PHOTO STORY: The Decline of Taipei's Shaoxing Community

Credit: William Yang
Why you need to know

A unique piece of Taipei is preserved forever through the lens before being buried forever.

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For someone who has spent an extensive amount of time in the United States, gentrification is a social phenomenon that I have been reading so much about in the past few years. However in Taiwan, this isn’t a topic that attracts much discussion simply because of the small amount of real-life examples that people can draw from. However, a historic community deep in the heart of Taipei’s affluent area around Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is being forced out of their homes due to gentrification, or to put it in a more politically correct way, urban renewal.

Shaoxing Community, located between Xinyi Road and Renei Road, has been fighting for its survival since 2011, when National Taiwan University suddenly filed a lawsuit against the residents, accusing them of illegally settling on the school’s property. A series of public demonstrations was then organized by residents and National Taiwan University students to try to stop the school from forcing them out of their homes. Even though they were able to settle the case and reach an agreement with the university after four years of negotiation, they still can’t stop the force of urban renewal from taking over their homes. What they see now will soon become a modern yet unfamiliar scene to them in a few years.

Shaoxing Community
Credit: William Yang

I stumbled upon the community on a sunny Sunday afternoon, as I deviated from the main road to discover pockets of Taipei that I have never come across before. Made up mostly by small shacks that are one or two stories tall, the streets and dark alleys of Shaoxing Community bear the traces of its history. With almost no space to fit anything other than the necessities, it is common to see huge piles of worn-out furniture stockpiled at the back of each house, making the alleys look even darker and smaller. Since most residents depend on government welfare or collecting recycling for a living, the area bears traits typical urban slums everywhere, with residents making use of every nook and cranny to build a life.

Shaoxing Taipei
Credit: William Yang

On the day I visited, there was an exhibition put together by volunteers who hope to help residents and people in Taipei remember Shaoxing Community. As I walked around the community with my camera, I couldn’t help but sympathize with the residents and the fate of the community. Most of the older generation are veterans who arrived in Taipei with Chiang Kai-Shek, and were gifted wood to start new lives here. With no land or property, they could only build little shacks around CKS Memorial Hall, which used to be the military base back then. Decades have passed, and the community continues to be left out of the government’s consideration when they pass legislation to regulate land ownership.

Doorway in Taipei's Shaoxing Community
Credit: William Yang

The government only became aware of their existence when demands for urban renewal began to bubble up, and instead of finding a solution that benefits both the residents and the developers, they tried to forcefully evict these underprivileged people from their homes. Even though a solution that ensures their right to “return” was found, the conditions that they have to accept reflect the cruel nature of urbanization, in which the powerless must always be thankful for any small mercy offered by those in power. This is a pattern that has been repeated around the world, and now the residents of Shaoxing Community have become the latest victims.

Credit: William Yang

It’s hard to imagine how the lives of these veterans and their families will be once the construction is complete. Life in the shack may be tough, but at least they have a place to call home. Now, with everything they have about to be crushed under a bulldozer, I wonder what life will mean to them after they have become a part of history that very few in Taipei will remember. The only way I can contribute is to help preserve these scenes before they vanish into rubble, and lament the unfair compromises the residents have to make in order to have a chance to return, even when nothing remains the same.

Shaoxing Gathering
Credit: William Yang
Shaoxing Shack
Credit: William Yang
Taipei Community in Danger
Credit: William Yang

This piece was republished with permission. It was originally published on Taipei Love Notes here. Taipei Love Notes is a blogging project that compiles personal appreciation and love toward Taipei. The blog hopes to help people rediscover their love for Taipei.

TNL Editor: Morley J Weston

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