History of Hengchun City
Hengchun Urban Township and Hengchun City is located in the southernmost point of Taiwan. Based on the archaeological data, it is believed that paleolithic culture existed at least 5,000 years ago, and several Neolithic sites were found to prove frequent human activities in the past.
Recently, found as early as 4000 years ago settlement bones were covered in Eluanbi park, we have written about this here.
The original inhabitants of Hengchun were mostly ancestors of aboriginal tribes of Paiwan and Siraya Pingpu. These aboriginal groups lived in Tainan where later became the center of politics. However, the western plains in the north of Tainan were far more appropriate for agricultural development than Hengchun Peninsula.
Paiwan people in Hengchun area
Accordingly, more and more Han people immigrated from mainland China about 400 years ago and continuously settled down in the areas suitable for both agricultural and ethnic developments.
Not until the population soared to the saturation point did people forcibly move down south from Pingtung Plain to Hengchun Peninsula.
At that time, not even the Han immigrants would give priority to Hengchun Peninsula for settlement. After the 19th century, owing to the policy of favoring the north over the south, northern Taiwan gradually became modernized, which resulted in business stagnation, rising population migration and cultural and educational decline in the south. Those are also the reasons that induced the sluggishness of Hengchun modernization.
Although Hengchun Urban Township has long been in a predicament due to various factors such as the nature, geography, history and man-made causes, it has also retained many characteristics that are nowhere to be found because it has not been seriously affected by pollution and destruction from modernization. It can be said that Hengchun is a fairyland without pollution from modern civilization, leading to the vision of a bright future.
The natural landscape surrounded by the sea on three sides, the primitive ecology with dense forests, the prehistoric sites with long history, the well-preserved Hengchun Ancient City, and the popular Hengchun folk rhymes are all the advantages that make the town an excellent resort for tourism and leisure.
Origins of the Hengchun's name
In ancient times, Hengchun was also known as “Longkiauw,” “Liangqiao,” and “Langqiao.”
Longkiauw” is the transliteration in Dutch, and “Liangqiao” and “Langqiao” are the transliteration in Paiwan, referring to the southern area of Linbian in Fengshan County in the Qing dynasty.
The earliest documents were found in Dutch historical materials. There are several versions of the meaning of “Langqiao”. The first is “orchid,” as the wild Phalaenopsis is everywhere in Hengchun.
The second is the old name “Bujabujau,” referring to the “shark” because there are many sharks in the sea area of Hengchun.
The third is “Langqiao” as the transliteration from “Liuchiu.”
All these statements coincide with the natural environment of the Hengchun Peninsula which was mentioned in the historical records.
Wild Phalaenopsis in Hengchun
The appearance of the name “Hengchun” began in 1874 or the 13th year of Tongzhi reign in the Qing dynasty when the “Mudan Incident” occurred on account of Japanese invasion. At that time, the Manchu government assigned Shen Baozhen as the governor of Taiwan, who renamed Langqiao as “Hengchun” because it was known for its tropical monsoon climate with warm temperatures year round.
Shen BaoZhen gave this place the name as we have it nowadays – Hengchun
Later, Shen Baozhen proposed to the central government for approval to set up the Hengchun Township, which was the earliest township in the governance of Pingtung County.
At the end of the Japanese Colonial Period, Hengchun Township was subordinated to Kaohsiung State and later renamed as Hengchun County. In 1950, after the R.O.C. government migrated to Taiwan, administrative districts were re-divided, and once again, Hengchun County was renamed as Hengchun Urban Township under the governance of Pingtung County.
Current Status of Hengchun City and Urban Township
Hengchun Urban Township is located at 20°45’25” North latitude and 125 °9′ East longitude, covering an area of 136.7630 square kilometers with a population of 30,780 (at the end of June in 2018).
Current borders of Hengchun Township
Hengchun officially gained its urban township status in Pingtung County on January 16th, 1946, with an administrative organization of 17 villages, including Chengnan, Chengbei, Chengshi, Shanjiao, Wangsha, Renshou, Jiahu, Tougou, Sigou, Dehe, Longshui, Shanhai, Daguan, Shuiquan, Nanwan, Kenting and Eluan.
It shares borders with Manzhou Rural Township on the east and Checheng Rural Township on the north.
Surrounded by the sea on three sides, Hengchun faces mainland China across the Taiwan Strait on the west, the Pacific Ocean on the east, and the Bashi Channel on the south.
