In 2009, Taipei City government finished the repairing process of Bopiliao Historic Block, and opened it up to the public. These old buildings have become a cultural and educational landmark. Let's get to know the fascinating history of Bopiliao!
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Welcome to the Wan-Hua district! Wan-Hua, also known by its Taiwanese name “Monga”, was one of the three major maritime trading hubs in Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty. The other two large entry points into Taiwan at the time were Fucheng in Tainan, and Lukang in Changhua. This area is a place steeped in tradition and nostalgia. When locals think of Wan-Hua, they conjure up images of ancient temples, old streets and old-style vendors. Several historic landmarks, such as Longshan Temple, Qingshan Temple, Snake Alley and Bo-Pi-Liao Historic Block are found right here in Wan-Hua. This area is also home to several unforgettable Taiwanese delicacies.
Right now, we are looking at the Bo-Pi-Liao Historic Block. The building’s construction and design takes inspiration from Taiwan’s time under the Qing Dynasty, as well as during Japanese Colonial Rule. The building stands as a testament to Monga’s development throughout the century.
Where does the name “Bo-Pi-Liao” come from? “Liao” in Chinese generally means a small hut or shack. During the Qing Dynasty, this area was known as “Fu-Pi-Liao” which generally means fortune or good auspices. During Japanese colonial rule, the name changed to “Bei-Pi-Liao”. In Chinese, “Bei” means “North”. “Bo” comes from a combination of “Bei” and “Fu”in Chinese.
In 2003, the Taipei City government opted to rejuvenate this area. Bo-Pi-Liao underwent renovations all the way until 2009, and was subsequently reopened to the public. Now, let’s take a closer look at this historic area, and discover all the antiquities and cultural treasures it holds inside.
The earliest records of Bo-Pi-Liao can be traced to a title deed that dates all the way back to 1799. However, there has been speculation that Bo-Pi-Liao was constructed earlier than that. The structure extends from Longshan Temple’s Herb Alley all the way to Longshan Junior High School.
The path that you are currently traversing got its peculiar shape 200 years ago, when it had to accommodate the local geography. The plaza you are standing in was a vital channel for local residents to gain access to different parts of the city. Back then, this road could take you all the way to the far eastern city districts of Gong-Guan, Jing-Mei, Xin-Dian, Shi-Ding and Shen-Keng!
During Japanese rule, Taipei underwent extensive development. Guangzhou street, Kangding street and Kunming street were constructed in the surrounding areas, with Guangzhou street being the main road. To accommodate these updates, vendors had to shift their storefronts to face Guangzhou street. This once bustling pathway was therefore converted into a small alley.
In 1920, with the establishment of Laosong Elementary School next door, Bo-Pi-Liao was included in the expansion project, preserving many of the buildings that you see before you. Without the preservation efforts, Bo-Pi-Liao would not be the historic landmark that it is today.
During Japanese rule, this area was used as a fire water reservoir. Take a look at the floor, where you will see a map of the Wan-Hua and Bo-Pi-Liao areas. If you look closely, the map also contains red bricks of different shapes and sizes.
An even closer look will reveal the letters T, R and S engraved on many of the bricks. What does this mean? The “S” stands for the Samuel and Samuel Company from England, who produced the bricks used in the creation of this map.
The bricks are also called “S bricks” or “English bricks.” On the other hand, the bricks with “TR”were high-end blocks produced by the Taiwan Renga company. Each brick weighs about 2 kilograms and is very dense. The TR bricks were considered the best building material in their class, created using top-notch Japanese technological prowess.
Back then, if someone’s house was built using TR bricks, it was considered an indication of a rich household. As we move on to the next area, try and see how many TR bricks you can find along the way!
Right now, we’re standing at 31 Kangding Road, Alley 173. Take a look up at the highest wooden window up there. It’s shape is a very unique 3 by 3 glass formation. Now lower your head and take a look at the two diamond shapes on the floor, made from a paving process called “Scrub Pebble”. It’s okay, you can touch them if you want. Feel the texture of the material.
