Some people are into urban exploration for the optics—they love visiting the most visually-impressive places and taking cool photos—but I’m more interested in solving puzzles and documenting history. Animated by curiosity, I have become proficient in navigating the Chinese language web in search of leads. Not all of these turn out to be something interesting but I enjoy those rare days where I set out into the countryside and see how many sites I can knock off my list.
Yesterday I went for a scooter trip around southern Changhua 彰化, primarily to give some love to Beidou 北斗, a vital center of trade and commerce in the late Qing dynasty era. Seeing as how Xizhou 溪州 is just next door I opted to drive over and check out two points on my map, one of which was highly speculative, in that I had recorded no address for it. I only knew there was a vintage theater somewhere on the west side of town—and in short order arrived at the entrance to the humble Xizhou Theater 溪州戲院.
Ordinarily I would go take a closer look but my presence aroused so much attention on the small street the theater is located that I declined to jump over the fence out front and take a closer look. From this vantage point it appears as if little remains of the interior anyhow—broken timber from the original roofing is piled up against the door and sunlight is seeping through—but I would still love to take a closer look some other day. For now, this photo will do.
Unsurprisingly there is little written about this small town theater on the web. I only found two mentions of the place, both of them on Taiwanese tourism blogs: here and here. One of these links mentions that the theater was built for workers at Xizhou Sugar Factory 溪州糖廠. This sugar factory dates back to 1909 and was in continuous operation until sometime in the 1970s or so. Chances are the theater would have been built in the 1940s or 1950s during the sugar boom but I haven’t been able to puzzle out whether it’s a post-war theater or not. In any case, the nearby sugar factory lay idle for decades before it was eventually converted into a public park. The rise and fall of the sugar industry probably explains much of the history of Xizhou—as well as this obscure little theater. And that’s what’s fun about this whole “urban exploration” hobby: everything is connected in some fashion and it’s endlessly interesting to try and connect the dots.