Mazu Art Village (馬祖新村眷村文創園區)

This post is the third and final part of a long-planned three part series on Longgang (龍岡), a culturally and historically significant section of Zhongli, the city I’ve called home for the past decade.

The first part of the series served as an introduction to the area itself and explained why it is a bit different than your average Taiwanese town while the second part focused on the beautiful mosque that serves the people of the community.

Part 1: Longgang | Part 2: Longgang Mosque

This post will focus on Mazu Village (馬祖新村), a newly restored Military Village that has become a beautiful art space for the youth of Taiwan. The village is also one of the focal points for the revitalization of the Longgang area which has gone through a tremendous transformation over the past few years. 

Taoyuan was once home to over ninety military communities but only three of them remain with Mazu Village being one of the best representations of what life was like in one of these historic communities. The village today is not only an excellent place to attend community events, art exhibitions and film festivals but also an excellent reminder of Taiwan’s recent history. 

Military Villages (眷村)

When the Chinese Nationalists retreated to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War (國共內戰) they brought with them over two million refugees who were in quick need of places to stay.

Most of the people who were able to make the journey from China could do so because they were part of the social elite or members of the Republic of China Armed Forces.

The new arrivals learned quickly that the government clearly wasn’t prepared to house them, so plans were made to hastily construct shoddy villages which would serve the purpose of 'temporarily' housing until they could return to their homeland when the communists were defeated.

Or so was the plan.  

The villages which are known as Military Dependents' villages (眷村) were constructed all over Taiwan in the 1940s and 1950s for members of the military and their families.

The Nationalist pipe dream was that they would only retreat to Taiwan and regroup for a short time in order to retake China from the communists. Unfortunately that would never come to pass and these so-called 'temporary' villages became 'permanent' settlements for the less privileged of those refugees.

The villages ended up becoming important centres for the preservation of traditional Chinese culture, art, literature and cuisine. 

Despite the refugees receiving preferential treatment from the government, the homes were sloppily put together and were properly of the state which meant that the tenants had no possibility of land ownership. Tenants did their best to improve their living situations but as Taiwan's economic miracle was taking place the villages started to become abandoned as people looked for a better life elsewhere.

As more and more of the homes were abandoned and left to the elements it seemed as if the people who remained were living in government-owned slums. The government thus decided to improve the public-housing situation and tear down the majority of the villages which would be replaced with modern high-rise apartments.

In the past I blogged about the Rainbow Village (彩虹村) in Taichung, a military village that was set to be demolished for urban renewal. One of the tenants however took it upon himself to transform the decaying remains of the village into his own personal art project in an attempt to save his home from being destroyed. The village became a popular tourist attraction and has so far saved it from destruction.

Society has taken interest in the preservation of the remaining villages and civil groups have been set up to protect them (as well as other places of historical value like the Losheng Sanitorium (樂生醫療院)). These groups have become somewhat of a thorn in the side of the government and in some cases the public pressure they have applied has forced the government to come up with other ideas.

Unfortunately the future of many of Taiwan’s remaining Military Communities is still undecided - with almost 90% of them already a faded memory, its important that the few that remain are preserved to ensure that these important pieces of Taiwan’s history are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. 

Mazu Village (馬祖新村)

Mazu village was originally constructed in 1957 (民國46年) as a community to house the soldiers and families of the 84th Army Division (陸軍第84師). The village gets its name from the division which was originally stationed on the ROC-controlled Mazu Islands (馬祖列島) off of the coast of China's Fujian province.

At its peak, the village had 226 homes, stores, restaurants, a traditional market, kindergarten, movie theatre, park, etc. Mazu Village was home to around 1700 people for several decades but most of them were eventually resettled into modern public housing nearby.

As the people who lived in the community started to move away, the village, like a lot of other military communities entered into a period of decline and looked like it was about to meet the same fate as many of the others.

The Longgang (龍崗) area of Zhongli is one that is rich in military history with a large base, an army training school. It is also home to an interesting range of restaurants where you'll find a fusion of Chinese and South East Asian fare.

Longgang was home to not only Mazu Village, but also several other military communities that sprouted up around the military bases and the former airforce base.

By the turn of the century however most of those villages were deserted and were bulldozed with only Mazu village being chosen for preservation.

A visit to one of these villages brings a feeling of nostalgia for some in Taiwan, especially those who were brought up in these communities - Even though they are becoming somewhat of an endangered species these days, when one of them is restored as an art space or park, it has the ability to attract quite a few visitors looking to learn a little about Taiwan's modern history.

They also offer older generations a way of explaining to their young people of Taiwan how good they have it now compared to how it was when they were growing up.

Parents in Taiwan can't say that they 'walked to school barefoot in 50cm of snow' like mine did in Canada, so having living proof of what life in Taiwan was like in the past is a great way to educate young people.