Many people in Taiwan know of several building techniques that employ pebbles, such as Wash Pebble, Scrub Pebble, and Whet Pebble, but few know the difference. The Wash Pebble process involves mixing pebbles with cement, laying it out and then rinsing the mixture with water.
If, instead of rinsing with water, a sponge is used to remove imperfections from the pavement, then the process becomes Scrub Pebble. Finally, if a tool is used to smooth out the cemented pebble, then that process is Whet pebble.
Take a look at the door threshold of number 31, which was created using the Whet Pebble process. If you want to see more examples of Whet Pebble, the Starbucks Wan-Hua Store has an amazingly elaborate floor paved using the retro style.
Turn around and take a look at the red brick wall. Upon further examination you will find that the wall is constructed with bricks of two differing thicknesses. The flatter and thicker bricks are called Minnan bricks. The thicker ones are more common regular bricks. Furthermore, there are two red brick pillars that partition the main entrance of the building into three sections.
The two columns not only act as load-bearing supports, but they are also remnants of their time. Originally, the pillars were constructed using a wooden core. However, during renovation the centers have been replaced with black iron. This way, the building is given even more reinforcement without sacrificing its historical integrity and look.
The building that you're standing in right now is a traditional street house typically found in Bo-Pi-Liao Historic Block back in its heyday. These long and narrow structures were not only vital businesses that fueled the local economy, but the homes of the people that ran them. A wall runs down the center dividing the front and back into the living area and the storefront. Some owners would opt for a vertical configuration, keeping the residence on the second floor and the business on the first floor.
In front of these houses there would typically be verandas -- long covered corridors that went along the sides of the house. These verandas were built out of necessity, since the climate in Taiwan often brings long bouts of rain. Furthermore, they gave owners additional space to expand their business and offer more varieties of goods.
You can see that this particular street house was one that divided its space vertically into two floors. Take a look at the wall to your right. The division between home and business is clearly marked with paint. The second floor wall has been painted white, while the first floor maintains its original brick siding. When Bo-Pi-Liao underwent its rejuvenation, restoration was done using all of the same materials that would have been used back then. This way, the historic block can keep its antique atmosphere, and act as a living time capsule.
This particular establishment once belonged to the MinHua Printing Office. This building was featured in the 1986 film Dust in the Wind by director Hou Hsiao Hsien. Its mottled walls tell the a tale of a busy printing business back during Bo-Pi-Liao's peak.
Welcome to Sun Binding Factory. This is the place where the pages of a book were compiled and put together before being shipped out. Back then, the process of manufacturing a book required many different people and materials. In classical Wan-Hua, you'll find many businesses that were crucial to the book-making process such as type casters and printing services.
It's no surprise that this area was once the heart of Taipei's literature industry. During Japanese Colonial Rule, the location of Taiwan's most prestigious newspaper, Taiwan Daily News, was located nearby, around Taipei Zhongshan Hall.
The Sun Book Binding Factory was founded during Japanese Colonial Rule, and its practices have been passed down for three generations. It was responsible for binding dictionaries, comics and more important publications, such as the National Palace Museum Monthly Bulletin and President Chiang Ching-kuo's Memorial Biography. The founder of Sun travelled Japan to specifically learn book binding techniques, and passed his craft down to his progenitors.
Early book binding was heavily reliant on manual labor. The highly technical skill required plenty of experience and agile hands to execute. Any mistakes made during the process required one to start over from the beginning. The local economy was actually quite reliant on the Sun Book Binding Factory.
The prep work required to bind a book was rather extensive, so the owners would tap into the surrounding areas for a bit of extra help. People would work on a per-item basis, and earn a little extra money by doing the less labor-intensive parts of the book binding process.
Today, Sun has moved to the Zhong-Ho district of New Taipei city. However, the importance of its legacy in Bo-Pi-Liao will never be forgotten.
Many of Taiwan's agricultural products are produced in small farm towns outside of large cities. However, when farmers came into the big cities to sell their goods, they would usually shack up at places called “huàn-á-king”. “huàn-á-king” were the travelling vendors could rent out at a cheap price to rest or sleep overnight.
