Erenlai - Focus: Taipei, Water City
Focus: Taipei, Water City

Focus: Taipei, Water City

週五, 01 十一月 2013

Taipei, Water City

 Leftover Nature by Pinti Zheng

 Text: Nick Coulson 

Connectedness to the chaos of nature, or lack of it, is inextricably linked to the modern human condition. The flow of water is a stream of consciousness running through the human psyche and a basis for spontaneous action. Yet, the modern city has tried to overcome nature, pushing it to its margins. However, nature is always rediscovering, reoccupying the human city. The flow of water is ceaseless, through, around, over and under, seamless in its passage through streams, springs, rivers, canals, lakes, reservoirs, a dancing brush swiping its calligraphy throughout the human city, leaving dynamic traces of natural and human history along its way. Like the creative flow, it can be diverted, guided, hidden, buried, yet it is always there flowing underneath and ready to emerge like a stream of consciousness.

Taipei, Water City, a new book by local author Shu Guo-zhi's, gives a historical topography of the transition of Taipei from water city to land city. It follows the alleys and lanes of the city on a journey back through time, re-exploring the canals, ditches and other stretches of water that used to cover much of the Taipei basin. Nowadays the twists and turns of Taipei's lanes and alleys mark the former routes of the canals and streams, which have been buried under tarmac and concrete. Signposts indicating former dykes, natural reservoirs and mounds are clues to tracing Taipei's forgotten heritage (The 'po' from Zhongpo for example indicated that there was once a natural reservoir there). The loss of water from the face of the city is a spatial manifestation of a city in transition, one that went from being a water-world, to a concrete industrial and commercial city.

The frolicking children and old men fishing have been removed from the river cityscape. When we see that most children in Taipei don't even know how to swim, we realize there is a general amnesia about the former water city. Taipei children may know the words to the idyllic children's song "In front of my home is a stream, behind are mountain slopes" (我家門前有小河,後面有山坡), but it is unlikely to mirror their own experience of Taipei. The Liugong Canal, gradually buried under the city in the 1970's, is perhaps the best example of this amnesia. Though there seems to have been a rupture between the generations who knew and who never knew the water city, there are still lucid memories left over amongst the older generations. For some people the name of the Liugong Canal strikes fear into their hearts as they remember it as the site of a dismembered body in a murder case, or the site where collectors of wild animals would dump their oversized crocodiles. While delivering a speech at an international Chinese literature conference, Cheng Tsun-Shing (陳傳興), an author with a background in psychoanalysis­ and head of the Flaneur publishing house, recounted, without further explanation and to the gasps of the audience, that when he walked along the Liugong Canal to school in the mornings, he would see people prodding fetuses with sticks to check if they were alive. At the time abortion was illegal. Sometimes he would smell bodies burning at night as he lived near the funeral parlour and would be left wondering if the stench was the fetuses. For others, the memory was slightly less extreme but encapsulated their fear of the filth and sewage of the hidden underworld. However, for many who lived in the age of the water city, it reminded them of their youth bathing and playing in the river, catching clams; of older men fishing, working men washing themselves at the end of the day and mothers washing the clothes in the river. It reminded them of a lost community space.

From these memories, we began shooting a short documentary, edited by Pinti Zheng, first exploring the recollections of various residents before looking at ways to reconnect this memory to contemporary Taipei, by bringing water back into the city.



Leftover architecture small
Leftover Architecture by Pinti Zheng

週五, 01 十一月 2013

In Search of the Source: Sunlighting the Liugong Canal

Dr Chun-E Kan, a retired professor of the Department of Agricultural Engineering, NTU, has been working in hydraulics and sustainability most of his life. The completion of his lifework would be the 'Sunlighting' or the re-opening of Liugong Canal, an irrigation channel running through Taipei, which is now buried underneath asphalt or concrete. However, his magnum opus is not yet complete. It has been 12 years since he submitted a proposal for a sustainable, economically inexpensive and romantic plan to bring clean rainwater back into Taipei City, starting off with the reopening of the stretch of the Liugong Canal which flows through National Taiwan University's campus. While it had been largely accepted at the time, Dr Kan has already seen a decade of retirement pass without any real action being taken to implement the plan. Negotiating the complex city and university bureaucracies make it extremely difficult to put a large scale engineering plan into action. We met with Dr Kan in the company of Professor Elijah Chang of NTU's Department of Building and Planning and her doctoral student Wu Chen-Ting who have also conducted research projects relating to the Liugong Canal.

As Dr Kan explained to us, the problem with water in the Taipei basin is that ever since dense urbanisation of the whole basin began in the Japanese era, what the government has feared the most was the crippling inundations during Typhoons, thus governments have aimed to get the rainwater out of the city and into the river as quickly as possible. For example, underneath the wide Keelung road, there was a huge underground passageway taking all the rainwater water straight down to the polluted Songshan River - a natural resource wasted. The Chinese idiom 'bamboo sprouts spring after rainfall' (雨後春筍) is commonly used to signify things springing up everywhere. Yet if all your rainfall is immediately flushed from the city, what can grow? You are left with an urban desert, where sand is replaced by concrete, and only shrubbery breaks through. In fact almost all the ponds in Taipei, despite perhaps bringing classical Chinese teachers to a emphatic sigh of contentness and harmony, are actually connected to the city waterworks using a hugely energy consuming pump system; meanwhile, the underground canals are now mostly polluted water. Essentially after more than 200 years of using a very sustainable engineering facility, the Liugong Canal, we no longer have any natural clean water sources fertilizing the lands and communities of Taipei. 

