Fri, Jul 14, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: Mount Lidong Fort

Ruins from the Japanese colonial era and panoramic views await intrepid hikers in this remote part of Hsinchu County

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

The fine entrance gate to Mount Lidong Fort features a few distinctly Western design elements.

Photo: Richard Saunders

Over 70 years on, memories of a half-century of Japanese colonization may have dimmed, but its legacy lives on in, not least in the many Japanese-era buildings found in the cities of Taiwan’s coastal plains, from Keelung to Kaohsiung.

Although forced to leave Taiwan at the end of the Second World War, the Japanese left evidence of their control of the nation’s main island not only in sumptuous, Western-inspired architecture and a much-improved road network, but also in a series of secondary routes across the central mountains that could only be followed on foot or horseback. These military communication arteries were primarily intended to suppress the island’s Aborigines, and at regular intervals along each was a police outpost or fort.

A few routes from that time, for instance the epic, 125-km Batongguan Traversing Trail (八通關越道), and the much shorter Paoma (“running horse”) Old Trail (跑馬古道) in Yilan County, have been cleared for hikers to follow. The majority, though, are either only very occasionally visited by intrepid hiking groups, or have been completely lost to the returning jungle, and today exist only on hiking maps as lines marking non-existent trails, or the names of former settlements and military camps deep in the virtually inaccessible central mountains.

Very few physical remains of these mountain forts, police outposts and settlements can be seen today, although several popular trails (including the Walami Trail, 瓦拉米步道, in southern Hualien County and the Zhuilu Old Trail, 錐麓古道, in Taroko Gorge) pass the flat, open areas where they once stood. I can think of only two Japanese forts in Taiwan’s mountainous interior that survive reasonably intact. One is just off the South Cross-island Highway in Taitung County, and the second is Lidong Fort (李崠山古堡), atop a 2,000-meter-high mountain in Hsinchu County.


The most convenient jumping-off point is probably the city of Zhudong (竹東) in Hsinchu County. Head east out of town on national route three, and follow the line of the Neiwan branch railway up to the village of Jianshi (尖石). Now pick up route 60, a twisting mountain road that climbs continuously to the tiny settlement of Yulao (宇老), 1,000 vertical meters above. From here, an unclassified and deeply potholed side road follows the contour of the mountainside northeastwards for five kilometers to the trailhead below the fort, at Mount Lidong Villa.

The old fort atop Mount Lidong is perhaps the most interesting Japanese-built fortification on the island. The fort dates from the early years of the colonial period.

After landing on Taiwan on March 29, 1895, Japanese soldiers quickly spread across the island, subduing resistance, and although small groups of rebel Han Chinese forces held out for a while in several mountain areas in the north of the island, most of Taiwan’s heavily populated lowland areas were under Japanese control by the end of that year.

Subduing the island’s aboriginal peoples, who had been pushed by several centuries of Han migration deep into the central mountains, proved a much tougher job, and one that was left to General Count Sakuma Samata (佐久間左馬太), who was named the fifth Governor-General of Taiwan in April 1906.

Samata immediately buckled down to the job of teaching the Atayal aboriginals of northern Taiwan to bow to authority. He began a five-year campaign, during which he led several armed attacks against them. During a 1911 campaigns, an army of 2,000 troops set out to take Mount Lidong, capturing it after heavy fighting, which resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. A fort was built on the site, and strengthened the following year after continuing resistance from the Atayal, who finally gave up the fight in 1913.

Today all that remains of the fort are its four walls, which enclose a rectangular area 28 meters by 22 meters. The walls, about three meters high, are just over half a meter thick. Despite its military function, the Japanese couldn’t resist throwing a little style into the design; the main entrance gate is rather fine, although a plaque that once hung above the entrance arch has disappeared. There’s little to explore inside: the structure is essentially an empty shell with a collection of radio aerials and a trig point in the middle.

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