Right now, we are looking at the RiXiang Inn located at 17 Kangding Road, Alley 173. This location is close to the Wan-Hua Train Station, so it was a popular place for people from outside of Taipei to stay overnight.
As we walk inside, you will see on your right a narrow staircase that leads to the second floor. If you walk down the central corridor, you will see a row if windowless rooms on either side. The odd-numbered rooms on the right were a little bigger and had their own bathrooms. The even-numbered rooms to the left had no bathrooms, and were about the size of a tatami mat.
These smaller rooms shared a bathroom, which is located in the back of the hostel. The special tiles used on the walls of the bathroom. It was an interior decoration trend found all throughout Taiwan after the 1960's.
The RiXiang Inn used to be called the MeiHo Inn, an offshoot of the larger MeiHo Inn located on Guangzhou Street. However, the location was later sold off to a man named Lai, who then renamed it the RiXiang Inn. The hostel operated until 1999, right before Bo-Pi-Liao was reconstructed.
151 Guangzhou Street is a three-story cement building, making it the tallest building on the block. This building was reconstructed in the early years of the Republic of China, and built using reinforced concrete. Reinforced concrete was a newly introduced construction material at the time, which involved embedding steel bars inside of concrete before it sets.
The technique was brought to Taiwan from Japan, and in 1901 experts demonstrated the process at the House of the Governor-General, which is now the Taipei Guest House.
In 1909, Taipei Telephone exchange was the first building to be built using reinforced concrete, and the building material has since become a vital part of construction in Taiwan.
If you look all the way up, you can see the balcony that the homeowner pushed out in order to maximize living space. This method is widely adopted throughout Taiwan, and you can see these extended decks as you walk down the streets. While renovating this building, the restoration staff preserved the second-floor western-style arc-shaped balcony, as a reminder of the diverse architectural styles employed throughout Taipei's history.
During special events at temples in Taiwan, Taoist priests play a pivotal part in ceremonies of all kinds. These priests are often called "masters," and are divided into red headed masters and black headed masters. Aside from attending to weddings and funerals, Taoist priests were required to partake in sacrificial ceremonies and multitudes of other religious celebrations.
7 Kangding Road, Alley 173 is a Taoist altar named "Weiling Alter," or "Master's Altar," which is very well known throughout Taoist circles. From the era of Japanese rule to today, this religious center has existed for five generations. By the second generation, this religious landmark had already become quite famous.Many Taoist priests found their roots here. By the time the third generation ran the religious center, people already began calling this place "Master's Altar.
" Its reputation went far and wide, and stories of its skillful and enlightened priests travelled island-wide and have sustained themselves until this day.
Parents will often bring their kids to receive blessings. The red-headed masters here are known for blessing children and appeasing malevolent spirits that may haunt them. The most popular types of Taoist prayers are also the ones that the masters of this place excel in.
In 1999, the religious center moved to the second floor of 98 Guangzhou Street, and continues to serve members of the community until this day. Next time you're in need of spiritual reinforcement, why not defer to the deep knowledge of the priests who hold five generations worth of enlightenment?
Next to the Master's Altar is the Xiuying Teahouse, which was a gathering place for the local neighborhood. Residents from nearby would come to the teahouse and enjoy fine teas and friendly conversation. This teahouse wasn't exactly known for its selection of fine teas. Rather, it was a place where people could get together, relax and chat.
Originally, the owner served only millet tea and peanut soup, but because initial business wasn't great, the store was transformed into a teahouse. In the beginning, the store was called "Fragrant Teahouse," but the owner decided to name the shop after his daughter "Xiuying," and the rest is history. The teahouse opened during Japanese Colonial rule and operated all the way until Bo-Pi-Liao was torn down for renovation in 1999.
With 80 years of history, the teahouse moved around within the area three times. First, it opened at 179 Kangding road. Then it moved 151 Guangzhou street, and finally to 5 KangDing Road, Alley 173, where it remained until the renovations began. The teahouse had sustained three generations of family ownership.
