One of Taiwan’s oldest port towns, LUGANG (鹿港; lùgǎng) has preserved much of its architectural and cultural heritage, largely thanks to the efforts of its famously conservative inhabitants. Lugang’s historic temples are wonderfully atmospheric, but much of the town’s fame derives from its tasty snacks and traditional handicrafts, created by the greatest concentration of master craftsmen in the country. But while the town is eulogized in Taiwan as the epitome of classical China, its appeal tends to be exaggerated – the historic centre is relatively small, and it’s surrounded by urban development that’s classic modern Taiwan. Adjust your expectations accordingly and Lugang can still make a fascinating day-trip from Changhua or Taichung. Thanks to the gradual silting up of its harbour, one of the oddest things about Lugang today is that the Lugang River is a long walk from the old part of town, and the sea is now several kilometres away.
Lugang means “Deer Harbour,” an allusion to the herds of deer that once roamed the Changhua plains, now long since hunted to extinction. Settlers from Fujian established the town in the early seventeenth century, and it became Taiwan’s second largest after Tainan for most of the 1700s. Lugang’s decline began in the late nineteenth century as the harbour began to silt up and by 1895 it was closed to major shipping: the town rapidly became a conservative backwater in the years that followed, avoiding the modernization engulfing the rest of the island until the late 1970s, when tourism gave the economy a much needed boost.