Traditional industries in Nantou County’s Puli Township (埔里) are seeking to revitalize the area by transitioning into tourist-centred handicraft factories, offering handicraft outlets in the hope of enticing more tourists to the area.
Once one of the country’s most important handicraft manufacturing hubs, in the 1960s and 1970s Puli was home to several hundred workshops which made and exported miniature wooden figurines, which bear a resemblance to nutcracker figurines, that were largely exported to Europe and the US.
These products kept rice on the table for many families in the township and also sparked artistic creativity in the area.
However, with new technologies and rising wages driving the transformation of the industry, the handicraft business — which was almost exclusively reliant on large amounts of manpower — has largely moved its factories to Southeast Asia or China.
Yet with modern tourists placing an emphasis on “Do It Yourself” (DIY) tours and with certain retro styles once more in vogue, business owners said they have recently shifted the focus of their industry back to Puli.
The shift in the handicraft trade from practical manufacturing to DIY tourist-centred workshops makes it the second traditional industry in the Puli area to seek alternative ways to develop in testing modern times — the first being the manual paper-making industry.
The post-World War II period saw an exponential rise in the demand for paper across Taiwan and at its height Puli was home to about 50 manual paper-making factories. With the introduction of the mechanization of paper-making, the industry has declined and the few existing firms have also turned to tourism, and the sale of manually made paper.
Shih Wen-chieh (施文傑), a second-generation owner of a handicraft industry company, said the tourist-centred factories did not just generate nostalgia for tourists, but were also capable of manufacturing customized products for consumers.
“Jewelry boxes, music boxes, assorted wooden boxes for miscellaneous usage, wooden photograph frames, color-painted wood products and custom-made movements [components used in music boxes], we have them all,” said Shih, expressing hope that the traditional industries will be revitalized through the development of tourist-centred handicraft factories.