After Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s giant Rubber Duck bid farewell to Keelung Harbor a few days ago, a group concerned with the city’s culture and history gathered at the port’s No. 2 and No. 3 West warehouses in the cold weather to protest against the city government’s plans to demolish these two historically valuable buildings.
The city will hand the area over to the port’s management company, Taiwan International Ports Corp (TIPC), which will build a new cruise terminal. The protest caused a standoff with police and represents one of many conflicts over the preservation of Taiwan’s cultural heritage.
Any government should be responsible for protecting important cultural heritage. However, whether it be the Puantang (普安堂) lay Buddhist monastery in New Taipei City (新北市) or the Keelung wharves, local governments complete ignore culture and care only about development and commercial profit. In addition, destroying such precious cultural heritage while dispatching police is the kind of behavior that one would expect in more savage and uncivilized countries.
These are the only warehouses in the port remaining from the Japanese colonial era. The buildings witnessed Keelung Port’s rise in importance during the Japanese period, the arrival of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government after its retreat to Taiwan, Taiwan’s economic takeoff and the recent delivery of Taiwan Railway Administration’s Puyuma Express trains.
While the buildings’ exteriors may not seem spectacular, their interior steel frames show industrial technology from the 1930s which, coupled with the memories of those who arrived in Taiwan for the first time in 1949 at the port, makes these buildings important to our heritage and worthy of preservation.
However, in the name of development, the Keelung City Government used its Cultural Affairs Bureau to find a legal way of establishing that the area lacks “cultural value” before handing it over to the TIPC, which plans to replace the buildings with a cruise terminal and other facilities.
Shockingly, the Cultural Affairs Bureau said that incorporating five sets of original steel girders into the new structures would provide sufficient symbolism.
When excavators move in to tear the buildings down, the government and the TIPC will say that the job has already been contracted out and cannot be halted. However, there have been many examples of demolitions being stopped after contracts were issued. For example, the current site of the Directorate-General of Highways in Taipei had been signed over for demolition, but the tear-down was halted and the building eventually preserved as a historical site.
The Keelung City Government has also said that preserving old warehouses gets in the way of development and commerce. However, there are many examples of warehouses overseas that are preserved and turned into world-class tourist attractions. For example, the warehouses at Otaru Port in Japan’s Hokkaido bring in a great deal of commercial revenue each year, while the warehouses at Maizuru Harbor in Kyoto Prefecture are not only a cultural asset, but the entire area has historical significance and is full of memories about people who moved after World War II. This is precisely why this harbor is currently applying for UNESCO World Heritage status.
Keelung boasts lots of cultural heritage. Destroying it in the name of development is outright stupid. If the people of Keelung do not wake up before the elections and vote out this thoughtless and crude regime, it will be impossible to preserve the city’s culture and history.
Hung Chih-wen is a professor of geography at National Taiwan Normal University.
Translated by Drew Cameron
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), China’s “century of humiliation” is the gift that keeps on giving. Beijing returns again and again to the theme of Western imperialism, oppression and exploitation to keep stoking the embers of grievance and resentment against the West, and especially the US. However, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that in 1949 announced it had “stood up” soon made clear what that would mean for Chinese and the world — and it was not an agenda that would engender pride among ordinary Chinese, or peace of mind in the international community. At home, Mao Zedong (毛澤東) launched
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
The restructuring of supply chains, particularly in the semiconductor industry, was an essential part of discussions last week between Taiwan and a US delegation led by US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach. It took precedent over the highly anticipated subject of bilateral trade partnerships, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang’s (張忠謀) appearance on Friday at a dinner hosted by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for Krach was a subtle indicator of this. Chang was in photographs posted by Tsai on Facebook after the dinner, but no details about their discussions were disclosed. With