The Canals of Changhua County

The derelict canals of Changhua county
The derelict canals of Changhua County.

I spent about a week in Changhua 彰化 while transitioning from my last place in Jǐngměi 景美 to my current place in Tainan City 台南市. Most days I went riding through the Changhua countryside, commuting to various cafes in Yuánlín 員林. Along the way I regularly passed many irrigation and drainage canals, most of which appeared to have fallen into disuse. The channels are often filled with tepid water, sediment, and weeds, and yet the countryside is still covered with rice paddies. Have modern irrigation systems supplanted these old canals?

I did a bit of research and discovered that the canals of Yuánlín 員林 and Dàcūn 大村 are part of a larger network of waterways extending out from the Babao Canal 八堡圳 (in Chinese), a three centuries-old Qing dynasty-era engineering project designed to divert water from the Zhoushui River via Èrshuǐ 二水. Historically, Babao Canal 八堡圳 was instrumental in transforming Changhua 彰化 into the “breadbasket” or “granary” of Taiwan, which in turn spurned the growth of Lukang 鹿港, the main port involved in the cross-strait rice trade.