Hakka town: Meinong


Meinong is the “right settlement” among the six settlements of Taiwanese Hakka people known as Liudui. Due to the large number of Hakka people settling in and developing the Liudui area during the Qing Dynasty, Meinong still retains a rich Hakka culture and is one of the most famous Hakka cultural areas in Southern Taiwan. The majority of its residents are still Hakkas, who account for about 93.5% of its population. Meinong is also the hometown of many famous people, such as Chung Li-he (鍾理和), one of the pioneers of Taiwan's local literature, and his eldest son, Chung Tie-min (鍾鐵民) as well as the Hakka music composer Lin Sheng-hsiang (林生祥). There are also a lot of tourism activities that celebrate local Hakka culture. 

In 1736, the Hakka people built the "Mi Nong" village here and thus began the history of this town. At that time, a master from Guangdong came here to teach techniques of making paper umbrella. Since then, paper umbrella has gradually become a local specialty industry. In the early days of Hakka villages, when a Hakka woman gets married, the woman usually receives two paper umbrellas as a dowry to bless the new couple’s life together. The umbrellas also symbolize wishes that she will bear a child soon. That’s because the Hakka word for "paper" is a homonym of the word for "child." When a boy turns 16 years old, he will also receive a pair of paper umbrellas for the same reason.

The early Meinong paper umbrella factories were named after the word "Guang," such as Guangzheng Xing, Guang De Xing, Guang Rong Xing, and Guang Mei Xing. Before the 1960s, oil paper umbrellas, tobacco and rice were important sources of income in the Meinong area. In the 1960s, the Meinong paper umbrella industry reached its peak. There were more than 20 paper umbrella factories in Meinong and more than 20,000 umbrellas were made each year. However, since Taiwan's industrial sector began to develop rapidly, and Western-style umbrellas produced by machines were cheaper, more durable and easier to carry, Taiwan began mass producing machine-made umbrellas and soon became known as “the kingdom of umbrellas.” This led to machine-made umbrellas gradually replacing oil-paper umbrellas, and caused many traditional umbrella factories to be forced to close down.

Another specialty industry in Meinong was tobacco production. In the past, every winter, one can see the scene of green tobacco fields. In the early years, the “tobacco building” or factory was a symbol of Meinong’s wealth. There were more than 1,000 tobacco buildings in the town that produced a quarter of the tobacco in Taiwan at the time. Although the tobacco industry gradually declined with Taiwan’s opening to imported tobacco and the impact from its entry into the WTO in 1993, the local special Hakka style, combined with the distinctive natural humanities of the Meinong tobacco leaves, make the tobacco buildings a unique landscape of today's town.

 

Yuan Xiang Yuan Paper Umbrella Culture Village | 原鄉緣紙傘文化村

© Tourism Bureau (Photo credit: Chen Cheng-wei)

In 1988, Li Hong-jun (李鴻鈞), the founder of the cultural village felt the decline of local culture and the loss of Hakka cultural relics. Therefore, he decided to stop pursuing a career in music and devoted himself to the preservation and promotion of the local culture and art of oil paper umbrella making. Li and his wife are third generation inheritors of oil-paper umbrella making. They are committed to promoting the life of paper umbrella art and establishing the first Hakka Meinong Paper Umbrella Culture Village in Taiwan.

 

Fu Family Tobacco Building, Lin Family Tobacco Building | 傅家菸樓, 林家菸樓


Meinong’s tobacco buildings are of the Japanese Osaka-style type. Their biggest feature is the addition of a small penthouse-style attic on the ridge. The main function of this small upper attic is to increase the space for stacking tobacco leaves, and to adjust the temperature, ventilation and heat dissipation using the skylight. The lower floor is the work room, baking room, stove and finished product storage room. The walls of the tobacco building were generally made of adobe bricks and red bricks, but the insulation from adobe bricks is better than that of the red bricks, so most of the tobacco buildings were made of adobe bricks. But that is why the tobacco buildings cannot be preserved for a long time and disappeared so quickly. In order to preserve this important basis of the cultural industry, the government reconstructed two “model tobacco buildings” as examples for the preservation of tobacco culture.

 

Lin Chun Yu Gate |林春雨門樓

Lin Chun Yu Gate is the ancient house of Lin Chun-yu, the former “King of Tobacco” in Meinong. Lin Chun-yu worked as an accountant in his early years. It was not until 1935, when he was 45 years old, that he began to grow tobacco. Due to the abundant harvest every year, he continued to invest in the purchase of land to grow tobacco and in the construction of tobacco buildings. In the peak period, he had 20 “jia” or 19.4 hectares of land (1 jia = 0.97 hectare), and the land he used to grow tobacco amounted to 18 jia. He also had 10 tobacco buildings and another 100 houses, making him the richest man in Meinong at the time.

In order to defend against the intrusion of outsiders and bandits, early Meinong residents planted thorny bamboo forests to be used as walls, and protected the village from the outside surroundings by building high walls. Only one gate in front of a grain-drying field was used for access. Such gates were mostly made of masonry and thick planks. Wealthier families would decorate the gates and build towering ridges, calling them “men lou.” At the time, "Lin Chun-yu Gate" was a symbol of wealthy people. In 1995, the government was carrying out urban planning and the gate was almost dismantled. To save the house, hundreds of people in the Lin family launched a petition and got to preserve the building in the end.