Fri, Aug 31, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Highways & Byways: Beipu: From violent frontier to quaint backwater

This Hakka town in the unindustrialized eastern part of Hsinchu retains plenty of character and history

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Alluring yet off-limits: The Tianshuitang residence.

Photo: Steven Crook

The Han Chinese colonization of Taiwan began at certain points on the west coast, the most famous being Tainan and Lukang. Settlers then moved up waterways to places like Bangka (艋舺, these days known as Wanhua 萬華). However, one of Taiwan’s most characterful old towns isn’t near the sea, nor by a navigable river.

Beipu (北埔) is in the half of Hsinchu County that hasn’t seen much industrialization. The population has been in decline since the early 1980s, and now fewer than 9,400 people live here. Almost all of them are Hakka, yet the name of Beipu’s oldest building is evidence of a multiethnic past.

The single-story, 530-ping Jinguangfu Hall (金廣福公館) was named for the group established in 1835 to organize and defend Han settlers in Beipu and parts of what are now Baoshan (寶山) and Emei (峨眉) townships. Located at 6 Jhongjheng Road (中正路) and recognized as a first-grade relic of national importance, Jinguangfu is open from 9am to 5pm every day. There’s an admission charge of NT$30.

The first character (“gold” or “money”) expressed a hope that the pioneers would prosper. The second (an abbreviation for Guangdong, 廣東, province in China) alluded to the Cantonese background of one of the two co-leaders. The third, short for Fujian (福建), was chosen because the other principal was a Hoklo man.

The latter, Lin Te-hsiu (林德修), played no important role after 1836. By contrast, his Hakka counterpart, Chiang Hsiu-luan (姜秀鑾, 1783-1846), retained his position until his death, and his descendants continue to enjoy local prominence.

Before moving to Beipu, Chiang had earned a reputation for organizing effective defenses against indigenous people who objected to having land and natural resources taken from them by Han Chinese migrants. The danger around Beipu was very real. In a single incident in July 1835, Aborigines surrounded and massacred 80 to 90 pioneers. During 1837, more than 40 people were killed by headhunters.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE

>> Beipu is connected by bus to Jhudong, from which direct buses go to and from Taipei. If you’re driving, approach by National Highway No. 3.


In light of this history, it’s odd that one of Jinguangfu’s most intriguing features is neither labelled, nor mentioned in the bilingual leaflet offered to visitors. On either side of the main entrance there are knee-height snipers’ loopholes. It was explained to me that this made it easier for those inside to shoot intruders trying to batter down the door without killing them, thereby avoiding the legal consequences of causing a death. In Qing-era Taiwan, it seems, “stand your ground” laws weren’t quite as householder-friendly as they are in 21st century Florida.

Sporadic violence was a feature of life in Beipu until the early part of the 20th century. One of Chiang Hsiu-luan’s great-grandsons, Chiang Shao-tzu (姜紹祖), apparently committed suicide in the summer of 1895 after an unsuccessful guerilla campaign against the Japanese then taking control of Taiwan.

Another member of the same generation gained a reputation for public-spirited generosity. Chiang Chen-chien (姜振乾) donated money to schools and temples, and to alleviate suffering after natural disasters. He gave clothing and medicine to the poor, and provided wood so those who died penniless wouldn’t lack coffins.

More importantly, Chiang Chen-chien intervened in late 1907 when Japanese Army units converged on Beipu, determined to extinguish an uprising that had begun on Nov. 15. On that date, Tsai Ching-lin (蔡清琳) led a band of around 150 Taiwanese to murder 57 Japanese, among them the local postmaster.

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