The "Kaohsiung Zuoying Museum of Military Dependents Village" is about the sad story of the disappearing history and culture of the Taiwanese KMT villages. Whether you’re a foreigner or a local, the museum name doesn’t sound like a museum you’d like to go visit, does it? and trust me when I say that it was very hard to find as even the nearby locals at the Zuoying’s Lotus Pond area had no idea it even existed.
Wikipedia has an excellent introduction to the KMT villages story :
A military dependents’ village (Chinese: 眷村; Hanyu Pinyin: juàn cūn) is a community in Taiwan built in the late 1940s and the 1950s whose original purpose was to serve as provisional housing for Nationalist soldiers and their dependents from mainland China after the KMT retreated to Taiwan. They ended up becoming permanent settlements, forming distinct cultures as enclaves of mainlanders in Taiwanese cities. Over the years, many military dependents’ villages have suffered from urban problems such as housing dereliction, abandonment, urban decay, and urban slum.
Typical jumbled appearance of a military dependents’ village
The houses in these villages were often haphazardly and poorly constructed, having been built hastily and with limited funding. The residents had no private land ownership rights for the houses they lived in, as the land was government property.
In the 1990s, the government began an aggressive program of demolishing these villages and replacing them with highrises, giving the residents rights to live in the new apartments. As of late 2006, there are around 170 left out of an original number of 879, and there are efforts to preserve some as historic sites.
Only 170 out of 879 are left and that number is constantly going down. As I have a couple of friends who grew up in those KMT villages, I could sympathize with how they must feel seeing their homes destroyed even if some of them were in bad state.
Let me ask you – When does something turn into history and culture worth preserving and when is it decided that it should be torn down? I’m not sure. If you ask some of the old KMT folks living there, they feel the DPP decision to tear down all those neighborhoods was political.
The museum was set up to try and preserve some of that culture. It’s quite small, but there’s still a few things to see and it’s especially interesting if you’re lucky to have an English speaking tour-guide on spot (mostly volunteers).
Naturally, you could see the spirit of Chiang Kai Shek all over the place. I find it remarkable that the old KMT army folks were that committed to CKS regardless of all that they’ve been through and where they were living, much because of him. Many of them still are.
BTW – it’s somewhat ironic that this sign was hanging outside :
A while back, when I was living in Tainan, John and I caught an already evicted KMT village as it was being destroyed, to give you the feel of the place and the process…
I also remember visiting one at Kaohsiung that was still alive and kicking back in 2007. I believe all this is gone now and on the way to becoming condensed skyscrapers.
I don’t know, I actually liked that local atmosphere. I honestly didn’t see the dangers. Why did this have to be destroyed and the people evicted against their will? Either way, in a few years it will all be gone. To the families that grew up in those places their first homes in Taiwan will be lost for good.