[Writing.Photography: Su-yi Lin]
The Profile of Toucheng Old Street Community, Yilan County, Taiwan
Coverage: Chengdong (城東) , Chengnan (城南), Chengxi (城西), and Chengbei (城北) villages
Population: 3,563 people, 1010 households
Developer: Toucheng Cultural Development Association
Workstation: Toucheng Culture Museum
Location: No.65, Heping St., Toucheng Township, Yilan County
Toucheng (頭城), a township in the northern coast of Yilan County, is always an important entrance to Yilan. Being the first place circled by walls and cultivated by Han people in Lanyang Plain (蘭陽平原), Toucheng was originally named Touwei (頭圍). In 1976, the settlers built Cingyuan Temple (慶元宮), the first temple in Yilan. In 1826, Emperor Jiaqing (嘉慶) of the Ching Dynasty designated the construction of Wushih Harbor (烏石港), Yilan’s trading center with the outside world at that time. The riverbank between Wushih Harbor and Cingyuan Temple, the predecessor of Toucheng Old Street, quickly became prosperous because of the booming water shipping business. Unfortunately, Wushih Harbor was flooded in 1878. An American ship sank and subsequently blocked the harbor entrance in 1883. Although the water shipping function was partially moved to Touwei Harbor, it was also flooded in 1924. In the end, the glory of Toucheng Old Street has gradually petered out.
The sign of Toucheng Old Street beside Cingyuan Temple
Unlike other old streets in Taiwan, Toucheng Old Street is still “living”. Local residents live in the old buildings and keep their simple lifestyles. It is common to see young kids riding bikes or skipping ropes on the street. With a door ajar, we can see old men sitting on chairs and watching TV. However, Toucheng lost its traffic importance in 2006 due to the opening of the Hsuehshan Tunnel (雪山隧道), which cut down the journey time between Taipei city and Yilan county from two hours to just half an hour. The crisis deeply affected the economic activities in Toucheng, so some local people began to evaluate their living space and future development. With support from the Regional Cultural Asset and Environment Preservation and Development Program (區域型文化資產環境保存及活化計畫) by the Council for Cultural Affairs, they formed the Toucheng Cultural Development Association (頭城文化發展協會) and founded the Toucheng Culture Museum (頭城文化館) on the old street. The mission of the association focuses on the old street preservation and the precious local culture development.
Toucheng Culture Museum
1. The Old Street Preservation
Toucheng Old Street is lined with old buildings, many of which are from the Ching Dynasty and the Japanese rule. Two historic temples worshipping the local earth gods (土地公) are situated at either end of the street, which is said to keep the wealth within. At the north end are the traces of the Ching harbor and the linked house where thirteen associated businesses once ran a thriving trading business there (十三行街屋). At the south end are the refined arched houses, made of red brick and washed-up stones with expensively decorated home facades as well as imitation Baroque and Greco-Roman column structure during the Japanese colonial period. Furthermore, the landmark Lu Zuan Siang's Mansion (盧纘祥宅), built in 1928 by the former county chief, combines Japanese, western and traditional Minnan (southern Fujian) architectural styles. According to academic research, boats could reach the pond in front of the mansion from Touwei Harbor before 1924.
The northern shrine and the linked house at the north end
The refined arched houses at the south end
However, the maintenance and repair process of the old buildings is full of difficulties and frustrations. One opposition comes from the cultural property owners. For example, an ancient house owner privately destroyed the decorated home facades because he did not want his house regulated by Cultural Asset Preservation Law (文化資產保存法). The pond in front of the Lu Zuan Siang's Mansion, a historical site related to Touwei Harbor, was almost stuffed by the landlord because he wanted to build new buildings on the site. Another opposition is resulted from the carelessness of the public sectors’ contractors and the disappointment of the cultural property owners. We heard that some house owners finally agreed to participate in the preservation program, but during typhoon seasons afterward, the rain dripped down from leaks in the walls rebuilt by the public sectors’ contractors.
2. The Precious Local Culture Development
In addition to the hardware preservation, the members in the Toucheng Cultural Development Association also pay lots of attention to software development. Expanding traditional religious customs to local cultural activities, they initial two successful projects: “the competition of creative turtles (「千龜來朝」創意神龜選秀大賽)” and “the handicrafts of big god puppets (大神尪手工藝習作)”.
A. The competition of creative turtles
Turtles have a close relationship with Toucheng Old Street Community because people often offer cakes shaped as turtles (乞龜) in local temples for peace, longevity, and fortune. Moreover, Turtle Island is across Toucheng. The shape of turtles is very impressive to the residents. Hence, the association has held the competition of creative turtles at the birthday of the north local earth god (北門土地公) since 2007. It becomes a big local event. The participants increased from 30 to over 200 with three years. As the volunteer for the community said, “our community becomes more vivid before the competition because many creative turtles are produced by the whole family. It’s interesting to see how our neighbors keep their ideas confidential but try to spy the others’.”
A creative turtle at the entrance of the Toucheng Culture Museum
B. The handicrafts of big god puppets
Big god puppets are another popular custom in Toucheng’s temples. They are generally put on men and played in local religious fairs, following the main god sedan and parading the streets. Traditionally, they are made of wood in heads, bamboo in bodies, and embroidery in clothes. The association adopts the idea and teaches students to make big god puppets with papers in heads only. Wearing a much lighter puppet head, a visitor can experience the local culture in person without religious concern. Local kids can also play the puppets to write their own dramas.
The introduction of big god puppets by a volunteer in the Toucheng Culture Museum.
Wearing the improved big god puppets and playing
In the future, Toucheng Old Street is expected not only offering visitors an authentic look at life in pre-modern Taiwan but also encouraging more community participation. Some day the younger generation will be proud of where they are from and how rich their living community is.