"The question we are facing today is how we can make the water stay a little bit longer in our living environment," said Professor Chang. "In fact this is the same question as 270 years ago, except then it was irrigation canals for farming purposes. Now we are trying to irrigate our communities." She felt that any project that started from the premise that we need to reopen a long defunct canal, for nostalgic or post-modern design purposes, was no different from any other costly beautification project. "The key is finding where the water is."

The spirit of the Liugong Canal was that of searching out the source, and for Professor Chang any project which did not first solve the problem of bringing in clean rainwater to the city rather than using reservoir water, defeated the purpose. Nowadays all the clean water in the city comes down from the huge reservoir in Pinglin. But as Prof. Chang explains, with the unpredictability of changing global weather patterns it is feasible that the reservoir could at times dry up, if that happened, how would Taipei's communities acquire there daily living water needs.

It was based on this premise that Professor Kan has always worked on his 'sunlighting' project. His Liugong dream is to first bring clean rainwater back to the NTU campus, restoring the NTU section of the Liugong Canal (Fig 1). His new even more cost effective plan is to channel natural rainwater flows from the nearby Toad Mountain. By researching various other rainwater canal systems in places with far less rainfall than Taipei, such as Stratford-Upon-Avon in the UK, he has determined it is not only feasible but also economically thrifty to channel Toad Mountains rainflow. This lower starting cost of the plan makes the project less daunting to politicians, the university and other possible sponsors such as the Liugong Irrigation Association. Most importantly it is environmentally sustainable, saving much energy in the long run as it operates largely without using energy. The plan also incorporates water cleaning facilities, inside a mound of debris which comes from the extra stretch of canal to be dug up in the process of linking the pre-existing canal route to NTU's infamous Drunken Moon Lake. The cherry on top of this project is the drum tower built on top of the mound (Fig 3). The drum tower is a historical reference to the original drum tower (guting), which was constructed to serve as a guard tower warning for attacks by the local indigenous population on the Liugong Canal construction workers and farmers. It is also the namesake of the Guting area of Taipei, though the 'gu' character has since been simplified from 'drum' (鼔) to 'ancient' (古). The rain coillecting waterway which would descend Toad Mountain like a spiralling slide, also has a walking path fixed on top which both controls the amount of water to avoid flooding the campus during Typhoons, and also brings the mountain back to the community. One major difficulty with this part of the plan is that the intended mountainside is owned by the airforce, and as yet off limits to the public. Finally, the plan appeals to the imagery of a canal campus like that of Cambridge University, UK, which has been a romantic ideal for many top Chinese students since the Qing Dynasty poet Xu Zhimo referenced Cambridge in his poem "farewell once again Cambridge" while studying there in 1928. Eventually becoming a pinnacle for aspiring Chinese academics. Cambridge University also erected a stone tablet with the first and last two sentences of Xu Zhimo's poem, immortalising the poet in ROC history.

Reading the poem, one imagines Xu Zhimo spending hours staring at the River Cam and dreaming. The shadows of the trees, the duckweed and the gentle rippling of the river seemed to set off his imagination. In the second line of this stanza Xu Zhimo says "is not springwater, but a heavenly rainbow" Ironically Cambridge, despite its rainfall of only 700mm, compared to Taipei's 2800, is surrounded by natural rainwater canals. If Cambridge can find enough rainwater for a 15-metre river, then so can NTU. In the stanza of the poem below he talks of a rainbow of dreams that are hidden amongst the floating grass in the springwater:

That pool in the shade of elm trees,
is not springwater, but a heavenly rainbow;
crumbling amongst the floating grasses,
the settling rainbow seems like a dream.


See here for original and full translation by Hugh Grigg

If the world beating success of Cambridge is anything to go by, a canal campus can inspire dreams in future leaders and visionaries. Creating even better study conditions for the academic elite is perhaps a dream for nobles, but if it was just a starting point for the re-irrigation of community life, it could be a noble dream nonetheless. If Dr Kan's plan was put into action it would be an important starting point for bringing water from natural sources back into different parts of the city, starting from the particularly visible and influential base of the NTU campus. It would be a huge life achievement for Dr Kan, but also a step forward in making Taipei a more sustainable water city.

taida map1Fig 1: The preexisting underground canal route and extension to Drunken Moon Lake on the NTU campus 

taida map2Fig 2: Possible alternative waterway routes on the NTU campus

 mountain liugongFig 3: The water cleaning mountain at NTU, with the drum tower on top.


週四, 31 十月 2013

Water in Classical Chinese Literature

The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and one of the longest rivers in the world. The Yellow River is the second biggest river in Asia and the sixth biggest in the world. Both are the most important rivers in the history, culture and economy of China.

Ever since the early history of China, the water of the Yangzi was used for sanitation, irrigation and industry. The vastness of the river meant it was often used to mark borders and was an important consideration in war tactics.

The Yellow river is seen as the cradle of Chinese civilization. The most prosperous civilizations in the history of China were mostly situated along this river. Therefore, it is not surprising that images of water are apparent in ancient Chinese culture and particularly in Chinese poetry.

週三, 30 十月 2013

Reopening the Liugong Canal. Sustainable Synergies?