Xiuying Teahouse served Baozhong , Jasmine, Oolong and an assortment of other teas that were served alongside tea time snacks. On demand were mung bean cakes and pastries, walnut cookies, and peanut cakes, all of which are traditional delicacies of Taipei city. The atmosphere of the teahouse was rather simple. The area directly in front of the store was used to seat guests and boil tea water. The inside of the building was the owner's living space.
Xiuying's clientele comprised of local vendors, and rickshaw drivers. It was one of the most popular places to get together in all of Wan-Hua.
This building, at the mouth of Kangding Street's Alley 173, was once the archway into the alley. We can see that bricks, washed pebbles and concrete were employed in its construction. The first floor housed four washed pebble pillars, upon which there are three arch rings. The facade from the second floor up is bright red.
On the left side of the building are a set of stairs that resembles a seat, made from whet stones. Back then, some storefront owners would rent out their first floor to other vendors and live on the second floor.
Or they would operate a business on the first floor and rent out the second floor as a residence. The stairs were used by tenants and landlords to freely gain access to the first and second floors of the building. This kind of configuration is common in Taiwan even today.
One of the walls in the interior of this building is actually a bamboo-mud-wall, which was common among houses in farming villages. The idea was to create a stable frame using bamboo, and then fill in the gaps with a mud and rice-husk mixture to form a sturdy wall.
This kind of structure was found in early farm settlements all throughout Taiwan. Though it isn't an elaborate technique, it was still commonly known and frequently employed. The only materials required were bamboo and rice husks, both of which were readily available to farmers.
Under Japanese rule, several major cities in Taiwan underwent major development. Several new and modern construction projects were undertaken at the time. Even though many building exteriors were designed to resemble classical British architecture, the first floors of each building retained their more traditional styles.
The roofs of each building were fashioned using Taiwanese wooden design. The three red-brick buildings on Kangding road together formed the “Archway,” which is a particular area where people came to trade goods, called the “Yongxing Bow- guild”.
“Bow- guild” were busy areas where trading and commerce took place. These “Bow- guild” were one of many “Productivity Organizations,” similar to what unions and guilds are today. Some Productivity Organizations were divided by industry, such as sugar, textiles and tea. Some were organized by location or area.
The “Yongxing Bow- guild” was founded in 1910, and was formed to bolster the trade of construction materials between Taiwan and Fujian province in China. At its peak, there were around 30 boats operating under the “Yongxing Bow- guild」,” making it one of the most profitable organizations in this area. You need to look no further than the elaborate sculpture outside this building to understand just how prosperous this organization was.
The Yongxing Bow- guild ceased operations because no one was willing to take up the mantle of leadership after the original founder retired. The founder’s son, however, used this building and established the Taiwan Economic Daily, which was a publication dedicated to reporting on the local foodstuffs market.
Before the existence of gas, electricity and water heaters, the tasks of cooking, showering and boiling water required different types of charcoal for fire. Producers of charcoal would have to manufacture coal up on the mountain, and then transport it to the various shops in town for distribution. Because of the added costs of production and transportation, charcoal was more expensive than other commodities. Peat charcoal was cheaper than the more commonly used wood charcoal, and therefore it was a welcome alternative for low to middle class households.
On the western side of Bo-Pi-Liao, at the intersection of Kangding Road and Guangzhou Road, there was a place where coal vendors gathered to buy and sell various household fuels. Because of the popularity of peat charcoal, the area came to be known as “Peat Coal Market”.
After the reinvigoration projects under the Japanese took place, the coal vendors were forced to move away. Around that time, gas stoves were coming into prominence in Taiwan, and therefore the need for Peat Coal Market also disappeared.
The once lively Peat Coal Market is a building consisting of red-brick walls. If you look up from under the veranda, you can see an intricate design resembling scrolls. It’s a simple design, yet has a certain tastefulness to it that brings the entire building together. Looking at it, one can imagine the busy halls of the Peat Coal Market back in its heyday.
