Categories: Kaohsiung

Disappearing Taiwanese Juan Cun Culture : Museum of KMT Villages

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.

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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).

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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 :

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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…

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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.

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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.

View Comments

  • I wanted to visit one in Kaohsiung and I just found out through Google Street view, that it's been leveled to the ground. This really ANGERS me. Those settlements were a part of Taiwanese history and culture. They had become part of the local art scene. I am extremely disappointed that despite local efforts to save them, they have been destroyed. This is very sad. This would NEVER happened in the U.S. I guess Taiwan has different planning laws. I also think it was politically motivated. Those villages weren't bothering anyone, and I don't see why at least some of the homes with art on them weren't preserved for tourists. At least the Rainbow Village in Taichung is still intact. Anywhere else I can find these?

  • I agree with what tv said below: "Juancun were built to purposefully isolate its inhabitants from the Taiwanese population and they were educated and propagandized to feel different from the rest of the population."

    Isolating people into different groups is the easiest way for an authoritarian regime to control people. Only after effective blocking of the communication among groups is the regime able to tell one group one thing and other groups another, and manipulate one group to go against another.

    This tactic of "divide and conquer" planted the seed of social polarization in the past decades. To many Taiwanese, the existence of juancun not only represents the onset of decades of social chaos, but also and most importantly, a symbol of decades of discrimination and suppression from an invading colonizing force.

  • there is a huge tract of land in Taoyuan (in Bade) where the military village is being torn down so that new housing complexes can be built. the amount of effort and money being spent is staggering.

  • TV - this is a complex political issue that you've narrowed down to mere stereotypical statements. Juan Cuns are anything but funded squalor and whether or not gangs come from those villages or not shouldn't by itself be sufficient excuse to destroy them across Taiwan. Whatever the KMT officials were or were not doing should have nothing to do with the KMT families built around KMT soldiers who were relocated to Taiwan away from their Chinese families - sometimes against their will, experiencing heart breaking stories of separation and dislocation. Whatever those KMT villages have served in the past, many of them not for the purposes you describe, they have not been that for many years. We might be able to agree that both sides were victims to CKS' dictatorship role and corrupted KMT high officials, but the decision to tear all those down by the former government still puzzles me - regardless of whatever friends I have and my Taiwan political views.

  • Nice post, but I think you should try to keep a more neutral view towards what your friends told you about the villages. Political for the DPP to demolish them? Do you know who built and runs those villages? It's called the "political warfare" arm of the military. Who the heck maintains a political warfare arm for domestic purposes? Juancun were built to purposefully isolate its inhabitants from the Taiwanese population and they were educated and propagandized to feel different from the rest of the population. In fact, many of the kids growing up in juancun's didn't even know that they (mainlanders) weren't the majority in Taiwan! As you said, they really were slums. Between the sanitary problems, the inhumaneness of letting people continue to live in government constructed and funded squalor, and the criminal activity (quite a lot of gangs came out of the villages), I would call it playing politics if they kept them around.

    And to think all this is happening while the old waisheng military generals are fattening themselves (even to this day), occupying luxurious public housing (villas) in the best locations and getting free cars and drivers. What a ridiculous contrast...

    Juancun's actually have been long celebrated and maybe it's not PC to say, but waisheng dominate the media (TV, movies, even the written word whether it's newspapers or fictional novels), and they are a very loud group. There are plenty of books, TV shows, exhibitions, and musuems already about this...

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