Despite having spent hours on end frequenting a café which bordered one of the few remaining open sections of the 250-year old Liugong Canal, it was years after my arrival in Taipei before I began to understand its significance. While conducting eRenlai's May 2011 feature, Beyond the Pale, exploring marginal architecture in Taiwan, I came across and began exploring the works of the Ruin Academy where I was greatly intrigued by architect Marco Casagrande's mission of returning Taipei's citizens to nature and reality, including his vision for Taipei river urbanism. Casagrande went on to win the 2013 European Prize for Architecture, particularly for his ideas such as systematically including the 'local knowledge' of community and environment in urban planning and design, or healing the city with urban acupuncture, ideas explained in the following short documentary:

finish students liugong taipeiLater I gave some minor assistance with pre-arrival research and communication to a group of students from Aalto University's Sustainable Global Technologies Studio, under Casagrande's direction. They were building a multifaceted proposal for the reopening of the now underground Liugong Canal, with the idea of bringing people back to water and water back to the city. Just exploring above the old flow of the canal was a de-alienating experience, as I described and reported to them in the fullest detail what I saw along the way. It was foreplay with the land, getting to know Taipei as I ran my feet along the Liugong Canal, my first topography of Taipei's curves and quirks, searching, sniffing, seeing and feeling. These explorations formed the basis for a long term relationship with the Liugong Canal, which has only grown in intensity with time.

When the Finnish team of Virva Kajamaa, Kätlin Kangur, Riikka Koponen, Niklas Saramäki, Kristina Sedlerova and Sanna Söderlind arrived in Taipei, I also joined them in their explorations of an island of farming allotments surviving in the middle of the Danshui River, hidden and protected from the development of the metropolis. These explorations of alternative city lifestyles were empowering in themselves, as free running or parkour is to traceurs. It was an exercise in what social philosopher and Jesuit, Michel de Certeau[1] would call 'walking in the city', the practice of everyday resistance, where the people use everyday 'tactics' to survive and make consumer choices based on adapting to the constraints of city, yet never being fully controlled by them. This 'walking in the city' is a symbiosis between memory and action, creating the opportunity to change the existing spatial power relations. Indeed it was this social opportunism which interested me the most about the project. Behind these spatial aesthetics, there was an anarchic attempt to re-empower the community, strengthen social relations and release individuals from the excesses of the legal state, government power and market conformity.

Before they completed their field trip and returned to Finland I invited the Ruin Academy to a forum at our nomadic arts and action space, The Hole, to explain their ideas for bringing the people back to the river and the river back to the people. Novelist and curator Roan Ching-yue questioned the soundness of Casagrande's theoretical construction in the second part of the discussion and in particular the discrepancy between the ideas of urban farmers and a nomadic city. This led to an interesting discussion which touches the heart of the urban planning problem here - the psyche inherited from the KMT that Taipei is just a temporary home.

The final work of the Aalto University students was completed in 2012 under the name of Sustainable Synergies: The Leo Kong Canal (full pdf available). The plan included wetlands, parks, recreational canal streets, water cleaning facilities and far more ideas. The commitment to social innovation was particularly interesting:

Social innovation is often considered difficult to recognize since it is out of our sights and habits. The crux of the social part of the work became a search for a creative "hidden potential" so that the resource of our ideas and plans come from existing actions, traditions and memories, which are left unattended and can be illegal but as an integral part of the design process will enhance our attempt to create more sustainable solutions and raise the overall well-being.

Under social innovation we mean to:
- Improve social cohesion;
- Involve and improve the conditions of marginalized people;
- Promote systems enabling social integration between different generations;
- Enhance peculiar local cultural characteristics;
- Develop systems to encourage and foster local communities and network-structured initiatives;
- Adapt participatory approach and collective use of infrastructure. (p24)

The above are guiding principles by which to de-alienate the city from its memory (inter-generational dialogue), from other humans (community activity) and from our own agency (to act without permission). Throughout his work with the Ruin Academy, Casagrande emphasizes the need for cross-disciplinary research, and has tried to involve NTU sociologists and sociology students into their urban planning projects. Furthermore he has stated his will to bring further community participation into the design of the Liugong Canal project.

That said, while there were some interesting design suggestions put forward, one member of the proposal team, Kristina, questioned the social validity of the housing side of the project, which it was claimed would not really bring people closer to the river as it constructed 3 to 5 mega-expensive buildings "for some privileged people, who have the money to buy apartments there...". Others criticize the willingness of the Ruin Academy to collaborate with big development companies of the status quo, whilst claiming to be focused on social innovation. This criticism however is also related to one of the Ruin Academy team's greatest strengths. They are dreamers who believe that nothing is impossible and will find a way to make things happen, using the system when it suits them to further a project, yet never really giving up their autonomy and right to action.

In terms of sociological rigor and social fairness, these proposals may still need some research; nevertheless, further cross-disciplinary research with a focus on local knowledge can only help to create a more durable, fairer urban planning, which is more respectful to the community and individual agency. Furthermore, the holistic view that the sociological imagination provides and the rigor of the field of sociology can help bring into check carelessness and short-sightedness of urban planning and reducing the negative social effects of plans built on a whim. Therefore the development of this cross-disciplinary collaboration should be encouraged.


All photos courtesy of the Ruin Academy

[1] de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall, University of California Press, Berkeley 1984

週二, 29 十月 2013

In the eye of the Storm: Musings on the Danshui


The stream of the Danshui river was bringing me a peaceful melody, waves were biting the shore softly, but, stream inside the stream, slightly blurring the mirror of the water, I could hear a confusing tumult, news from the world struggling in the distance to spill a shot of truth at me:

"When the soldier was being interrogated, all 16 surveillance cameras stopped working. This is absolutely normal. It happens all the time in the army, the cameras are old. This is a banal accident"

週二, 29 十月 2013

Shanshui Taipei, City of Water and Mountains


 Wormhole Diagram (by Pinti Zheng)


In Chinese, 有山有水 'have mountains and water' is synonymous with a good natural environment, and the imagery runs through Chinese aesthetics and language. From the two natural phenomena shan (mountains) and shui (water) as starting points, eRenlai brings you two features in November and December, exploring respectively, the relationship of Taipei's waterways, and its mountains to the city's inhabitants.

