Sundown Industry

Yicheng Cannery 義成罐頭工廠

The corpses of a thousand factories lay strewn across the plains of central and south Taiwan 台灣, stark reminders of an extraordinary period of economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century. Those located in more rural areas are readily forgotten and may remain derelict for years to come—but the more prosperous districts are busily excising these unsightly engines of economic growth from their urban landscapes. Progress is inconsistent, however, and it isn’t at all unusual to chance upon the hulking ruins of inner city factories that have yet to disappear. One such factory is the Yìchéng Cannery 義成罐頭工廠, an impressive complex hemmed in on all sides by residences in a network of winding alleyways not far from the new train station in Yuánlín 員林, the second-largest city in Changhua 彰化. No doubt this ugly eyesore will be demolished sometime in the near future—but in the meantime it has become a shadow world for local youth and curious outsiders such as myself.

Business records1 indicate this factory was registered in 1961. Based on an almost unreadable calendar found inside the factory it was probably abandoned in 1998, part of a canning industry exodus to the hinterlands beyond the ring road circling the city. Nowadays this land is zoned for residential—so there’s no explaining the nearly 20 year delay in dismantling this ruin, particularly since the factory moved instead of going out of business.

Nothing remains to indicate the factory’s original function, at least not from what I observed during my visit in March 2017. Inside you’ll find only dust and discarded spray paint canisters from the street artists who trespass here to practice their craft. The critical clue was gleaned from the feed of this Instagram account in the form of a hashtag that read “canning factory”. That was enough to locate the relevant records and piece together some of the story, what little there is. Such factories are exceedingly common in Taiwan and there’s nothing particularly extraordinary about this one.

Yuanlin is changing fast and it is only a matter of time before this place disappears forever. All it takes is one high-profile media report to get the wrecking ball rolling, but it would be no great loss. The people of this city deserve better than to have this unsightly complex in their midst, especially in such a historic area of town. The network of alleyways surrounding the factory conceal a number of other, more interesting historic sites, but I’ll save that for another post.