If you want to witness the full majesty of the collective storefronts of Guangzhou Street, all you have to do is cross the road. Only when you see the traditional street houses lined up next to each other, can you truly appreciate the beauty of the structures. Notice the building with green-glazed tiles embedded within the red-brick wall. That building is called “Chang-Shou Teahouse,” and it’s rife with nostalgic details.
There are several other buildings that have flower beds incorporated into its façade, using the contours of the architecture to bring depth to the overall design. However, the most noteworthy decorations are the clay patterns on the side of each building.
Yongxing Bow- guild is a good example of this, with its arched balcony and parapet. At the very top, there’s a decorative mural made from washed pebbles that exudes grace.
One can also take a good look at 153 Guangzhou street, which houses the Song Xie Xing shop. At the center of the top of the building is the Chinese character for “Song” which was the family name of the shop’s owner. The shop was a prominent purveyor of grains, and there are still the original milling machines they used inside!
Another sight worth checking out is 173 Guangzhou Street. The façade of this building is decorated with intricate patterns. The shape in the center is called an “Abalone Medal.”On either side of the unique adornment are two weight-scale decorations. By observing the facades of Guangzhou street, we can see how unique and diverse the architecture truly is.
A common way to greet someone in Taiwanese is to ask whether or not they’ve eaten, or invite them to drink tea. Because of this, tea bears a friendly and accommodating meaning in Taiwanese culture. It is a symbol of good company and good conversation.
There are two teahouses in Bo-Pi-Liao. We’ve already introduced the Xiuying Teahouse, but the other one is none other than the building that we saw earlier –Chang-Shou Teahouse . Even though the two teahouses aren’t far from one another, their different hours of operation prevented them from being competitors.
Chang-Shou Teahouse is located at 161 Guangzhou Street. The owner’s name is Chen Chang-Shou, which can roughly be translated to Longevity Chen.
In 1962, Chen opened up the first floor and turned it into a teahouse. The name Chang-Shou was not only derived from the owner’s name, but Chen also hoped that his business would also have a long and prosperous life.
Chang-Shou Teahouse was known to serve a variety of teas. Business began at 8AM and would continue into the midnight. Many customers wouldn’t leave until the shop closed for the night. The clientele of Chang-Shou Teahouse consisted of middle-aged to older people. Everyone would gather there to chat. Furthermore, teahouses, were purveyors of information and news.
The configuration of the store was known as the “four column, three opening” configuration. The second floor is decorated with green-glazed tiles embedded within the red-brick wall. Customers would sit in the veranda to enjoy their tea and conversation. This kind of place can now only be found in Bo-Pi-Liao.
In the early days, the main road in and out of Bo-Pi-Liao was what Kangding Road Alley 173 is now. Both sides of the street were lined with bustling storefronts. However, during the Japanese reinvigoration project, Guangzhou Street became the main road. In order to continue conducting business, many stores shifted their main entryways to face Guangzhou street.
Therefore the busiest traffic shifted from Alley 173 to Guangzhou Street. As a result, the once busy Alley 173 simply became the back entryways into many homes and stores. This created a kind of back alley environment and calmed the overall atmosphere in Alley 173.
Beneath the verandas of Guangzhou street, you’ll notice that the doorways of the shops are partitioned off using a solid slab of wood.
During off hours, the wood acted as the barrier between the shop and the rest of the world. However, during business hours the wood plank would be removed and laid out as a surface for owners to display their goods and attract customers.
During afternoons in Taipei, the city is prone to bouts of heavy showers. To provide shelter from these torrential downpours, the verandas were constructed. This way, not only could people walk unhindered from the rain, but businesses could continue to operate despite heavy downpour. Some of you may have noticed that the verandas in Alley 173 are different than the ones found on Guanzhou Street.
That’s because the enclosures on Alley 173 are left over from the Qing Dynasty. During the Qing Dynasty, there were no strict regulations or requirements regarding the construction of verandas, and thus each house could build them at their own discretion.
