Taiwan’s second city, and one of the largest container ports in the world, KAOHSIUNG (高雄; gāoxióng) has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in recent years, from polluted industrial centre of two million people to green city of lush parks, waterside cafés, art galleries and museums – all linked by a spanking-new transport system.
The older districts of Zuoying, Yancheng and Cijin Island contain plenty of historic sights and traditional snack stalls, while modern Kaohsiung is best taken in with an evening stroll along the Love River or a visit to soaring 85 Sky Tower close to its bustling shopping districts. With more time, there’s plenty to see on the slopes of Gushan to the west, and around Lotus Lake in Zuoying to the north. You could also hike up to the ridge of hills known as Chaishan, home of Kaohsiung’s famously capricious troupe of monkeys.
The oldest parts of Kaohsiung are Cihou Village on Cijin Island, established in the early seventeenth century, and the suburb of Zuoying, created by Koxinga in the 1660s as county capital, a position it maintained until the late eighteenth century. Cihou, and the harbour as a whole, was known as Takau (or Takow), and remained a sleepy backwater until the port was opened up to foreign companies by the Treaty of Beijing in 1860, attracting merchants eager to exploit the south’s growing export trade in sugar. Foreign trade had its dark side however: by the time the Japanese had assumed control of the city in 1895, a quarter of adult males in the south were addicted to opium. The Japanese imposed an Opium Monopoly in 1897, which effectively destroyed Western dominance of the sugar trade. They also began a major modernization programme, completing the harbour and docks in 1908 and opening the Takau Ironworks, Taiwan’s first iron and steel mill, in 1919. Although the city was heavily bombed by US Air Force planes in 1945, the port was rebuilt and by the late 1970s Kaohsiung was Taiwan’s premier industrial centre. In 1979 the Kaohsiung Incident was a defining moment in Taiwan’s struggle for democracy, and today the city is a DPP stronghold.
Kaohsiung’s name is worth explaining: Takau is thought to derive from a Makatau aboriginal word meaning “bamboo fence”; when this was transliterated into Chinese characters it read “beat the dog” (dǎgǒu), and in 1920 the Japanese changed the characters to the less offensive “Tall Hero”, with the Japanese pronunciation “Takao”. After 1949 the city became known by the Mandarin pronunciation of these characters.Read More
One of several wealthy Buddhist foundations established in Taiwan since the 1960s, Foguangshan Monastery (佛光山寺; fóguāngshān sì) is a vast complex of grand temple architecture, giant statues and Buddhist art. Around 25km northeast of Kaohsiung, it’s an absorbing day-trip from the city, with regular buses making it easy to reach.
The monastery is the home of the Foguangshan International Buddhist Order, founded in 1967 by Master Hsing Yun, an enigmatic monk from China who has spent his life travelling and teaching his unique brand of “Humanistic Buddhism”. Today Foguangshan is part monastery, with around three hundred monks and nuns, and part educational complex, with over a thousand students at its on-site university and high school campus.
Starting at the Non Duality Gate at the front of the monastery, take a look inside the Foguangshan Treasury Museum on the right, packed with Buddhist art, carvings and cultural relics. From here climb straight up the hill towards the stunning main shrine or “Great Hero Hall” – it contains three 7.8m-high Buddha statutes, beautifully cast in bronze and surrounded on all sides by a staggering 14,800 smaller Buddha images lit by tiny lights and displayed within an intricate latticework of carved wood. The latest grandiose addition to the site is the Foguanshan Buddha Memorial Center, with a colossal temple and 50m-high statue of the Buddha as its centrepiece (it’s over 100m tall including the base). The hall houses the venerated Buddha’s tooth relic, donated by a Tibetan monk in 1998. The other highlight is the 36m-high statue of Amitabha Buddha on the east side of the complex (an area known as “Great Buddha Land”). The iconic symbol of the monastery, it is approached by a road lined with 480 smaller statues. You’ll hear the word āmítuófó everywhere you go: this is another name for Buddha, and has become a catch-all for thank you, bless you or hello.
The Kaohsiung Incident
The Kaohsiung Incident
The Kaohsiung Incident (高雄事件; gāoxióng shìjiàn) of December 1979 was a political watershed, often regarded as the beginning of Taiwan’s democratic revolution. Opposition to Taiwan’s one-party state had been growing in the 1970s and, in an apparent concession, President Chiang Ching-kuo had agreed to hold legislative elections in 1979 – but at the last minute, he cancelled them. On Human Rights Day (Dec 10) a rally was organized in Kaohsiung in protest, the activists spurred on by the arrest the night before of two workers for Meilidao (“Formosa” in English), a clandestine publication that was a focus for dissidents. Things quickly got out of hand as police were brought in to disperse the crowds, and violent scuffles ensued. In the aftermath, almost every member of the unofficial opposition was arrested, culminating in the trial, in 1980, of the “Kaohsiung Eight” for sedition. Most were jailed for lengthy periods, but the trial was widely publicized and as a result the defendants garnered a great deal of sympathy, ultimately creating a wider base for democratic reform.
Today, the list of those involved reads like a “Who’s Who” of Taiwanese politics, many becoming leaders of the Tangwai (dăngwài; Outside Party) movement and later the Democratic Progressive Party: Chen Shui-bian (president 2000–08) and Frank Hsieh (former Kaohsiung mayor and premier) were lawyers on the defence team, while Annette Lu (vice-president 2000–08), Lin Yi-hsiung (former leader of the DPP) and Shih Ming-teh (ex-DPP chairman and political activist) served five to ten years in jail. Although no one died during the incident, Lin’s mother and twin 7-year-old daughters were murdered while he was in prison, a case that remains unsolved.