In some cases however the villages that get redeveloped into modern spaces, like the "4-4 South Village" (四四南村) in Taipei, become somewhat kitschy and lose their old-school feeling. The restoration process of Mazu Village though was done in a way that allows people to have a taste of both the community’s history and its future.

Mazu Art Village (馬祖新村眷村文創園區)

When I first learned that Mazu Village was being restored, I went over to check out what was happening. The village at the time was becoming a bit of a hit on Instagram with people heading over to take photos at the entrance of one of the homes.

What I found when I arrived however was that the local government only opened up a single home to the public as a preview of what was to come when the project was completed.

I figured it wouldn’t take that long for the whole community to open up, so I wrote up a blog post and left it in the queue until the day that the community was once again open to the public.

I waited for a year, and then another and it seemed like the village wasn’t ever going to reopen.

Then in late 2017 (after almost giving up) the village suddenly reopened and started hosting cultural events on weekends.

The village is now home to a public space known as the “Mazu Art Village” which aims to become home to ‘cultural creative markets’ where artists and designers will be invited to set up exhibitions and art spaces to promote their work. 

In addition to the opening of the village, the former activity centre (across the street from the entrance) has been transformed into the Taoyuan Arts Cinema (桃園光影電影館) which will focus on the history of Taiwanese cinema and hold public showings of some of the nation’s best films. 

In recent years the Taiwanese government both at the national and local levels have invested quite a bit of time and money in transforming older spaces like Mazu Village into tourist attractions while at the same time offering spaces to the young artists and designers of the country to promote their work. 

The formula that has been successful at Taipei’s Treasure Hill (寶藏巖) and the Huashan Creative Park (華山1914文化創意產業園區) has been followed here at Mazu Village and is hopefully one that will provide the creative people of Taoyuan a place to promote their work while at the same time allowing this historic village to once again thrive. 

Getting There

 

If you are travelling from outside of Taipei, the easiest way to get to the village is to hop on a bus at the bus station near Zhongli Train Station. You can take bus 112 (South), 115, 5008, 5011 or 5050 from there and get off at the Mazu Village stop. The village is a short walk from there.

Address: 桃園市中壢區龍二街252號

The village and Art Cinema are open Tuesday - Sunday from 9:00-5:00 and 1:00-9:00 respectively.

Even though the renovation and restoration work at Mazu Village isn’t 100% complete, the village has reopened to the public and from now on will hold regular hours for visitors.

As both a historic village and an Art space, the village offers quite a bit for visitors to check out and a visit in conjunction with the special culture and cuisine of Longgang will make for an interesting day if you are coming from other parts of Taiwan.

If you are interested in some of the events that take place at the village, make sure to follow their Facebook Page or check their website for updates! 

Facebook:  馬祖新村眷村文創園區 

Website:  桃園眷村鐵三角


Gallery

Longgang Mosque (龍岡清真寺)

This post is the second part of a long-planned three part series on Longgang (龍岡), a culturally and historically significant area of Zhongli, the city I’ve called home for the past decade.

In the first post I introduced and listed the reasons  why it stands apart from your average Taiwanese community. 

This post will focus on the beautiful and historic mosque that serves the people of that unique community.  

If you missed the first post, which focuses more on the history of the area and more importantly answers the question as to why the area has a mosque, I’d recommend taking some time to go back and read that one before moving on with this one.

When I first arrived in Taiwan over a decade ago, an expat sighting around town was still something that was considered a rare experience.

Whenever someone saw myself or my friends, they were likely to stare for a bit and then suddenly shout “American!” or “so handsome!”.

Neither are actually true statements.

Over the years however I’ve come to accept these kinds of things as part of the friendly and welcoming nature of the people of Taiwan.

In recent years though, there has been a noticeable shift in the way some people, especially the younger generation react to the sight of a foreigner.

While most are still quite hospitable and friendly, it is becoming common to hear the experiences of some expats who are randomly approached on the streets and told to “go back to America”.

There are of course a myriad of reasons for this.

That being said, a group of foul-mouthed kids was probably just what the doctor ordered to ease a bit of the ‘weirdness’ I felt while visiting the local Mosque.

I had known about the Longgang mosque for a while and that it was an important cultural and historic building here in Zhongli - But I truthfully always felt a bit apprehensive to visit (especially with my camera) as I’ve leanred in my travels that mosques aren’t the easiest places to photograph. 

Normally in Taiwan I walk around temples and take photos and have never once felt unwelcome or that I was doing something wrong. Taiwanese people love sharing their culture with foreigners and no matter what you believe in, you are free to walk around and appreciate all the art and culture that is put on display.

I feel like churches and mosques are a bit different. When in Taiwan though, do as the Taiwanese do! 

When I approached the mosque I took quite a few photos of the beautiful gate and the exterior (trying not to be noticed) and saw a bunch of young boys hanging out on a picnic table in the shade nearby.

They were having a loud conversation with a woman in a hijab and the conversation seemed lighthearted - save for the fact that the kids had a penchant for using foul language. 

