the world.

Another one of the features that differentiates this Martial Arts Hall from the others is that there are murals on the exterior walls depicting arrows representing the Japanese Martial Art Kyūdō (弓道), one of the three disciplines of martial arts that was practiced at the hall during the colonial era.

Today the Kaohsiung Martial Arts Hall is a multi-purpose building that not only lives up to its original purpose as a Martial Arts Hall but also also a place for the people of Kaohsiung to put on exhibitions and small performances. The hall offers a beautiful space for people to experience a bit of Taiwan's history while also practicing Martial Arts and enjoying some art.

The Martial Arts Hall is a short walk from the Sizihwan MRT station (西子灣捷運站) and is in a historic part of town with a lot to see, do and eat. If you are planning on checking out the historic harbour front area of Kaohsiung, the zoo, the former British consulate (打狗英國領事館) or take the ferry over to Qijin island (旗津) - a stop by the Martial Arts hall is a recommended excursion. You won't need a lot of time to see it but you'll likely enjoy this living piece of Kaohsiung's and Taiwanese history.

Map / Location