This resulted in narrower pathways than the ones found on the busier streets.
However, these Qing-era verandas do have one important feature – they were earthquake-resistant.
Many of the old street houses were constructed from lime, which is less resistant to earthquakes. Several people used the veranda design of layering bricks against a support column to increase a structure’s ability to absorb shock from an earthquake.
The verandas found on Guangzhou Street were conceived using a Japanese-era design. At that time, the Governor-General of Taiwan implemented a series of codes and regulations regarding home construction. Each house was to abide by strict building guidelines which dictated parameters such as approved building materials and measurements. These implementation not only ensured the stability of each house, but they made verandas a uniform requirement of buildings in Taiwan.
If we follow along the Guangzhou Street verandas you’ll see many columns that are “defense colored.” Defense colors are a shade of green brick mandated by the Japanese government. Due to the wars the Japanese Colonial government were fighting, defense colors made it easy for the air force to identify civilian buildings, so they could avoid bombing those areas if need be. If you head over to 157 Guangzhou street, you’ll find that there is a defense colored pillar right outside!
These days, almost every house comes equipped with a bathroom and shower. But in the olden days most people would have to go to public bathrooms to get cleaned up. After World War II, and the establishment of the Republic of China government in Taiwan, there was a sudden population spike in urban areas. Living spaces were in extremely short supply. Kitchens and bathrooms became makeshift living facilities. As a result, public bathrooms began to spring up around Taipei.
143 Guangzhou Street was home to “Feng Xiang Bathhouse” established in 1963. The owners were a husband and wife. The scale of this public bathhouse was not big by any measure, and the amenities provided were sufficient at best. “Feng” means phoenix in Chinese, while “Xiang” means to take flight.
The name of the public bathhouse was derived from the husband and wife’s wishes that their business would take off like a phoenix in flight. They hoped that, despite a mediocre environment and sub-par conditions, their business would could still sustain.
In the beginning, these public bathhouse relied on charcoal to heat hot water. Later on, the owners implemented natural gas. The clientele of this particular public bath were lower-middle class citizens. At the time, men would have to use a public bath, and they would be charged about $20 NT per use. Women preferred to use private baths, and were charged $60NT per use, which is considered very reasonable for the time.
Given time, Taiwan’s economy would slowly recover and grow, and living conditions improved. Homes gradually came equipped with their own bathrooms, and the need for a public facility died out. Feng Xiang Bathhouse ceased operations in 1987.
129 Guangzhou Street is an interesting house. The inside partition is angled, rather than perpendicular to the rest of the house. The reason for this is because during the Japanese renovation of the city, contemporary buildings had to be renovated and remodeled to accommodate new roads and passageways.
You’ll find that many buildings on Guangzhou street have a slanted partition, much like the interior of number 129.
Yi An Religious Guardianship is a rather well-known shrine in the Wanhua area.Whenever religious carnivals took place, clerical processions would pass by these shrines in order to bless the local neighborhood. Yi An was founded in 1921. The founder Yang Shi Tou lived right here in 129. Many members of his staff would come here to conduct religious practices.
There were several other similar shrines in the area, and they would participate in ceremonies that had to do with the QingShan Deity. Many stories involving QingShan can be found at the QingShan Temple nearby.
129 and 127 Guangzhou Street are separated by a reservoir, creating an empty space between the two places. However, both the east and west sides of this separation are considered part of Bo-Pi-Liao Historic Block. On the east side of this separation is the Heritage and Culture Education Center of Taipei City.
The organization is responsible for curating and displaying important artifacts from Taipei’s history. The west side of the separation contains several different structures leftover from past eras. Each side is responsible for showcasing a different aspect of Taipei’s rich and enduring history.
They’re both must-see destinations for travelers who have come as far as you have. Now that you know all about Bo-Pi-Liao Historic Block, we encourage you to continue on, and delve deeper into the rich background of the Wan-Hua district.
Lose yourself in the alleyways of Xintomicho market, and discover the newly reinvigorated Xinfu market. There’s always more to discover!
Historical photos credits