Romantic Route 3: Rediscover Hakka Culture at Beipu, Taiwan

Romantic Route 3: Rediscover Hakka Culture at Beipu, Taiwan
Photo Credit: Syrena Lin
What you need to know

Explore Taiwan’s Hakka culture through the ongoing Romantic Route 3 Arts Festival. First stop: Beipu.

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Beipu (北埔), the Hakka capital of northern Taiwan, is a small village in the Hsinchu county and home to around 10,000 people, mostly of Hakka origin.

Traditionally, Beipu is known for its well-preserved Hakka culture with local flavors. When we think of Beipu, things like Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea, Lei Cha (擂茶), dried persimmons, and cold springs come to mind, but Beipu offers more than that.

Most people in Taiwan may have stopped by Beipu during their road trips, but the ongoing Romantic Route 3 Arts Festival (浪漫台三線藝術季) will revitalize their impressions of this small town. As one of the destinations featured by the festival, Beipu is showcasing contemporary art exhibitions with the theme “The Upcoming Past" throughout its old street and countryside areas.

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Photo Credit: Romantic Route 3 Arts Festival
“Romantic Route 3” invites travelers to experience the romance of slow travel in Taiwan.
What is “Romantic Route 3” about?

The festival aims to encourage travelers to explore a Hakka city on their own as if they’re on a scavenger hunt. They won’t be spending time in museum buildings, but will rather discover artworks in narrow alleys, by a temple, or out in a rice field.

“It’s uncommon for Taiwan to host an arts festival in the scale of the Romantic Route 3. I believe it’s the first time, not just for us but for other curatorial teams as well, we have a space like this to do things freely. This is rare for a public sector event,” said Ryan Lin (林長叡), the production supervisor of the Romantic Route 3 Arts Festival in Beipu.

The Romantic Route 3 is a 150-kilometer section of Provincial Highway 3 connecting at least 16 Hakka townships from northern to central Taiwan. It’s a national flagship project to preserve and promote Hakka culture, as well as boosting domestic tourism.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who’s from a Hakka family, was the first to mention the concept of Romantic Route 3 during her presidential election campaign in 2012, although she lost the race that year. When she ran for office again in 2016, she reintroduced the Romantic Route 3 idea and listed it as one of her key platforms.

According to Tsai, the then-presidential candidate, her inspiration had come from southern Germany's Romantic Road (Romantische Straße), a popular tourist route linking picturesque towns, breathtaking nature, cultural landmarks, and remarkable artworks in the southern German provinces of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Neuschwanstein Castle is a landmark along Germany’s Romantic Road, which had inspired Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen to recreate a similar route in Taiwan to promote its Hakka culture.
What does Hakka culture look like in Taiwan?

Originally, the Hakkas were in Northern China before migrating down south. Today, they are found in widely scattered locations such as Guangdong, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Jamaica.

After years of cultural blending, a distinct Hakka identity is slowly fading away in Taiwan, especially the Hakka language. In 2017, the Taiwanese government passed the Hakka Basic Act, aiming to strengthen multiculturalism stated in the Constitution and preserve the Hakka language and culture. The act defines the Hakkas as “people who have Hakka blood or Hakka origin, and those who identify themselves as Hakka.” Under this definition, around 19.3 percent of the country's population are Hakkas, and many of them reside in Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, and Hualien.

Hakka people are usually characterized as hard-working, frugal, and courageous. With these spirits, they survived the harsh conditions while fleeing disturbances and escaping poverty in history. After a series of migrations, the Hakkas often arrived late to a new settlement and had to fend for themselves on the margins of other dominant cultures. In Taiwan's case, the Hakkas settled mostly in mountainous areas, and Beipu was one of the places.

“What’s happening here, including the curation and exhibitions, will become part of the mutual memories of Beipu and Hakka communities. We also hope that through this arts festival, more possibilities and thoughts could be provided,” Lin said.

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Photo Credit: Daphne K. Lee / The News Lens
The dry and windy climate in the Hsinchu county creates a naturally perfect environment for dried persimmons.
Discovering “The Upcoming Past” in Beipu

Spanish artist Isaac Cordal was invited to exhibit his work in Beipu for the festival. He installed around 10 micro sculptures with Hakka elements in unusual places, like the rooftops, on top of CCTVs, and on eaves. You can go on a journey searching for all of his little people in the center of Beipu.

Slightly outside of the town center, you can find a traditional barn among the rice fields. It has been converted into an exhibition space for “Catch a Rest in the Air of Beipu,” which combines Uncle Sweet Potato’s craft of bamboo weaving and artist Lin Wan Ying’s (林宛縈) scent design. You’re invited to interact with different containers on the table and smells of tea, grass, or even traditional markets. Each scent demonstrates a story collected by Lin during her field interviews engaging with the locals.

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Photo Credit: Syrena Lin
“Catch a Rest in the Air of Beipu” encourages visitors to smell and experience different scents found in the Hakka town.

Around sunset, you can go near Beipu’s 100 Point Bridge (百分橋), where artist Liu Chih Hung (劉致宏) has created a large-scale light installation named “Timeline” along the riverbank. When you stroll by all the 1s and 0s, you can feel the passage of time both from the man-made visual elements and from the fading sunlight.

These are only several of many remarkable exhibitions and pieces of the Romantic Route 3 Arts Festival in Beipu. More Hakka charm expressed through various forms of arts are waiting for the visitors to explore.

The Romantic Route 3 Festival will be running until December 15 across Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, and Taichung, featuring 50 artworks and more than 100 cultural events.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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