Growing up in Tainan, a developing city in Southern Taiwan, I had not really thought about the history of my hometown until I visited Anping, an ancient town located near the west coastal area of the country where the first chapter of Taiwanese history started. It was a place where international trades occurred and where different western cultures mixed with Taiwanese culture. I knew from school lectures in the past that Taiwan was colonized by the Dutch, Chinese and Japanese. However, I could not visualize the immense influence these colonies had on the overall appearance of the city of Tainan until I was actually there this time. The multinational influences on Taiwanese culture could not only be seen in the architecture, but in the everyday life of the residents living in Anping.
In 1624, the Dutch East India came to occupy the southern part of Taiwan at the city of Tainan, which back then was called “Tayuan”(大員). They set a stronghold called Fort Zeelandia at Tayuan to fight against the Ming authority that was settled in the Penhu islands on the west side of the coast of Taiwan in hope of securing a trading spot. Before their invasion, only aboriginals and a very little number of Chinese lived in Taiwan. Taiwan was undeveloped and uncivilized. It was not until the Dutch came, and later colonized Tayuan, did Taiwan begin to have written legislations and a government. They built hospitals, conference halls and dormitories for the Dutch pioneers to stay in, all of which have now been turned into museums where visitors can enter with a very low entrance fee (free for local residents are around 50 NT dollar for most sites). As I walked down the roads and small alleyways in Anping, I also saw remnants of the walls of Fort Zeelandia integrated with modern houses and hidden within small alleys. If you do not want to pay for the entrance fee, but still want to learn about the early history of Taiwan, you can look for the nicely set-up informational boards that are put pretty much all over Anping beside the pedestrian walkway.
England, Germany, and America also set their trading spots, called “Hong”, in Anping and sent their pioneers to stay in Taiwan for years so that they could trade local goods with countries nearby. There were five main Hong’s in Taiwan during the 17th century. England alone owned three of them: Elles & Company (怡記), Tait & Company (德記) and Boyd & Company (和記). Germany owned Julius Mannich & Company (東興) and America owned Wright & Company (唻記). However, when I walked through Anping, I realized that most of the Hong’s no longer existed. For instance, Elles & Company turned into a giant parking lot presumably because tourism was growing rapidly in the city of Tainan. On the other hand, Julius Mannich & Company, which still exists, was renovated and transformed into a museum.
Unfortunately, like many other historical heritage sites around the world, Anping has been overly renovated and heavily commercialized. While I still saw the remnants of the old Tayuan city during my visit, many houses have been turned into stores that sell local goods, food and souvenir. In 2006, the government officially passed the Anping Harbor Historical Park special district plan to preserve the heritage left in Anping.
I would have to admit though, that the renovation brought lots of amazing restaurants and stores that sell some pretty awesome stuff. During the weekends, Anping holds a street fair on Yen Ping street, where vendors all around Tainan go there to attract the tourists with their mouth-watering snacks, such as deep-fried wanton, oyster omelet, white gourd tea, shrimp cracker and shrimp spring roll. Going to Anping and tasting the food there are universal experiences that every Tainan resident should have because it does not cost much to get there to eat and experience the rich historical heritage of early Taiwan; moreover, Anping is only a 20 minutes ride from the downtown area. Anping helps make Tainan a city of good and cheap food, which further exemplifies the rich food culture in Taiwan.
Anping was later taken back under the Chinese government’s rule until Japan came to colonize Taiwan in 1895. Just like the Dutch, the Japanese greatly influenced the culture and appearance of Anping. I visited one of the dormitories that they built for workers who worked for the salt company in the past. Surprisingly, the structure of the dormitories was really well designed and very delicately made. It seemed to me that the Japanese must have treated the workers pretty nicely. The dorm is no longer open for living but the look of the interior still reminds me of the look of a five star hot spring resort in Taiwan. I just cannot believe that the workers were able to live in that kind of housing in the past!
Anping, often unheard of by the foreigners, is one of the most noteworthy towns in early Taiwan history. It is extremely rich in its historical heritage and multinational cultures. If you ever get a chance to be in Tainan, whether it be for vacation or for work, take your time there and appreciate the rich cultures and the amazing food!