The natural environmental potential of Taipei is plentiful, it was founded in a basin, water was omnipresent, and the city is surrounded by rich mountains to the north, east and west. By these standards it should easily qualify for the Chinese proverb 'has mountains and water'. Yet the city now seems both intertwined and distant from its natural settings, at some point it seem to become 'poor mountains, filthy rivers' (窮山惡水) synonymous for poor ecological surroundings. In the pursuit of modernity, the city organism encroached ever further on the mountains, diminishing jungles and dotting Taipei's mountain cityscape with high-rises that seem so insecure, with the unpredictable bipolar rage of this regions winds and earthquakes. The rivers which brought settlers to this basin and made the city have been shut out by 10-metre high walls and the irrigation canals which fed the land were pushed underground. Expensive high rises of Taipei often name themselves after idyllic natural settings from ancient Chinese literature and provide breathtaking views overlooking mountains and rivers, yet seem to distance the residents from actually breathing the mountain humidity and the stench of the polluted rivers. Under the pressure of rapid population growth, there was a rupture of most city dwellers from the natural surroundings that previously fed them. Someone brought up in Taipei in the 70's returning to the city 30 years later to the site of family photo taken by a river, may find it replaced by a wider road. The distancing from the rivers also diminished community space and strong neighborly ties. Children used to play naked in their community section of the river, safely overlooked by fishing adults, perhaps collecting clams to sell in the markets, a seamless part of the nature-city montage. Now the Taipei residents in search of water are more likely to visit the crowded tourist destinations along the river - Xindian and Danshui - to stare at the river alone in a sea of strangers, or head to a public swimming pool to share in the sweat of a hundred bodies. With the sacrificing of much community space over the last 40 years, it seems that while idyllic natural settings and history from thousands of miles and years ago are remembered, there is amnesia for recent history, buried and forgotten underneath the concrete city along with the irrigation canal. Finally the distance from nature and community in the modern city has led to a reliance on the great conveniences of the metropolis, be that 7-11, food availability or the Internet, alienating us from our own physical work, and numbing the senses and instincts which allow us to act spontaneously and survive out of necessity.

The otherness of nature in its absence from city life, indirectly leads us to three other disenfranchisements: it alienates us from our own work, killing the DIY spirit and the ability to survive and provide for oneself by forcing reliance on pedantic bureaucracies and commercial networks; it further disconnects us from our human surroundings as community space and ties are weakened; finally the inhabitants are left in a state of amnesia as natural and human traces are constantly destroyed in the temporary city, people are alienated from their own history and memory.

These are the conditions under which we ask: in what type of city do we wish to live? Can we reduce urban and environmental alienation, bringing nature and community back into the city through actions and artistic happenings? In the spirit of ecological connectedness, spontaneous action and community participation, we explore and initiate micro-ecological and artistic actions aimed at liberating both ourselves and wider society, bringing agency back to the individual and the community. In acting from below, we attempt to restore our autonomy, paving the way for a more democratic, involved and connected society.

Despite the one-size-fits-all dominant urban model, where bigger is always better, Taipei is also rich in marginal communities surviving on the urban border, physical traces reminding us that there are diverse ways of existing in the modern city. In our attempt to excavate the memories of alternative living communities, in order to imagine alternative futures, a focal project of our nomadic arts and action space, The Hole, has been the spontaneous action to try and preserve the Toad Mountain[1] military dependents' community which we will be looking into in our December focus in time for the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Architecture Biennale and its focus of "Urban Border". Toad Mountain is also the spot that of this month's interviewees, Professor Kan of National Taiwan University, suggests as the water source to bring natural rainwater back into the Taipei City basin, and consequently turn NTU into a water campus to rival Cambridge University. This brings us to this month's focus on Taipei's waterways.

Taipei, Water City


水城台北  舒國治

"Taipei, at that time, was a dense network of canals, with paddy fields at every turn"

Taipei, Water City, Shu Guozhi.

As local author Shu Guozhi reveals in his latest book, until recently Taipei had been a city of water. Symbolically, this November, the same month in which our feature is published, Taipei's latest metro line, the Xinyi line will have been opened to the public. While Taipei City celebrates this latest engineering feat, we have been re-exploring an irrigation channel of old, the Liugong Canal[2], the great engineering feat completed 250 years ago, which first sought out and brought a water source to irrigate the Taipei Basin[3] , turning Taipei into a city of water. For the last 40 years, however, the Liugong Canal and most of Taipei's water channels have been removed from the community, gradually covered with asphalt and concrete to make way for the residential and commercial space; buried underground, to make way for economic development.

Thus we begin our explorations of the water city. First, we present a brief cartographic history of the Liugong Canal. Then, we began to dig up Taipei residents' memories of the Liugong Canal, shooting a documentary film, Taipei, Water City, traversing through the time-travel wormhole to be reconnected to the memories which were buried along with the canal. The documentary teaser goes on to explore plans to bring the Liugong Canal back into the city and introduces the ideas and actions of our own nomadic arts space, The Hole, as it explores and re-appropriates the now underground network of canals.

Since the late 90's academics and community groups and even politicians began to explore the idea of reopening some sections of the Liugong Canal and bringing water back into the everyday life of the city. These plans have differing economic, environmental, cultural and social aims and standpoints. Water expert, Dr Chun-E Kan shows how we can return clean natural rainwater to the city, starting by 'sunlighting' (reopening) the section of the Liugong Canal which runs through the NTU campus. We then introduce another comprehensive proposal for a larger scale reopening of the Liugong Canal with a community aesthetic and interest in social innovation. Taipei's interdisciplinary architectural research hub, the Ruin Academy have advanced on European Architect of the Year 2013 Marco Casagrande's vision for Taipei River Urbanism with their proposal for Sustainable Synergies.

