The historic gold mining town of Jiufen, an easy day-trip from Taipei or Keelung, occupies a stunning hillside location with fine views of the northeast coast. It’s justifiably renowned for its tasty snack food and atmospheric teahouses, though despite the hype, the town itself is architecturally fairly typical and not especially attractive. From Jiufen, the road runs 2km over the Mount Keelung ridge to Jinguashi, fast becoming a major tourist destination in its own right and far more interesting. Most of the town’s mining-related attractions have been absorbed into the Gold Ecological Park, an ambitious project that combines restored Japanese buildings with old mining tunnels and ruined temples.
Gold was discovered in the Keelung River in 1889, and in 1896 the Japanese began intensive mining in the area, dividing the land split by Mount Keelung between two government-run companies named after the officers in command: the concession operated by Tanaka Group became Jinguashi, while Fujita Group developed Jiufen. The gold ore on the Jiufen side was less pure and in 1899 the Japanese began to lease the concession to local entrepreneur Yen Yun-nien who founded the Taiyang Mining Corp in 1920 and began sub-leasing smaller chunks of land to Chinese prospectors. As a consequence, Jiufen developed haphazardly as a series of independent claims, gaining a reputation as a get-rich-quick town, or Little Hong Kong, in the 1930s.
Taiyang ceased all operations in Jiufen in 1971, and though artists started to settle here in the early 1980s, the good times seemed to be over – Hou Hsiao-hsien’s 1989 movie City of Sadness, in large part shot in a then atmospheric Jiufen, changed all that. The film was the first to make reference (very indirectly) to the 2-28 Incident and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Overnight the town became a must-see attraction, creating the tourist carnival that still exists today. One of its admirers is Hayao Miyazaki, who used Jiufen as inspiration for the village in his Japanese anime hit Spirited Away (2001).
In contrast, the Japanese maintained direct control over Jinguashi until 1945, the town developing in an orderly, pragmatic fashion. Its silver and especially copper deposits, discovered in 1905, became far more important than gold – by the 1930s the town was home to around 80,000 people with the hills honeycombed by a staggering 600km of tunnels. Mining finally ceased in 1987 when debts bankrupted the state-owned Taiwan Metal Mining Company – there’s still gold in the hills but it’s become too expensive to extract commercially.Read More
The narrow backstreets of JIUFEN (九份; jiŭfèn) are generally vehicle-free and, away from the busier areas, local life proceeds remarkably undisturbed. Most visitors get off the bus adjacent to the Keting Parking Area at the top end of town, proceeding downhill straight into Jishan Street (基山街; jīshān jiē) to gorge on its vast array of snacks. However, if you fancy some exercise before tucking in, it’s not far up the road to the trailhead for Mount Keelung (基隆山; jīlóngshān). On a fine day the short but steep hike to the summit (588m) offers a spectacular panorama of both Jiufen and Jinguashi (allow 30min for an easy hike up).
Back in town, if you keep walking along Jinshan Street you’ll eventually reach Jiufen’s most picturesque corner, Shuqi Road (豎崎路; shùqí lù), actually a series of stone steps slicing through the middle of town and lined with teahouses and old buildings. Walk downhill to the junction with Qingpian Road, turn left along the road and you’ll eventually come to a small square in front of the entrance to Wufankeng (五番坑; wŭfānkēng) or No. 5 Mine, an evocative relic of Jiufen’s mining days – it’s locked up but you can still peer through the bars. Retrace your steps to Shuqi Road and a short walk in the other direction along Qingpian you’ll see gaudy Chenghuang Temple (城隍廟; chénghuáng miào), housing Jiufen’s City God. Continuing downhill, back on Shuqi Road, you’ll end up at a junction on the main road, with the bus stop on the opposite side.
Nestling in a small valley, just over the hill from Jiufen, JINGUASHI (金瓜石; jīnguāshí) has only a handful of inhabitants and plenty of atmospheric alleys and streets to explore. Much of the old village is preserved within the absorbing Gold Ecological Park, an industrial heritage area that covers the western half of the valley.
Prisoner of war camps in Taiwan
Prisoner of war camps in Taiwan
Thailand’s “death railway” is notorious in the English-speaking world (in part thanks to the film Bridge on the River Kwai), but few people are aware that the Japanese operated at least fifteen POW camps in Taiwan during World War II. More than 4300 men were incarcerated on the island, most of them British or Commonwealth troops captured in Hong Kong or Singapore, Dutch from Indonesia and Americans from the Philippines. Life was as brutal for the POWs here as anywhere else in Asia, with each camp revolving around a system of forced labour: in Camp No. 1, also known as Kinkaseki (金瓜石戰俘營; jīnguāshí zhànfúyíng), near Jinguashi, prisoners were forced to work in the Japanese copper mine in appalling conditions, while those at Taichu Camp (Camp No. 2), near Taichung, worked on a massive flood channel – many died from starvation, disease and ill-treatment. The camps were largely forgotten after the war, but thanks to a long campaign by former prisoners and expats living in Taiwan, a memorial was erected at the Kinkaseki site in 1997, and in 1999 the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society was formed to research all POW camps on the island (wwww.powtaiwan.org). Several plaques have since been erected all over Taiwan, and a short memorial service takes place at Kinkaseki every year around November 11.