Reconstruction of Lu Zhu Nan Community in Miaoli

Surrounded by factories in the Miaoli Petrochemical Industrial Zone, Lu Zhu Nan (蘆竹湳) is the last community of the traditional Chinese courtyard house in northern Taiwan, but it still retains the appearance of a settlement from 300 years ago. Located on the right bank of the estuary of the Zhonggang River Basin, Lu Zhu Nan is a Hoklo settlement. In the early years before the Han Chinese people settled in this area, the land was low-lying and there were a lot of reeds, thus accounting for its name in Mandarin—Lu Zhu.

Lu Zhu Nan Community in Miaoli

(Photo: Miaoli County Government)

In the past century, Lu Zhu Nan has gone from being an agriculture-focused community to one that is industrial based. After the establishment of the industrial zone in 1968, Lu Zhu Nan, which was classified as part of the industrial zone, was also restricted in its construction and hence maintained its original appearance, but the young population continued to move out, and the nearly 50 traditional courtyard houses in this community gradually became dilapidated.

Residents who stayed behind watched their hometown gradually fall apart, and became conscious of the need to protect their community. In 2006, under the call of Chen Shi-cheng (
陳世政), Lin Guang-wen (林光文), Hsu Jin-hui (許金輝), Chen Ming-cong (陳銘聰), Chen Tian-shou (陳天壽), and Wen Bai-ching (溫百慶), the Miaoli County Traditional Settlement Cultural Association was established and proceeded to preserve the Lu Zhu Nan courtyard houses settlement and to continue the culture of the traditional ancient houses in the community. Over the past 10 years, the ancient houses have gained new vitality. Traditional culture has been combined with art and tourism to present Lu Zhu Nan's beauty, which has transcended time and space.

The website image of Lu Zhu Nan

(Image: Website of Lu Zhu Nan)

According to Hsu Jin-hui, the group of local residents who initiated this movement didn’t think so much at the beginning. They had worked hard all their lives and originally just wanted to have a place to drink tea and chat with the people they grew up with when they retired. That
’s why they set up the Miaoli County Traditional Settlement Cultural Association. Hsu said he didn’t expect this association to become his current focus in life. What’s even more unexpected is that his daughter Hsu Shu-fan (許書凡), who studied dance at Taipei University, would come back home with her children and husband by chance, and work with him to protect Lu Zhu Nan, restoring it into the traditional style.

For the 65-year-old Hsu Jin-hui, a native of Lu Zhu Nan, the community has always remained his home even though he had moved to nearby Zhunan Township to open an electrical appliance store, selling refrigerators and TVs, and eventually marrying a Hakka woman. Home is where one has family. Every night, Hsu always drove for 10 minutes from Zhunan back to Lu Zhu Nan to have dinner with his parents. After chatting with them, he would return to Zhunan. This has been his lifestyle for decades.

Although his electrical appliance shop did good business, when Hsu Jin-hui became older, he could not lift the goods in his shop anymore, and his children all had their own jobs. Around that time, his elementary and middle school classmates wanted to set up an association in Lu Zhu Nan, so Hsu wrapped up business at his store and retired to help set up the association. From the beginning, when the association was mainly involved in preserving the old houses to later when they branched out into community construction, the association’s goal has always been to organize the cultural assets of Lu Zhu Nan so that its old houses and old stories can be shared with more people.

In the beginning, the association was just preserving old houses. After this reached a certain scale, it organized the "Lu Zhu Nan Art Festival (
蘆竹湳好采頭藝術祭)". The activity started out on a small scale. At first, it was just a Lantern Festival guessing riddles draw. Later, it became big and popular and Taiwan’s well-known Ming Hwa Yuan Arts and Cultural Group (明華園戲劇團) was even invited to perform.

Hsu Shu-fan said that in addition to the annual art festival, the association has also launched various experience courses, including the one that teaches people how to make "wattle and daub" used by the Lu Zhu Nan community to restore ancient homes, as well as hands-on activities to make handmade paper, and cooking classes to make traditional rice dishes, such as the red tortoise cake, vegetable bun, radish cake, and rice dumpling. Domestic and foreign artists are also invited to settle in the idle old houses in the community. Through their interaction with local craftsmen, different creative sparks are stimulated.

"What we are committed to preserving is not just our own home, but the collective memories of everyone, and we hope to invite more people to visit, get to know Lu Zhu Nan, and preserve Lu Zhu Nan," Hsu Shu-fan said, adding that "I hope the beauty, warmth, and touching moments Lu Zhu Nan brings to everyone can be preserved and can be remembered. This is very important."