Meanwhile, rivers also have a fleeting creative value. Daphna Salpeter, long term sinophile and Taiwan Literature graduate student, explores the significance of water imagery in classical Chinese literature and poetry. And merely watching the flow of the rivers, can inspire a flâneur to a poetic gest; photographer-explorer Benoit Girardot, who sees poetry wherever he may roam, tells us what it inspires in him.

With this month's focus as a starting point, The Hole will continue to provide a public forum on bringing water back into the community. Asides from artistic actions, we will further explore the memory of the Liugong Canal as we develop a full length documentary. We are in discussions with a school and institutes, trying to make the Liugong Canal and Taipei rivers' as outdoor ecological classrooms. We look to extend the idea of ecological classrooms, perhaps by building an ecological raft, and taking ecological tours around the farm allotment island near in the middle of the Danshui River, helping Taipei's youth to better get to know their river, their nature and their agricultural heritage. We are also looking at ways of stimulating community participation in any future plans to bring the water back into the city, empowering the people to take part spontaneously in making Taipei's environment cleaner and more sustainable.

Text: Nicholas Coulson

[1] 瑠 公 Liu Gong (pinyin), Liu Kung, Leo Kong. Named after Kuo Hsi-liu (郭錫瑠), the 公 'gong' was posthumously affixed as a term of respect for accomplished older man. '圳' Usually pronounced "jun" but can be confused with the Taiwanese and often Taiwan Guoyu pronunciation of 'zun' and the most common Mainland China pronunciation of 'zhen' as in Shenzhen. The 'jun' can be translated into English as ditch, dyke, channel or canal. Based on a mix of common usage, definitional logic and the recent adoption of Pinyin in Taipei, I will standardize as the Liugong Canal, though it should be noted that it's primary function was as an irrigation waterway and not as a transportation canal. When referring to the individual I use Liu Gong with the space.
[2] 蟾蜍山 (chanchushan) Toad Mt or Toad Hill, a community tucked away on a mountainside near Gongguan, Taipei City. It is Taipei's last remaining mountainside Military Dependants' Village, these villages were constructed as temporary accomadation by soldiers who came over landless from the mainland following their defeat in the Chinese Civil war. There were several of these communities along the Liugong Canal originally.
[3] Referring to the space of land that lies between the Danshui, Xindian, Songshan and Jingmei rivers, and enclosed by mountains in the east.

週二, 29 十月 2013

A Cartographic History of the Liugong Canal

The course of Liugong Canal is a calligraphy brush carving Taipei's human history into its natural history. The collection of maps gathered at Academia Sinica, along with more recent maps made for various purposes, are useful guides to explain the history of Taipei from the view of the Liugong Canal.

(Googlemaps screenshot of Taipei)

In 1736 Kuo Hsi-liu, originally of Fujian province, came to Zhonglun in Taipei from Changhua and began the settling and development of a small farming community by the name of Xingyazhuang. Before long he found that the water resources for the village were drying up and were insufficient to maintain the community in the long term. By the time of his death in 1765, the farming plateaus of Taipei were well on their way to being fully supplied by an intricate and vast system of irrigation channels now known as the Liugong Canal, fed from the Xindian River, where water was diverted through the tunnels and trenches they dug to form the canal. While the original canal was completed in 1762, the Liugong Canal (公 'gong' is a respectful name affixed to great men, 'Liu' is derived from the individuals name) now refers to a grand network which spreads and branches out through Taipei City.

liugong map1(A map of the system of channels around the time of Liugong's death in 1765
See the whole map :

As the story goes, Kuo Hsi-liu dedicated his life to the construction and development of his farming community. He borrowed money to start the village, became a topographer in order to search for new water sources as natural reservoirs dried up and farms suffered droughts, and sold all he owned to fund the construction of the canal. Beyond that, he married an indigenous woman from a local tribe in order to stop the persistent raids on the workers and the destruction of their engineering works. He organized a great collaboration with the five villages of Dapinglin which lay along the path of his great plan. However, in the end he died distraught after watching his life’s work shattered by a typhoon which destroyed the critical Snakes Cage Dam, but not before handing down responsibility for the continuation of his magnum opus to his son.

This documentary commissioned by the Kuo Hsi-liu Foundation tells Liugong’s story, depicting him with all the aspects of a conscientious Chinese hero; self-sacrifice, piety, and lasting historical contribution to Chinese culture. As with many historical accounts, and great development projects, it is slightly oversimplified and perhaps glorified. Many other important individuals contributed to the construction of the channels and the road to agricultural security was paved with dead construction workers, who were regularly attacked by indigenous peoples angry that there lands were being encroached on by the Han settlers as there water resources grew. Though it was perhaps a the most peaceful solution, the act of bequeathing an indigenous woman, was a common tactic of the Han settlers to appropriate indigenous lands and ultimately become the new stewards of the Taipei basin. Nevertheless the project is an important part of Taipei’s heritage had lasting implications, helping secure the foundations for Taipei to become a major city in Taiwan. Kuo Hsi-liu was honored posthumously for his contributions with the respectful ‘Gong’ title by the contemporary Qing emperor. The following map shows the extent the canals had reached towards the end of the Qing Dynasty period over a century after Liu Gong’s death. At the time the canal systems were still divided into the Dapinglin, Wulixue and Liugong (originally Qingxi) canals

 liugong map2

By the Japanese era all the different names of the canal systems had been merged to create one single Liugong Canal. In order to solve their drainage and flooding problems, the Japanese constructed the huge Horikawa Drain (堀川) in 1933, which overlapped and rebuilt part of the Liugong Canal, thus bringing part of the canal into the sewage system, this trend continued as the drainage network expanded.

