Sun, Mar 10, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Serving the top of the upper class

Kansanlau was the most luxurious and prestigious of Dadaocheng’s ‘big four’ banquet halls during the Japanese era, earning the exclusive rights to serve visiting members of the imperial family after impressing the crown prince in 1923

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A photo of Dadaocheng during its heyday in the 1920s.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

March 11 to March 17

Wu Chiang-shan (吳江山) meticulously prepared for the banquet a week in advance. Everything had to be perfect because the guest of honor was then-Japanese crown prince Hirohito, who would ascend the throne three years later. It was 1923, and Wu’s banquet hall, Kangsanlau (江山樓), and its rival, Donghuifang (東薈芳), were hired as co-caterers for the royal affair, which was held at the Governor-General’s Office, today’s Presidential Office Building in Taipei.

Hirohito loved Wu’s Taiwanese cuisine, especially the eight treasures rice pudding, and asked then-governor general Kenjiro Den to reward Kangsanlau. From that point on, Kangsanlau took over as sole caterer for members of the imperial family in Taiwan, while Donghuifang fell into decline due to mismanagement and disputes.

Kangsanlau and Donghuifang were two of the “big four” banquet halls, or jiulou (酒樓), that served Taiwanese cuisine during the Japanese colonial era. Featuring female entertainers and hostesses, the jiulou were established so that Taiwanese businessmen could socialize with each other as well as Japanese. To fit the tastes of the Japanese colonizers, they were cleaner, more refined and provided better service than other eateries.

Kangsanlau was considered the most luxurious and popular of the four, but it too didn’t survive past the 1950s as Dadaocheng declined as a business area and the government placed stringent restrictions on entertainment. The building was razed in 1976, bringing this chapter in Taiwanese history to a close.

THE BIG FOUR

Kangsanlau’s owner, Wu Chiang-shan, originally co-owned Donghuifang, which was established in 1884 as one of the first jiulou in Taipei. It moved several times in its early years before settling near the City God Temple in Dadaocheng.

Of course, these establishments would not have been as popular if they hadn’t had female entertainers, similar to Japanese geishas, who played music, danced and drank with the customers. They were not employed by the jiulou, who would hire them for a fee.

Lai Ho’s (賴和) poem Bidding Farewell at Huancuilou (環翠樓送別), depicts the jiulou as one of the few places where Japanese and Taiwanese could forget their differences and animosity and enjoy each other’s company. For example, the lavish three-day opening banquet for Kangsanlau saw about 300 guests per day, who were evenly split between Japanese and Taiwanese. Government and business meetings as well as cultural activities, feasts and weddings were often hosted in a jiulou. It was also a hotbed for resistance against colonial rule — Kangsanlau played host to a welcome party for the 1923 delegation who went to Japan to petition for Taiwanese autonomy, and also was the launch site for the influential Taiwanese-run newspaper Taiwan Minpao (台灣民報).

By the 1900s, Donghuifang had become a favorite haunt for Taiwanese intellectuals, who drank, enjoyed performances and wrote poems. In 1911, exiled Qing reformist Liang Qichao (梁啟超), who was visiting from Japan, wrote on the spot a well-known poem lamenting Taiwan’s situation under foreign rule. During his brief stay, Liang greatly influenced Taiwanese elites to embark on peaceful resistance against the colonizers. Liang was invited by Lin Hsien-tang (林獻堂), head of the prominent Wufeng Lin family (霧峰林家), who celebrated his 30th birthday that same year at Donghuifang.

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