A heritage site in Taipei that has preserved more than 70 years of history as a brothel, which was opened to the public under the management of the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), may have to close down because the new property owner had asked the group to move out of the building.
The Wen Men Building, a two-story building constructed in 1925, mainly served as a brothel for the working class during the Japanese colonial period. It became a legal brothel in 1956 and was a popular place for years until the Taipei City Government outlawed sex work in 1997, COSWAS secretary Wu Jo-ying (吳若瑩) said.
Licensed sex workers were totally banned in 2001, Wu said.
Inside the building were small rooms, each featuring a bed with floral-patterned sheets and a small dresser. Pictures of people who used to work in the building still hung on the walls, along with a faded notification paper from the city government in 1978 prohibiting people under the age of 20 from entering the building.
COSWAS, a group that supports licensed sex workers and promotes the legal working rights of women in the sex trade, had rented the first floor of the building for the past 14 years, using it as an office and an educational site for the public to learn about the history of the sex industry.
Although the building has been designated a municipal heritage site by the city’s Department of Culture Affairs in 2006, the new property owner, surnamed Liu (劉), who bought the building last year, filed a lawsuit against the group, asking it to move out.
The Shihlin District Court (士林地方法院) ruled against COSWAS last month, demanding the group vacate the building. The ruling has allowed Liu to proceed with the group’s eviction.
COSWAS and support groups held a press conference in front of the building yesterday morning, calling for the conservation of the cultural heritage site.
Wu said the group suspected that the new owner’s intention is to sell and profit from the transfer of development rights on a heritage site or for urban renewal after buying the land from the Bank of Taiwan.
COSWAS executive director Chung Chun-chu (鍾君竺) said the group had received funding from the Department of Culture Affairs in the past, but it was not informed of the property transfer until it was asked to move out by the new owner.
Wu said the department had neglected its duty by not giving the group pre-emptive rights, as stipulated in the Cultural Heritage Conservation Act (文化資產保存法), to purchase the building to preserve its cultural significance.
Based on the court’s ruling, the eviction can be temporarily halted if the group posts bond in the amount of NT$3.3 million (US$111,486), Wu said, adding that the group was seeking funding from the government as well as from the public.
John Liu (劉可強), a professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, said allowing former workers to narrate the building’s history was important in preserving the cultural meaning of Wen Meng Building.
Since the new Cabinet has said it would promote social justice, it should respect the history of such cultural sites.
“The government should allow cultural diversity in society and should not allow economic growth to take precedence over cultural values,” said Lee Hsiu-chien (李修鑑), a cultural history workshop owner.