liugong map3(Liugong Canal during the Japanese era, 1939
See the whole map:

Not long into the KMT era changes happened in waves to the Liugong Canal. Emboldened by the pervasive spirit of modernity that had now seeped through to Chinese culture, the KMT pushed rapid industrialization and urbanization. Due to population strains, political needs, comparative unprofitability of farmland and more and more pollution nature was squeezed into the margins of the city and the Liugong Canal pushed underground. With rapid economic development, the population of Taipei further exploded. Most of the remaining farmland in the Taipei basin, including that bordering the Liugong Canal, was bought up by developers to build high rises, in order to meet and multiply the needs of Taipei's urbanization. Using techniques such as reinforced steel box culvert, the canals were paved over to build residential and commercial areas on top. The following map shows the water sources left in Taipei in 1904:

liugong map4

By the late 1970's most of the water sources within the main rivers of Xindian and Songshan and the mountain ranges enclosing Taipei from the east (i.e. the Taipei city area) were underground, covered by roads, buildings or parks. By the 80s the vast majority of the Liugong Canal was cemented over and either became obsolete in terms of its original irrigation function or certain parts were merged into the existing sewage system. One can now access the maps of the sewage system and underground waterways of Taipei using sewage maps that run on the Google Earth engine.

Anyone born in Taipei since the end of the martial law-era will likely not have experienced the Liugong Canal like their previous generations, washing, playing or collecting clams. Taipei’s richer youth may shop at the SOGO megastore in Zhongxiao Fuxing, but are unlikely to know that underneath flows the Liugong Canal and that the land is owned by Taipei’s Liugong Irrigation Association. Now there are only a sprinkling of open areas along the Liugong Canal, treasures worthy of letterboxers. For example, there is a 10-metre stretch outside the Café Pick up a Cat in the Alley on Wenzhou Street, a 5 km section near the source of the canal in Bitan, and since the turn of the century the ecological pond on the NTU campus. 

By the late 1990’s the Taipei City government began pushing the idea of ‘livable cities’ and there was growing interest in beautifying the city. These trends provided an opening and encouraged politicians, academics and community groups to re-explore the idea of bringing waterways back into the everyday life of the city. In 2005 there began to be some political interest in reopening some sections of the Liugong Canal and ever since then there have been projects highlighting and promoting the rediscovery of this historical relic which still exists beneath our feet. Beyond beautification, these projects increasingly include an environmental sustainability angle while they attempt to bring the Liugong Canal back into the city and renegotiate the relationship between Taipei’s waterways and its inhabitants. For example Professor Chun-E Kan of NTU’s Department of Bioenvironmental Systems Engineering has made the ‘sunlighting’ of the Liugong Canal his life’s work and has long promoted the restoration of the NTU section of the Liugong Canal by channeling natural rainwater flows from the nearby Toad Mountain. Further proposals for reopening the Liugong Canal have also come from a group of Finnish students mentored by the recent winner of the European Architect of the Year Award, Marco Casagrande and his cross-disciplinary research hub, the Ruin Academy, who bring in an aesthetic of nature re-invading architecture, but also have a social focus on community participation. There have also been groups and organizations more focused on memory and the historical value of the canals. For example, the Daan Community College ran historical walking tours along the former path of the canals. In 2013 there were even day-event cycling tours riding along the covered canal routes. There was a cultural landscape preservation movement (非瑠不可) led by students of NTU’s Department of Building and Planning for the preservation of a marginal military dependants' community whose makeshift houses bordered the open part of the canal close to the Xindian River. Indeed, re-exploring the Liugong Canal in this feature was also partly stimulated by the participation of our nomadic arts space, The Hole, in a movement to preserve another military dependants community, that of Toad Mountain near NTU. The skeleton of the Liugong Canal borders runs along the front Toad Mountain community. Until the 80's the canal was open and used daily by the residents, but by the 1980's it was paved over and there is no longer a regular flow of clean water running through.

(A brochure map for the historical tours run in the Daan Community College.)

For the more adventurous minds, one can even descend into the underworld, for a bit of urban exploring or catacomb-like art, visible only to those who may descend into the underground passages. In fact when entering the canal from the mountain streams that flow in there is still a diverse ecosystem underneath - a paradise for turtles, watersnakes, white egrets, fish, and huge toad and frog species, before reaching cockroach territory as you go further under the city. Budding cartographers can even find ways to trace the canal from above or below and find interesting new ways to display the maps, perhaps hand-drawn by a local residents or schools to promote community participation in design, perhaps using open source mapping to aid in the decentralization and democratization of the internet. These are all activities which our group is engaged in and promoting.

Over recent years more and more plans have emerged for the reopening of parts of Liugong Canal. Some are based purely on beautification, others on green economy, environmental protection and awareness and now, certain groups have begun to bring in ideas of community restoration and participation in planning for the Liugong Canal's future. As we can see from above, different parts of civil society - academics, community organisations, individual enthusiasts and artists - are already remapping the Liugong Canal. One thing is for certain: there are still many changes to happen to these maps, and the cartographic history of the Liugong Canal is far from over.


週一, 28 十二月 2009

Renovate the riverside for a new city image

Creating free public spaces

The cleanup of the Danshui River has already produced a gradual improvement in its water quality. Combined with the development of wetlands it has formed an ecological corridor which also provides an alternative for urban sewage treatment, meeting with the energy saving, low carbon emission objectives of a sustainable city. The next step is to make the creation of urban open space for the Taipei metropolitan area, a part of the overall environmental policy.

