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

During their sweeps through the countryside, Japanese soldiers and police killed dozens of innocent people. Chiang urged the colonial forces to show restraint; to show his sincerity, he offered to cover the forces’ entire expenses during the operation. At the same time, he communicated with local anti-Japanese elements, asking them not to make life more difficult for civilians caught in the middle.

The worst Japanese atrocity occurred in Neidaping (內大坪), where colonial troops killed over 100 people, including the majority of males aged 19 to 79. You’ll pass through the village if you leave Beipu via County Route 37, the route that leads to Beipu Cold Spring (北埔冷泉) and onto Miaoli County.

At the end of November, Tsai was betrayed by the Saisiyat Aborigines who had joined his uprising. They killed him and delivered his body to the authorities. The rebellion achieved nothing, but after World War II it was celebrated as the first episode of armed Han Chinese resistance to Japanese rule in Taiwan.

During the colonial era, when Beipu boomed thanks to coal and camphor, one member of the Chiang clan founded what later became Hsinchu Bus Company.

Yet another, Chiang A-Hsin (姜阿新), oversaw the building of the two-story mansion which now bears his name at 10 Beipu Street. His tea export business was thriving, so in 1946 he decided to commission the design and construction of a home where his British and Japanese customers would feel comfortable. Renovation work on this landmark is running behind schedule but it should be open to the public before the end of this year.

Since 2014, the township mayor has been Chiang Liang-ming (姜良明). He’s the fifth person with that family name to hold the office since 1945.

You’ll need a car or a motorcycle to make the most of Beipu’s gorgeous hinterland. But even if you’re depending on buses and unwilling to walk more than a few hundred meters, you’ll find the town itself well worth visiting.

The residence known as Tianshuitang (天水堂) at 1 Jhongjheng Road is over 170 years old and exquisitely traditional. The Chiang branch that owns it has never opened the doors to the public, but if you explore the alleyways around here you can appreciate the exterior from various angles.

Walking south will bring you to the old home of a local scholar. Zhongshu Hall (忠恕堂) at 20 Gongyuan Street (公園街) dates from 1922 and is considered a fine example of Hakka architecture. There’s no admission charge but opening hours are limited (Friday to Sunday, 10am to 11:30am and 1pm to 4:30pm).

Another building falling into the intriguing-yet-off-limits category stands across the road. The permanently-shuttered Deng Nan-guang Photo Memorial (鄧南光影像紀念館) celebrated the life and work of Beipu native Deng (1907-1971).

The photos of daily life he took throughout Taiwan are regarded as an invaluable record of a time before camera ownership became widespread. Anyone with a passion for the past — and if you’ve come to Beipu, you’re probably that kind of person — will hope that one day the memorial can reopen.

Steven Crook has been writing about travel, culture, and business in Taiwan since 1996. Having recently co-authored A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai, he is now updating Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide.

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