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Monday, June 3, 2013

This Old House: What Difference Does Fit Make?


What difference does fit make? It makes some. And now that I've gone. I'm not feeling very sick or sore today.


Today was a short ride around Dadu Shan to simply get a sense of the new fit without the risk of going too far afield and having some problem flare up.


Keeping it short was also good for the fact that I had been relying on different muscles to ride and I felt extremely weak as I rolled up and down the hill.

I felt very comfortable in my back and shoulders. My knees felt great.


The heat was amazing. I haven't been as active on the bike since the heat of summer arrived and I was really not used to the high temperatures. I used to go out in this kind of weather and century rides, carrying only one water bottle. Not now.


I used the descent on Cheng-gong Ling (成功嶺) to get a feel for the cornering and agility of the bike after the refitting. It felt great.


It is sometimes in the rare moments of cycling inspiration that truly amazing things happen. This was one of those inspired rides.

I had seen a smaller road at the bottom of Cheng-gong Ling that I presumed led back to the Ling Dong area, but I had yet to ride it. As I buzzed along rice fields and through neighborhoods of mud-walled shacks, haphazardly stacked one upon the other in a battle for Feng-shui or simply available property, I sliced through a narrow gap and right into the shadow of one of the largest and most ornate manor houses from the Japanese Colonial Period in central Taiwan.

In Taichung there are few large family homes left, and those that remain are generally traditional Han style structures based on the three-walled farmhouse. The story of the house was a bit mysterious and as I went through my library and what little information there is online, I think I may have found the most plausible explanation.


According to some sources, the house in Wu-er was built by a poet, surnamed Chen, from a large landholding family in 1920. The original owner's grandfather passed the Qing era civil service examination and likely received an award of government owned "wasteland" to rent out to tenant farmers. It is unlikely the land was acquired through the appropriation of tribal land as Wuer sits adjacent to Wang Tian (王田) or the "Crown Fields" once the exclusive domain of the House of Orange. During the late Qing Taiwanese examination participants received preferential selection in an effort to help quell Taiwan's notoriously contentious and anti-government population.

When the Japanese colonial administration arrived, they left much of the existing Qing land policies in place and hoped to co-opt the gentry class into supporting the Japanese colonial program in an effort to quickly gain control and the allegiance of the Taiwanese.

The structure of the house embodies many of the conflicts extant during the early-middle period of Japanese rule as the first Japanese civil administrators looked toward the new doka policy to begin the process of Taiwanese assimilation and integration into a budding Japanese empire.

There is a clear use of baroque styling, which was popular in Japanese colonial Taiwan as it represented the perceived modernity of the West, which the Japanese viewed as essential for projecting its dominance over the rest of Asia.

In Japanese colonial Taiwan, the gentry class felt they should be regarded as equals to the Japanese, and sought to leverage their wealth and local power to overcome the stigma of the colonized. This stigma led many elite families to use demonstrations of their modernity to gain acceptance in a society where the lines between colonized and colonizer were still quite clear.

On the other hand, the house was built with a main section (hall) and two wings on wither side of a courtyard. This was to emulate the traditional Han style compound and essential to capturing Feng-shui.    Many of the landed elite were the last to give up their traditional Han cultural practices as elite families sent their children to special schools to learn the Confucian classics and other cultural traits that were popular during the late Qing when the power of the gentry was at its zenith.

The house was obviously built for spectacle to impart on the visitor the feeling of opulence sophistication and grandeur.


As I stood there taking it all in, I wondered how such an ornate structure could fall into such a state of disrepair. How could a family's fortune have turned to such a degree that this massive house could simply sit abandoned, rotting in place.

The sad fate of this family may be closely entwined with its fortunes.

In 1945, following Japan's surrender to the allies, the Chinese Party-State under the Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) arrived to administer Taiwan until a decision of sovereignty over Taiwan could be attained. No resolution was ever reached and the issue remains unresolved.

Despite Taiwan's unresolved status the KMT remained on Taiwan with the support of the United States as the fall out from the Cold War enveloped Asia. The KMT lost the Chinese Civil War and retreated to Taiwan in 1949, where the KMT hoped to regroup and retake China with American assistance.

In an effort to neutralize potential opposition to KMT rule on Taiwan, the government sought to neutralize the Taiwanese elite, whom they regarded as Japanese sympathizers and "traitors to the Chinese race". The violence perpetrated by the KMT throughout the March of 1947 targeted the educated elite and either eliminated political opposition or silenced opposition with fear.

As non-land owners, the KMT instigated a program of land reform that has often been heralded as "bloodless"in comparison to the violent turn of events that marked China's land reform program. The Taiwanese elite made for the best logical target to avoid the mistakes made by the KMT in China of alienating the peasant farmers in support of their wealthy industrialist cronies.

The echoes of the 1947 killings actively silenced Taiwanese opposition to KMT mainlander hegemony and the state land reform policies leaving the elite families little recourse but to cooperate.

KMT land reform involved limiting tenant taxes, distributing former government lands, and instituting a land to the tiller program. Landlords were offered 70% rice bonds for paddy land or sweet potatoes for dry land. They were then given 30% of their land value in monopoly bonds for state owned enterprises, tying the fortunes of the elite with the fortunes of the KMT party-state.

This scheme worked out well for some elite families, such as the famous Ku family, but many of these elites were aware of the KMT and their history with fiscal mismanagement, causing them to sell off their depreciating shares (shares that would eventually yield immense profits during the 1960's).

The Chen family of Wu-er were likely awarded rice bonds, but with most of their former wealth coming from tenant farmers, they were largely cut off from their cash flow and were unable to pay property taxes on the residence.

The house was eventually sold to the Liu family trust, which had sought to replace the house with a modern concrete box. When financing fell through the house sat vacant, occupied by squatters.

The house was recently rediscovered by the Taichung City Government, and it is slated to become a regional attraction for holiday makers arriving on the nearby High Speed Rail.

This may be the first and last time the KMT worked against the interests of the 1%.


House Information (Chinese):



Japanese Era Buildings

View Xuétián Rd, Wuri District in a larger map

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