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.

Brief history

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.

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