I decided that the lightheartedness and lack of formality was probably evidence that while I was visiting a mosque, it was a mosque in Taiwan and probably very much like every other temple or religious place I’ve visited. 

After a few minutes of banter between the teenage boys, the lady walked over to me and said very plainly in Mandarin: “Hey handsome, what brings you here?” I replied that I was studying the history of the area and learned that the mosque had quite a bit of historic significance to the area.

That was enough to earn myself a guided tour!

The Longgang Mosque dates back to the 1960s and shares an interesting history that coincides with the political and military history of the Republic of China Armed Forces.

With this blog I won’t be focusing on the religious aspects of the mosque but will instead spend more time on its historical importance and the reason why it exists in a country with a very small Muslim population.

Islam in Taiwan

You’d probably also be surprised to find out that the history of Islam in Taiwan dates back to 1683. Walking around the streets of Taiwan, you’re not likely to ever notice anything Islamic in nature. 

Even though there is a three century history of Islam in Taiwan, the Islamic population makes up only 0.2 percent of the total population today. 

These days the Taiwanese government does a pretty good job promoting religious freedoms and over the past few years has done quite a bit to ensure that Taiwan is a safe and inclusive place for Islamic tourists to visit.

Taipei City in particular has done quite a bit to identify and promote Halal-friendly restaurants and has committed to constructing more Mosques and prayer rooms in public spaces. 

It is probably safe to say though that when most locals think about Islam, they are likely to associate the religion with foreign labourers from Indonesia.

I’m sure few people really have no idea how, where or when Muslims worship. It just isn’t something that people notice in their everyday life. 

  1. Islam in Taiwan: Lost in Tradition (Al Jazeera) 
  2. Taiwanese Muslim: The History of Islam in Taiwan 
  3. The Future Faces South (New Bloom)

There are currently seven large mosques in Taiwan that serve not only the religious needs of the foreign labourer population (and tourists) but also the people who came to Taiwan from the Yunnan-Burma region in the 1950s and 1960s.

Prior to the 1950s it was unlikely that you’d find many Muslims in Taiwan. When the Kuomintang was forced to relocate thousands of guerrillas and their dependents from the Yunnan-Burma border region in the 1950s-1960s, the nation was suddenly faced with a population of Muslims who had no place to worship.

To solve that problem the government and religious organizations worked together to construct five mosques between 1947 and 1967 in Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung and Zhongli.

Longgang Mosque (龍岡清真寺)

In 1967, the Zhongli Mosque was built in the Longgang area of the city where there was not only a high population of evacuees from the Yunnan-Burma region but also several military bases and military villages. 

The Mosque that we see today is the result of several periods of construction, expansion and renovation throughout the fifty years of its existence.

When the mosque was originally constructed in 1967 it was considerably smaller than it is now and was hastily built (much like the military housing in the villages nearby) using materials and construction techniques that weren’t suitable for Taiwan’s humid environment.

After joining the Chinese Muslim Association (中國回教協會) and receiving funds from Saudi Arabia the group was able to reconstruct and renovate the existing building as well as purchase land adjacent to the mosque in order to construct dormitories, shower rooms and a kitchen.

The mosque complex we see today was completed in 1995 and consists of the main building and a larger one next to it that serves as the official residence of the Mosque’s Imam (Abdullah Liu - 柳根榮) and where the administrative staff offers classes to the public.

I’m not as well versed in the design techniques of Islamic Mosques as I am with East Asian Temple design but what I can say is that the mosque is quite a bit different than what you’re probably used to in Taiwan and is very minimalistic in design.

The exterior and interior of the building are a dark shade of green (which symbolizes freedom) with plain white walls on the inside.

As is custom, the Mosque is gender segregated with separate entrances for both men and women - Men worship on the top floor while women are relegated to the first floor.

I would typically complain that this type of segregation is a terrible thing but in the case of this mosque, I’d say the women are the winners due to the fact that the heat on the top floor of the Mosque was almost unbearable while I was touring it.

The Mosque is open every day and is available for the daily call to prayer.

The busiest day of the week is on Fridays when the Imam offers services to the public. 

The atmosphere at this mosque is quite laid back and considering the historical importance it has in the area, it is also attracts a few curious people who stop by to check it out.

Travellers shouldn’t worry that they are intruding on sacred space, that they won’t be welcome to visit or that they will have religious pushed on them - The people who run the mosque are welcoming and there are signs in Chinese, English, Arabic and a few other languages that explain the history of the mosque to visitors. 

Getting There

If you are coming from another area of the country and want to visit the Mosque, the best way to get there via public transportation is to take a train or bus into Zhongli (中壢) and then from the bus station (next to the train station) take a bus (#112) headed toward “Zhong Zheng” (忠貞) getting off at Longdong Road (龍東路).

Address: No. 216, Longdong Rd. Zhongli District, Taoyuan City. (桃園市中壢區龍東路216號)

 

Gallery / Flickr (High Res Shots)