Postcards From Xiluo 西螺明信片

Xīluó 西螺 is a small historic town on the left bank of the Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪 in Yúnlín 雲林. It emerged as an important center of trade in central Taiwan 台灣 during the Qing dynasty era and continued to prosper into the early 20th century under Japanese colonial rule. Disaster struck in 1935 when the devastating Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake ripped through north-central Taiwan, reducing much of Xiluo to rubble. Colonial authorities and the local gentry worked together to rebuild, taking the opportunity to completely remodel the main commercial thoroughfares with an intriguing blend of influences from Baroque Revival, Art Deco, and Modern architecture. A short stroll down Yánpíng Old Street 延平老街 reveals that many of these unique shophouses and commercial buildings remain standing today.

Many “old streets” in Taiwan have the contrived carnivalesque atmosphere of a night market—which, although fun at times, tends to obscure whatever sense of history might be experienced in a given place. It is difficult to get lost in a moment when you’re surrounded by vendors hawking snacks and souvenirs but sleepy Xiluo appears to have done little to attract this sort of mass tourism. In fact, apart from some inoffensive shops located in the renovated East Market 東市場 (built in the 1950s, despite appearances, and recently revitalized) there is little to suggest that anything has changed in decades.

Yanping Old Street feels genuinely old but also rather well-kept. What restoration work has been done is unobtrusive and many of the gorgeous shophouses lining the main street1 are still occupied even if the shops on the ground floor are no longer in business. By my standards this is easily one of the finest old streets in the country—and I’ve visited dozens. If you appreciate Taiwanese history and architecture then Xiluo absolutely has to be on your list.

What explains Xiluo’s unusual state of preservation? We can look to Lukang 鹿港, a historic town in neighbouring Changhua 彰化, for some answers. Xiluo and Lukang share several traits: both prospered in the late Qing dynasty era; both were bypassed when the Japanese routed the Western Trunk Line 縱貫線 to the east; both are former ports, though Lukang’s harbour silted up and Xiluo’s riverside docks became less important as road and railway transportation networks improved. The completion of the Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋 in 1952 ushered in several more decades of relative prosperity without upsetting the careful balance of tradition and modernity still evident today.

Apart from the shophouses on the main thoroughfare one will find several other buildings of interest along the streets and laneways extending in both directions. Derelict mansions can be found to the north; one of these is faintly visible from an overgrown backyard while the other has been stripped down to a rugged reinforced concrete skeleton.

Just south of the East Market one will find the remarkable Xiluo Grand Theater 西螺大戲院, one of the very last of Taiwan’s remaining Japanese colonial era movie theaters, and a row of abandoned Japanese shophouses with original wood exteriors on Shìhòu Street 市後街. I will be writing an entire post about the theater, which remains in ruins despite its status as a heritage property, so I won’t say much about it now. If you’re interested in Taiwanese cinema it is absolutely essential that you undertake a pilgrimage to this rare and special theater as soon as possible.

This post was originally published in September 2014 and focused exclusively on the shophouses of Yanping Old Street. I returned twice more in 2017/2018 and completely revised this post with many more photos and information. As such, I’ve bumped the date on this post and given it a more general name, aligning it with my series of postcards from Taiwan.

Many more photos from Xiluo and Yanping Old Street can be found in the Chinese language blogosphere here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

  1. Initially I struggled to identify specific buildings in these photos but had some luck raiding this school project, Girl Meets Formosa, and especially Just A Balcony (with specific links in the text). 

Throughout the summer of 2017 I undertook a series of scooter trips around central and southern Taiwan, eventually visiting Nántóu 南投, Changhua 彰化, Yúnlín 雲林, Tainan 台南, and Kaohsiung 高雄 before returning to Taichung 台中. I had no specific objective apart from visiting more places I had encountered in ongoing research and stopping to check out anything interesting along the way.

  1. Dongping Tobacco Barn 東平菸樓
  2. Kezikeng New Community 柯子坑新社區
  3. Nanyun Gas Station 南雲加油站
  4. Jiuqiong Village Tobacco Barn 九芎村菸樓
  5. Yixin Vocational High School 益新工商職業學校
  6. Postcards From Ershui 二水明信片
  7. Ershui Assembly Hall 二水公會堂
  8. Xizhou Theater 溪州戲院
  9. Xiluo Bridge 西螺大橋
  10. Postcards From Xiluo 西螺明信片
  11. Xiluo Yisheng Theater 西螺一生戲院
  12. Beigang Theater 北港劇場
  13. Liujiao Brick Kiln 六腳磚窯
  14. Shuangxikou Brick Kiln 雙溪口磚窯
  15. Hsin Kang Theater 新港戲院
  16. Dalin Xinxing Theater 大林新興戲院
  17. Lingxiao Temple 凌霄殿

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  1. Great (updated) post about my wife’s hometown! I also hope Yanping Road doesn’t become yet another “old street”. Except for the sidewalk, it hasn’t changed all that much since my first visits to Xiluo in the early Oughts (or is it Aughts?).

  2. Figured out the name of the shophouse. It is 興隆商店 (xing1 long2 shang1 dian4) and currently it is a beauty salon 麗華美容院 (li4 hua2 mei3 rong2 yuan4). Hope this helps! Visited Xiluo in September this year and I too, hope Xiluo stays this way. Beautiful pictures you have there, hope tourists will continue to visit and may more people realize the beauty of this old town.


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