The main necessary condition of an urban open space is that of public accessibility. When building an open space, it must be open to the public. The public should be aware of these places, have access to and be able to conduct their activities in these spaces and the spaces should be connected to the public transport routes, such as bicycles, walk paths and so on.

In addition to this, how open an open space is, depends on the freedom it provides. Contrary to normal urban construction areas, open spaces are far more than a part coloured in green on a land use map. They should provide the potential for spontaneous activity which the citizens are free to choose and it should encourage social interactions. It is for these reasons that the community building work currently being promoted with the Amis Sijhou tribes on Xindian Riverside in Taipei County has extra significance.

The rich city culture of the urban Aborigine tribes

The Sijhou tribes are located on the Xindian waterfront. Both the flood prevention path and part of a bicycle trail pass in front of the Sijhou tribe. When the middle class families from the city cycle the bike routes during their leisure time, they pass by the Sijhou tribe and see our community gathering and eating areas enhanced by the friendly, hospitable atmosphere of the Amis. This community eating space, which is called Badousi in the Ami language, also displays the vitality of this Ami community.

This Ami settlement on the riverside, is most certainly not a dark corner of the city, nor is it built illegally. On the contrary, the Xindian Sijhou tribes bring the ocean culture all the way from the Hualien-Taidong coastline. Since migrating to the cities, the culture now manifests itself as a lively social interaction space in our urban open space. Thus, they must not be marginalised outside the city.

The Sijhou housing issue therefore warrants the ending of selfish interests from those at Taipei County’s Water Resources Bureau and the Indigenous People’s Bureau, amongst others. They must break through the undue legal and formal restrictions, to create an opportunity for an historical breakthrough on Taiwan’s urban Aborigine housing rights. Resolving this problem will allow the Environmental Protection Bureau to build on their success cleaning the Danshui River and the Water Resources Bureau to continue cleaning the Sijhou area of the river, at the same time further enriching Taipei’s urban culture.

I must emphasise that the Ami are people of the water who they do not fear rivers and oceans. They are different from the Han Chinese so deeply rooted to the land and are even further from bureaucratic culture and the rationale of modern engineering. The Ami knowledge of the wetlands combined with their agricultural production and fishing operations, makes for an excellent cultural and ecological classroom. The Sijhou urban Aborigine culture is not merely a marginal culture waiting to be reeled in and integrated by the government; furthermore, Taipei’s urban culture is not one full of ideological bias, one that disregards citizens of different ethnicities, sex or class, and one where all conform to an identical urban culture. The Xindian Sijhou tribes are part of the city, and urban aborigines are citizens.

Following the shaven head protest by the indigenous movement with film director Hou Hsiao-hsien on Ketagalan Boulevard, the strong support from the Mayor of Taipei County Chou Hsi-wei, the efforts of the Water Resources Bureau and a whole year of participation on the design by the students and teachers at NTU’s Graduate School of Building and Planning, we have now reached the final mile in the plan for the Amis culture park. We call for the National Property Administration to use the cheap rent model employed on school land in the USA and for the Indigenous Peoples Bureau to compile a register of the remaining inhabitants in the Sijhou Ami Culture Park area so that an official document requesting support with expenses can be presented to the central Council of Indigenous Peoples, allowing for the commencement of the next stage of the building process. This last bit of effort is still required for the realisation of this beautiful dream.

Remodelling space, reshaping our urban image

The wetlands and the ecological corridor of the Danshui River are also areas of open land with water flowing through them; thus they are also the borders between districts. No matter which shore of the river one is on, when one looks back over the city you get a special view of the skyline, helping us to know the city and creating a unique urban image. Therefore the relaxing of restrictions and size management for urban design should compliment the remodelling of our urban image rather than working under commercial and developmental pressures and giving up controls on size and height, leading to an enormous quantity but exaggerated density, and a lack of variety in the size of constructions. This damage is a legacy of the rapid urban development administered in Taipei County and also a burden of the Urban and Rural Development Bureau.

The remodelling of the urban open space on the Danshui riverside is a new opportunity to recreate our urban image. The limits on construction on both sides of the Danshui River are indeed too relaxed and the skyline is too homogeneous, appearing flat and uninteresting. Crossing the river during the daytime, is nothing like experiencing the picturesque River Seine in Paris, nor is the night time crossing anything in comparison to the silhouette of Shanghai’s Huangpu River or the Pearl River in Guangzhou. Therefore if there are some high-rise buildings to serve as landmarks, it could help strengthen our urban identity.

Translated from Chinese by Nick Coulson
(Photo by Wu Jinyong)

週五, 27 三月 2009

Water Challenges in Taipei County

Water Leak & Waste Urgently Await Improvement

“The skies give Taiwan up to 2500 to 3000 millimetre of rainfall each year, which is abundant enough. What a pity to not detain it and instead waste it!”
As a matter of fact, due to the steep slopes and short rivers in Taiwan, the water volume retained is less than 20%. The pipelines too are outdated and running water count for only 70%. Taiwan has reached under the saturated condition in the reservoir development, and must seek an additional water source. The underground water however, has a policy control, and the seawater desalination technology is far from ready. In addition, the old underground pipelines dating from the Japanese Occupation has also deteriorated, creating a water leakage rate that has bypassed 30%. Similarly one must not forget to take into account the local people’s poor habits in water usage: on an average, every four people in one day use up to a metric ton of water, which after being processed by the sewage treatment plant is later dispersed into the river and discontinued from recycling. The reduction in the price of water, as well the growing concern amongst the public and enterprises have resulted in the unwavering shadow casted by the problem of water shortage today.

