Miaoli: Yuanli Town


Yuanli Town is located in the southwestern part of Miaoli County. It is one of the earliest townships in Miaoli County. It produces Citrus reticulata Blanco cv. Shiyue Ju, commonly known as “sugar oranges” by local people, in the water slope of Yuanli Town. It has the reputation of being "Miaoli’s Grain Barn" and "Miaoli’s Rice Barn."

Tsai Family Mansion | 蔡家古厝

The Tsai Family Mansion was built in the late Qing Dynasty (about 1820). It has a history of nearly 190 years. The Tsai family has two ancient homes, and the other is in the foothills of Yuanli Town. The Tsai family made their wealth from doing business, and its ancient home was made by craftsmen from China who were invited by the Tsai family to help them build their mansion.

The building materials of wood and stone were also imported from China, such as the beam column that was made of China Fir, and the stone flooring which was made from Tangshan rock. The mansion, which covers an area of ​​1,980 square meters, is beautifully built. The carvings on the beams, brick walls and window sills are quite gorgeous, rich in the beauty of traditional Chinese art, and the overall architecture is quite impressive. At present, only the main hall and the side rooms are left; and most of the other parts of the mansion have been demolished and rebuilt into something else.

 

Triangle Rush Exhibition Hall |藺草文化館
Triangle Rush Exhibition Hall

In the early days of Yuanli, it had a reputation of being the “the land of rush.” As soon as you walk into Yuanli, you could see a lot of rushes planted in the farmland. Because the stalks of rush are soft and strong, and can be used for dehumidifying and deodorizing, it is very suitable for weaving. So as early as the early Qing Dynasty, local women used rushes to weave straw mats. After development and improvement, the beautiful straw hat was developed in the era of Japanese rule. Because of its light texture and natural grass scent, it became a specialty of Taiwan sold around the world.

In 1936, the export of straw hats reached its peak, with an annual sales volume of more than 10 million. At that time, as long as there was a woman in each household who weaved rush at home, it would be enough to maintain the livelihood for the entire family. With the evolution of time, traditional hand-made products were gradually replaced by machine-made products, and the increase in wages for other jobs also made the women reluctant to make straw hats at home; they chose to work in factories instead. There were also fewer and fewer rush fields, making the entire industry a thing of the past.

The artworks of rush weaving

To preserve this recollection, the Farmers’ Association of Yuanli Township set up the Triangle Rush Exhibition Hall, hoping to showcase the local characteristics of Yuanli and let this traditional culture and craft continue. The Triangle Rush Exhibition Hall covers an area of ​​about 330 square meters. It is located next to the office of the Farmers' Association in the foothills of  Yuanli Town. It was converted into a museum from an idle warehouse that belonged to the association. The building is made of red brick. The space inside the museum is planned into different theme areas, namely, the hat and mat culture area, the exhibition area, the rural ancient cultural relics display area, the rice culture area, and the folk culture area.

The exhibits offer visitors insights into the history of rush weaving. In addition, there are hat and mat weaving demonstration zones and DIY classrooms, which allow people to not only view the exhibits, but get closer to the industry through DIY activities. A lot of rushes and pinus massoniana are planted outside the museum, creating a beautiful landscape with the rice fields next to the museum. As the landscape changes with the seasons, visiting the museum is the best way for the people to understand rush.

 

Organic Rice Field | 有機稻場

About 3,000 hectares of land in Yuanli Town is made up of ​​rice fields. The good quality rice and organic rice grown here are popular in the domestic market. In order to make the local rice growing industry sustainable, in 2003, the Quanshun Food Enterprise Co., Ltd. (苑裡泉順山水米公司) in Yuanli Town converted an old rice barn into a rice cultural park, in hopes of helping everyone cherish rice and understand that every grain of rice in their bowl or on their plate was grown with hard work.

In 2005, the company started to build a new building. It was completed in February 2006 and was officially named the “Organic Rice Field,” replacing the old rice barn that was turned into a rice culture park. The new facility began to operate in March 2006 and is run as a non-profit organization. The Guanshu Education Foundation (觀樹教育基金會), which is entrusted with the task, is responsible for the operation and management of the organic rice field.

The township hoped to use the professional talents and experience of the Guanshu Education Foundation in environmental education, to carry out education in the promotion of rice and organic industries. At present, the Miaoli County Organic Rice Field Development Association (苗栗縣有機稻場發展協會) has taken over the management of "Organic Rice Field" and continues to carry forward the mission of promoting organic agriculture and passing on the rice culture to younger generations.

Different from general cultural museums or typical museums, the organic rice field is operated as an environmental learning center. In addition to exhibitions and guided tours, it is hoped that through a variety of experience activities, visitors will be guided to learn about the importance of organic farming and organic food consumption. So the organic rice field is centered on activities. At present, eight regularly-held experience activities have been designed under the themes of organic life, rice industry, and fruit and vegetable experience. Groups can book an experience activity. In addition, the organic rice field also accommodates the different seasons and rice growing process to invite everyone to harvest and plant rice and experience the feeling of cultivating rice and the joy of harvesting crops grown with sweat and hard work.