A significant part of the Asian culture is made by small towns packed with history and old architecture, like Jiufen, one of Taiwan’s last gold mining cities. It became a tourist attraction in the 90’s, mostly because of its mix of Japanese architecture, Chinese style retro-cafes, tea houses and souvenir shops. And the proximity to Taipei City also helped shape Jiufen as a tourist destination.
Jiufen means “nine portions” because in the old days there were only nine families living there, and every shipment to town delivered nine portions to its inhabitants. 1893 was the year that put Jiufen on the map, when gold was discovered in the area.
A typical gold rush helped develop the town to its peak during the Japanese occupation in World War II. Captured soldiers from the nearby POW camp also ‘helped’ with mining. After the war mining activities had steadily declined, with the mine being shut down completely in 1971. That’s when the city wen silent, up until the 90’s, when it suddenly came back to life.
I went there on a press tour, with a huge bus, so it was quite something to see the driver maneuvering the narrow mountain roads leading to Jiufen. The slow driving gave us time to admire the views, as we went up.
At some point you are even able to see the Pacific ocean and the nearby port, if the weather is clear. As you arrive in Jiufen you’re welcomed with a lot of small shops trying to sell you the Sun and the Moon, in typical tourist style, but once you get past them and enter the old city the landscape changes to small family souvenir shops, cafes and tea houses, all on very narrow streets.
On one of these streets you’ll find Shengping Theater, one of Taiwan’s first theaters, a cultural landmark, which lots of movies used as a set, including City of Sadness, the first movie to talk about the 228 incident, a hit which is partially responsible for the tourist boom in early 90’s.
Jiufen, also spelled Jioufen or Chiufen, is a charming little town, and I’m happy to have visited it, all due to the kindness of the people who invited me in Taiwan. I’ll forever be grateful to them for the experience.