Hengchun Ancient City: West Gate
The West Gate” is not facing the west?
According to the Gazetteer of Hengchun County, “Hengchun had four city gates that stood at their respective directions.
The south gate was named Mingdu Gate, while the rest were called to accord with their directions.”
Therefore, the West Gate should be facing the west. Even if it is not, the deviation scale should not be too large.
In fact, the West Gate is facing the north-northwest, not the exact west. Over the century, it has baffled residents in Hengchun. Subsequently, there ensued many a legendary story circulating around the area, such as Mr. Hercules Chen Chunlian, some Feng shui and geomancy related reasons, an alteration to conform to the position of the mountains, and a homage to the royal capital.
The fact that the West Gate is not facing the west is a historic mystery, which is similar to the Egyptian pyramids that many scholars spent their entire life to study and come up with different explanations.
There is no definite answer to the question why the West Gate is not facing the west, which allows even more conjectures. When the dusk after the sunset casts over the West Gate, a tinge of historical mysterious beauty follows with the unsolved question.
Situated next to the West Gate, Hengchun Shihpai Park, originally known as the Monkey Cave Historical Park, was established over a century ago and was the most ancient park in Hengchun.
After the rehabilitation plan of the Urban Township Office, Hengchun still keeps the Loyal Soul Monument and Weapons Readiness Monument preserved from the Japanese Colonial Period. A wooden hiking trail and an observation deck were later built for people to have a better street view of Hengchun, which also makes the town a worthwhile scenic spot to pay a visit.
Hengchun Ancient City: The North Gate
“The North Gate” is facing the Hutou Mountain with a gorgeous view. In the past, the North Gate was the main entrance of the Hengchun Ancient City.
People who wanted to visit Hengchun Township would have to tramp over mountains and through ravines, pass the Wuli Pavilion and the Wansha Creek and finally walk along the foot of the mountains to reach the North Gate (i.e. the “Official Path” in ancient times.)
Nowadays, the city walls beside the North Gate have been restored. On the right side of the city gate, a stairway was built for people to step onto and feel the atmosphere of the past.
Hengchun Ancient City: East Gate
“The East Gate” is located right next to the way towards Manzhou from Hengchun. In the Qing dynasty, “the East Gate” was the only way between Hengchun and Beinan.
When Pingtung County Government was restoring the ancient city, the city wall was rebuilt based on the original layout.
When on the city gate, visitors will see turrets and embrasures, and strolling on the horse way on the city wall can also be a good choice. Looking far into the distance from the East Gate, one I will also see Hutou Mountain, Santai Mountain and Longlian Mountain as the three guardians of Hengchun.
Hengchun Ancient City: South Gate
“The South Gate” is also known as “Mingdu Gate.”
During the Japanese Colonial Period, the railway was paved to pass the gate, so that the train could deliver goods between Nanwan Port and Hengchun City. It is the most well-constructed gate preserved among the four, as its arched city gate, the brick city wall and the corniced monumented archway still remain intact.
It is the city gate most conspicuous and now is the center of the Hengchun Township Circle. On the north side of the gate, the Monument of Prohibition of Suicide in Fraud of Others used to be abandoned when the West Gate was under a road widening project, but it has been removed back to its original location near the West Gate.
Interesting facts about Hengchun Ancient City
The construction of the Hengchun Ancient City started in 1875 and was completed on July 15th, 1879.
This 143-year old historic site, a Class II National Historic Site, is the most well-preserved old city in Taiwan.
According to the Hengchun County Chronicle, the site of the Ancient City was chosen by Liu Ao, a specialist of geomancy.
When one looks at the mountains that surround the Ancient City and imagines the geological protection on all four sides, it is clear how the concept of “feng shui” affects the landscaping of Chinese cities.
The length of the old city walls is approximately 2,640-meter long and 6-meter thick; there are four gates in four directions, with a two cannon battery on top of each gate.
Each gate is consisted of two doors and the streets inside the City are T-shaped. During the construction, a city tower and four batteries were also built along with the gate. In old days, the North Gate was the “front gate”, the passageway for the government officials.
Today, the stone tablet inscribed with “North Gate” in 1876 on the wall is the only one remained from Hengchun Ancient City.
Most of the Ancient City still exists as of today, but the walls are mostly damaged, and only the four gates are still maintained relatively intact.