Enabler of Happiness: Tainan's Tain-Tsair Hsu
Restoring Luster to a Faded Beauty
As Taiwan?s venerable first city, Tainan boasts countless cultural treasures. Mayor Tain-Tsair Hsu is working to profit from the city?s historical assets and restore its former splendor.
Restoring Luster to a Faded BeautyBy Scott Wang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 380 )
Entering the Wu Garden Cultural Center on Mincyuan Road in Tainan City, one comes upon the old Tainan Public Meeting Hall, a cross between Baroque and Greco-Roman architecture built during the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945). Further along the outer wall, a young couple poses for wedding photos in front of the wooden Japanese-style Willow House. A little ways away, two Chinese-style townhouses come into view. In a walkway at the edge of a pond, a couple enjoys the cool autumn breeze caressing their cheeks.
On the grass across from the townhouses, a knotted, century-old red-fruit fig tree spreads its roots over a mottled false mountain landscape made from Penghu rocks, swaying in the breeze. Tainan mayor Tain-Tsair Hsu sits in the shade under the tree like a storyteller, confidently relating the changes of the Wu Garden Cultural Center to Taiwanese history of 400 years ago.
“Don’t underestimate this lake. During the Dutch rule of Taiwan it was a direct river route to the Taiwan Strait. The prominent figure Wu Bin took a boat from here to Fujian to see Koxinga (Zheng Cheng-gong) to counsel him to take Taiwan as a base for overthrowing the Manchus and restoring the Ming dynasty. Together with the Lin Family Garden in Banciao, Hsinchu’s Bei-guo Garden, and Wufeng’s Lai Garden, it is one of Taiwan’s Four Famous Gardens.” His excitement piqued, Hsu continues to reel off stories about each building in Wu Garden.
Tainan – Most Historical Sites
Despite being surrounded on all sides by tall, modern buildings, the immediate area within 100 meters of the Wu Garden Cultural Center combines buildings and relics dating from across the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Japanese period, and the post-World War II Chinese Nationalist era. These features are like a microcosm of the rise and fall of the old capital city over the past 400 years.
With 112 historical sites, Tainan has more within its city limits than anywhere else in Taiwan. After being restored and assigned new uses, these historical sites have been grouped into eight major cultural parks. Last year together they attracted 2.39 million visits, a figure that is projected to climb to 2.5 million this year, or 3.3 times the population of Tainan.
The Tainan City government generated over NT$65 million in revenues at its historical sites last year, from admission tickets, parking, vendor concessions, and rental fees from outsourced operations. No wonder the city has earned top spot in the Ministry of the Interior’s historical site performance ratings for cities under provincial government jurisdiction for six consecutive years.
While generating revenue and promoting cultural tourism with its “antiques,” the Tainan City government has brought lots of benefits to the people. On weekends and holidays Japanese epicures can be found among the crowds lining up outside local restaurants specializing in local delicacies, such as Jhou’s Shrimp Rolls and Chen’s Oyster Rolls.
Basking in its historical glory as Taiwan’s first capital city, Tainan seems to exude an air of nobility. However, these old historical sites, now considered historical treasures, were once viewed as worthless scrap, overlooked and spurned.
Culture-infused Living Environs
Noting Tainan’s slower pace of life, Tain-Tsair Hsu asserts that communities infused with culture and history make people feel comfortable.
“The older generation of hugely successful corporate bosses like Kao Chin-yen of the Uni-President Group and also new-generation engineers at the local science park all choose to live in Tainan,” says Hsu.
Mayor Hsu recalls that when he took office over six years ago Tainan City was full of run-down historical sites, and the streets were filthy with trash everywhere, making the old capital seem like a faded noble beauty. “Walking along the streets of Tainan, I couldn’t bear to look, for fear that we were letting down our ancestors. But when I visited with a number of locals, I found their houses were veritable palaces, with well groomed gardens out back – pictures of beauty in lush green,” Mayor Hsu muses.
Mayor Hsu found that Tainan City’s beautiful highlights were all surrounded by perimeter walls. This is why after taking office the first step he took toward transforming the cityscape was to unveil his Wall-free Project, leading the way by tearing down walls around schools and temples, “To let people see through to all these beautiful things,” he describes.
Next, Mayor Hsu introduced the Provisions for Self-administration of Vacant Lots and Buildings, providing rental tax breaks, relaxing Floor Space Index restrictions, and offering incentives for donation and adoption of vacant land and buildings, to augment public space and green areas. He then proposed the Good Hope Corner Project, beautifying major intersections, retooling the lighting on historical assets, and organizing a series of events. This has allowed for restoration and upkeep of historical sites without incurring significant debt, and has transformed several heritage sites into assets generating cultural tourism revenue.
Through such efforts, the combination of Tainan City’s 64 hectares of over 40 neighborhood parks along with various theme and cultural parks, has resulted in a full doubling of the city’s green spaces.
Classy Modernism, Tried and True
Mayor Hsu adopted the Anping Harbor National Historic Site Restoration Project, conceived by National Cheng Kung University professor Wang Ming-heng to promote the revitalization and usage of old area buildings. This plan was integrated with new projects like Anping Treehouse, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Lin Mo-niang Park, seamlessly bringing together the traditional and the modern. This project took an Honorable Mention in the Excellence on the Waterfront 2004 competition, making Tainan the only Asian city to receive such recognition.
“Tainan City’s development isn’t about the pursuit of extravagance, but rather classy modernism, tried and true,” asserts Hsu.
Many challenges still lie ahead for Tainan as it moves toward becoming a cultural capital. The expansion of the public transportation system is outpaced by the increase in the number of automobiles, for instance, and the steep growth in cars and motorcycles on the roads could impair the city’s efforts to establish a reputation as a healthy city.
Reports of vandalism to historical sites are still frequently heard in Tainan, and salvage and preservation efforts are outpaced by the speed of commercial development and destruction, issues at odds with the goal of forging a city for cultural tourism. Looking ahead, Mayor Tain-Tsair Hsu will likely need to expend effort over the remainder of his term to spread the values and ideals of historical landmark preservation from governmental and non-governmental organizations into the hearts and minds of each and every citizen of Tainan.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman
Chinese Version: 讓沒落貴族再現風華