Skip to Content

Postcards From Xiluo 西螺明信片

Beautiful old architecture along Yanping Old Street in Xiluo.

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.

A row of old buildings in Xiluo.
Colonial storefronts in Xiluo.

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.

Vibrant tones along Yanping Old Street 延平老街.
Art Deco flourishes define this commercial building on a busy corner. Since it is now a Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor outlet there’s a good chance this was originally the local office of the monopoly bureau in colonial times.
Unique colonial architecture in central Taiwan.
In the middle: the asymmetric Jīnyùchéng 金玉成 clock tower, built 1936.

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.

The hollowed-out shell of a corner lot, apparently the Liao Old Home 廖家古厝. Whether it was being demolished or renovated wasn’t clear to me.
Another shophouse emblazoned with the character for Liào 廖, a surname. This one is located on Pinghe Road 平和路.
A blend of old and new in Xiluo.
Even the less ornate buildings have their quirks.
Further east on Yanping Old Street.
Ānyuán Convenience Store 安源商店, evidently owned by the family Zhǒng 種.
Luóxī 螺溪 dentist office constructed in 1933 by Li Qixiong, future mayor of Xiluo.
The eastern end of Yanping old street in Xiluo. There are some vintage shops here.

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.

Xiluo Bridge, the gateway to Yunlin County. Read my full post about this bridge for more information!
A vintage restaurant in the heart of Xiluo by the name of 琴連碗粿城. This place specializes in wa-gui, gloopy rice in a bowl. It’s better than it sounds! Xiluo is also famous for soy sauce but I haven’t gotten around to visiting the museum in town yet.
Another elegant storefront along the western reaches of Yanping Road. I can’t quite make out the second character in the name.
The Guanghe Company 廣合商行, a family business also responsible for building the majestic Xiluo Theater.

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.

A derelict mansion hidden behind a row of shophouses on Yanping Road.
The ruins of the Gao Family Western Building 高家洋樓. There wasn’t much left of it when I was there and now there’s probably even less.

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.

Xiluo Grand Theater 西螺大戲院, built in 1940 and abandoned in the 1980s.
Old wooden houses behind the East Market and just around the corner from Xiluo Theater. These obviously date back to the Japanese colonial era. They appear to have been demolished as of 2018.
Zhènwén Academy 振文書院, originally founded in 1813, is located at the south end of town.
This gorgeous colonial facade is only visible from within the inner courtyard of the Yanping Street Cultural Center, better known as the Jiéfāgānjì Teahouse 捷發乾記茶莊. As with most other buildings on this old street it was constructed in 1935.
Another look at the distinctive clocktower building on Yanping Old Street with clear skies for a change.

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). 

3 Comments

  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.

    Chirleen,
    Singapore

Comments are now closed.