Establishing a Water Management Structure

The problem of water resource implicates water conservation in the cities, countryside, and agricultural domains. The government will achieve this effectively by establishing a ‘Basin Administrative Bureau’, with the government empowering management works across the cities. As for the wasteful habits of the citizens, the government has the responsibility to act appropriately to the situation, by means of a legislation or the encouragement for enterprise research and development in water instalment such as sanitaries with economic water consumption. With the price of water reduced over the years, enterprises lack the research and development power to adjust the price policies at the appropriate time – a problem that the government will soon face.

In visioning the future collaboration of Taipei County and Taipei City in tackling the problem of water, Taipei County’s water resource policies will in recent years, lead to an overall development in the metropolis’ water storage. The replacement of a ‘development scheme’ in managing rivers is the best preparation for the advancement of a new bureau.

From Land to River, a Natural Cleansing Process

Another big challenge in water conservation is the construction of wetlands. Taipei County has over a thousand hectares of wetlands. The County government originally wished to discharge the river into the water interception in order for the wetland ecosystem to purify the waste water, which will then be returned to the river, saving funds and creating a new ecological environment. In the future, Taipei County plans to establish 18 artificial wetlands in three years, processing 1/4 of the sanitary sewage county-wide. The woods antler brook artificial wetland, for example, inverts the past hydraulic engineering concept entirely. With respect to ecology as a main principle and by making use of local materials, the results have indeed been satisfactory: The number of birds, fish and floral have increased, the investment expenses were also noticeably less than that of other large scale works.
Moreover, Taipei County has started to deal with the odours emitted by the drainage system of Jhonggang, unifying the peripheral city and countryside building, business circle, community, local culture, and giving the people of Xinzhuang a “confident start”. From now on, the water conservancy facility will no longer be a pessimistic civil engineering, but a green park with clear water.

Attached media :

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週五, 17 八月 2007

The Dung-luo River Culture Association

People seem to have forgotten the Dung-luo River’s role in the birth of Changhwa and allowed it to deteriorate.
“The Dung-luo River Culture Association” was established to improve the river environment. They started to clean the environment to restore the original features of the Dung-luo River. They want to make the place attractive anew. They hope to create an area that will bring back the memories of simple rural life and local traditions. By relying on the characteristics of the visible resources, they are helping the farmers to change their lives.
If you want to experience a different rural life, you should come here at least once.

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週二, 26 九月 2006

China's Water Challenge


Rivers’ pollution, hazardous water management, devastating typhoons in the East, water shortage in the North and the West, erosion of arable land and desertification... China’s looming water crisis challenges its very model of development.
The debate goes even beyond: how far is China’s water problem related to world wide challenges? And what is to be done at the global level in order for China to let water bless again its soil and its people?

This flash animation presentation states the basic facts about China’s water challenges. While it is downloading, have a look at the main points it develops.

The per capita share of fresh water in China, which stands at 2,200 cubic meters, is only one-quarter of the world average. By 2030 when China’s population reaches 1.6 billion, per capita water resources will drop to 1760 cubic meters; close to 1700 cubic meters, the internationally recognized benchmark for water shortages:

- 42% of China’s population, or 538 million people, in the northern provinces (60% of its cultivated land) have access to only 14% of the country’s water. If northern China were counted as a separate country, its water availability—757 cubic meters per person—would be comparable to that of parts of North Africa: lower, for example, than the water resources of Morocco. In central Gansu, some areas get less than 300 millimeters of rain a year. (In order to address China’s northern water shortage, the government is spending almost 500 billion yuan on a three canals project to divert some 38-48 billion cubic meters of flow northward from the Yangzi River to the Yellow, Huaihe, and Haihe River systems)

- More than half of China’s 660 cities suffer from water shortages, affecting 160 million people. By 2010, it is expected that, of the 600 larger cities in the country, 550 will be subjected to water shortages.

- 90% of cities’ groundwater and 75% of rivers and lakes are polluted. Every year, about 25 billion tons of sewage and pollutants, 42 percent of all generated in China, is piped into the Yangtze River, making it one of the ten most endangered rivers in the world to face drying up, according to a report released by the World Wildlife Fund.

- China also lags behind in sanitation coverage, which was 48% in 2004 , the same as Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, but less than China’s neighbor, Vietnam, whose GDP per capita is only about half of China’s. In 2006, the percentage of treated urban sewage and safely handled urban household waste reached 56% and 54% respectively, 4 and 2.3 percentage points higher than the year before.

- The water problem is in no way limited to urban areas. According to the WHO, acid rain, polluted rivers and inadequate sewage treatment have left nearly half of China’s rural population without access to clean drinking water. (See also I-C)
- As a result of widespread water pollution, around 340 million people drink contaminated water every day, with an additional 350 million drinking poor quality water. Over 26 million people in China suffer from dental fluorosis due to elevated fluoride in their drinking water, and over 1 million cases of skeletal fluorosis are thought to be attributable to drinking-water.

- Between November 2005 and January 2006, three major accidents occurred, stopping water supply for millions of people and raising awareness of the challenges ahead.

- In 2006, it was estimated that nearly 80 per cent of China’s 7,555 more heavily polluting factories were located in rivers or lakes or in heavily populated areas.

- If presents trends are not reversed, experts forecast that by 2020 there will be 30 million environmental refugees in China due to water stress.

- “The struggle for water will lead to "a fight between rural interests, urban interests and industrial interests on who gets water in China.” (Yukon Huang, World Bank, January 2005)





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