Fri, Oct 26, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Radio waves

A visit to a former Japanese navy base in Kaohsiung offers a look into Taiwan’s colonial past

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

One of the entrances to the Cross-Shaped Radio Station, located in Kaohsiung’s Fengshan District, is kept closed.

Photo: Steven Crook

The foreign powers that occupied, invaded or traded with Taiwan have left their imprint in Kaohsiung as in other parts of country. The Former British Consulate at Takow (打狗英國領事館文化園區) is one of the southern city’s most popular tourist attractions, but for those who prefer military history to civilian affairs, another site, about 11km to the east, is more engrossing.

The Imperial Japanese Navy Wireless Communications Station (原日本海軍鳳山無線電信所) is located just east of the Chienchen River (前鎮河). On the other side of that waterway, visitors can find the photogenic remains of gun emplacements and fortified gates that once kept the administrative center of Fengshan County (鳳山縣) safe from rebels, irate Aborigines and other enemies.

The county, established in 1684 by the Qing Empire then ruling the China and Taiwan, covered much of today’s Kaohsiung City and Pingtung County. Its borders shifted, but as a local government division, Fengshan County didn’t disappear until 1909. Its core is now Kaohsiung City’s Fengshan District (鳳山區).

Few travelers bother with this corner of the municipality, even though it’s well served by the Orange Line of the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) in addition to various bus routes. And within Fengshan, the IJN Wireless Communications Station isn’t the first destination for tourists. The leading attraction is perhaps the 200-year-old Fongyi Academy (鳳儀書院), where local youths were given a traditional Confucian education.

More than a decade ago, the Republic of China military moved out and the IJN Wireless Communications Station was designated a national relic. The significance of this landmark goes beyond its age — construction began in 1917 and was completed in 1919 — and its role in World War II. Having facilitated communication between the Japanese high command and naval units in Southeast Asia, it was turned over to the ROC Navy in late 1945. Then, after the KMT retreated to Taiwan, it became a place where Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) dictatorship imprisoned suspected dissidents.

For a good part of the postwar period, part of the base was a detention-and-interrogation facility known euphemistically as Fengshan Guest House (鳳山招待所). At the same time, staying true to the site’s original purpose, a navy communications detachment was also based here.

The wireless station (open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm; free admission) occupies a strangely-shaped plot of land, a perfect circle almost 300m in diameter with a rectangle attached to the southeast. Looking at a map, it resembles nothing so much as a tape measure.

The edifice nearest the center of the circle is known simply as the Big Bunker (大碉堡). The east and west ends of this building are buttressed by earthen ramparts. These — along with the exceptionally thick walls — were intended to ensure that, if the munitions stored within exploded, the blast wave would go upward, instead of decimating the surrounding structures.

Between 1976 and 1995, this bunker was the location of the ROC Navy’s Mingde Training Class (明德訓練班), where “stubborn” members of the armed forces were disciplined and re-educated. The large chamber in the center of the building was apparently subdivided into cells.

The southernmost building within the site is almost as imposing as the Big Bunker, and like the bunker it has a flat roof on which long grass now grows. Known variously as the Cross-Shaped Radio Station (十字電台) or the Navy Radio Station (海軍電台), this housed much of the wireless apparatus and the personnel who operated it. The thick reinforced-concrete walls and heavy doors (cement and gravel clad in iron) were designed to protect the occupants and their equipment from external attack, rather than contain the effects of a catastrophe within.

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