Beitou Hot Spring Museum – A Community Affair

Museum exterior - Beitou Hot Spring Museum

The Beitou Hot Spring Musuem’s architecture is a combination of Victorian style with traditional Japanese elements.

Bathing in History

A little over one hundred years ago, in 1911, the Japanese colonial authorities in Taiwan commenced the building of a public bath house in the northern suburbs of the island’s colonial capital, Taipei. Beitou – or Hokuto, as it was then called by the Japanese – had developed a well-deserved reputation as a hot spring resort and its waters had achieved renown throughout the Japanese empire for their unique qualities. Yet bathing in hot springs was an exclusive, expensive affair, and beyond the means of even most Japanese residents. The Beitou Hot Spring Public Bath was opened to Japanese members of the public in 1913, and charged what was deemed to be an affordable price for entry. The building’s architecture combined strong Victorian characteristics – reflecting the Japanese empire’s admiration for, and desire to emulate, British imperial practice – with traditional Japanese style, particularly on the structure’s second floor and roof, resulting in an impressive and, for its time, brave architectural hybrid. Guests visiting the bath house for the first time must have been impressed by both the building’s cosmopolitan grandeur, and its peaceful rustic setting, sandwiched between the waters of Beitou Creek and the forested slopes of Datun Shan. Inside, the Public Bath contained a serene, contemplative lobby room, verandas with views looking out over the surrounding countryside and mountains, and, of course, the large hot spring bath itself surrounded by grandiose pillars, arched walkways, patterned floor tiles, and stained glass windows. Imperial Rome, too, was another of the building’s design inspirations.

Main bath hall, Beitou Hot Spring Museum

Beitou Hot Spring Museum’s main bath hall has distinct Roman architectural elements with its grand columns and arches.

A Community Cause

Within 80 years of opening, the building had fallen into a parlous state of disrepair and dereliction. Abandoned, unmaintained, and with its original identity fast disappearing from collective memory, by the 1990s the local government had planned to demolish the bath house in order to turn the site into a cable car station for the planned (but now abandoned) Yangming Shan gondola. When a local teacher began exploring the building on field-trips in the local area with her students, the bath house was an atmospheric ruin, desirable only to film crews looking for spooky movie sets. Ms. Huang Kuei-Kuan ( 黃桂冠 ), a teacher at Beitou Elementary School, was interested in the ‘hometown education’ movement, which promoted knowledge of local history and culture as a remedy to the restrictive, China-focused, curriculum administered by the government for decades after 1945. Many Taiwanese children and young adults had been left with little or no knowledge of their island’s own history, and in the case of Beitou this meant an ignorance of the area’s aboriginal, settler, and Japanese histories. Ms. Huang’s admirable efforts to advance local cultural knowledge among her students resulted in their (re)discovery of the old public bath house and the development of a strong community attachment to Beitou’s heritage. Ms. Huang, her students, and numerous other members of the community petitioned the Taipei city government to prevent the bath house’s demolition, request that it be listed as a designated historical building, and demand that it be transformed into a museum. In 1996 the government responded to this heartfelt movement and the building received listed status. By late 1998 the old public bath had been renovated and restored to its former glory, opening in October of that year as the Beitou Hot Spring Musuem. Through sustained activism and strong community participation, Beitou had succeeded in protecting one of its most important cultural assets and embarking on a voyage to rediscover its abundant local history.

Stained Glass Window Beitou Hot Spring Museum

Beitou Hot Spring Museum’s main bath house has some beautiful stained glass windows, though these are reproductions of the (stolen) originals.

The Museum

Since opening in 1998, the Beitou Hot Spring Museum has seen a steady stream of both Taiwanese and foreign visitors. Operating as the focal point for a constellation of Beitou’s other historic sights, cultural centres, and museums, the old bath house has led the area’s quest to become an ‘eco-museum’, a rather opaque term, which refers to the area around the museum and Beitou park as a space for harmonious and active engagement between local residents and the area’s heritage. This means that visitors to the museum immediately notice the local volunteers welcoming guests and inviting them to take off their shoes and put on slippers as they enter the building. In addition, the museum’s Operating Supervision Committee is made up of local teachers and representatives from Beitou district’s community organisations, giving locals a direct influence over what happens.

Shoe Rack Beitou Hot Spring Museum

Visitors to the Beitou Hot Spring Museum are asked to change into slippers as they enter.

The museum’s second floor contains exhibits and information pertaining to Beitou’s fascinating human history. Unfortunately this section of the museum currently has no English translations, however the story begins with the indigenous Ketagalan settlement of Patauw – meaning ‘The Place of Witches’, so named because of the mysterious plumes of smoke billowing from the mountain sides, and their accompaniment by an (at the time) inexplicable sulphurous stench – from which the name ‘Beitou’ derives. Settlers from Mainland China followed from the 15th century onwards, selecting the area as one whose volcanic soils meant the land made for fertile farmland, and inter-marrying with Ketagalan tribes-people.  The Spanish and Dutch also made excursions into the Beitou area during the time of their occupation at nearby Danshui, and the famous traveller Yu Yonghe followed not long after the Dutch left in his quest to exploit local sulphur resources for use as an ingredient in gunpowder. Beitou was really put on the map, however, during Taiwan’s time as a Japanese colony and the district’s rapid development as a hot spring resort. As part of this development, in 1916 a 1.2 kilometre railway branch line was opened on the Taipei – Danshui railway line, from Beitou to the unimaginatively-named ‘New Beitou’ station. A number of fascinating old Japanese-era photographs have been unearthed from various archives and juxtaposed with pictures of the present giving visitors a welcome visual insight into the area’s history.

1960s Film Poster Beitou Hot Spring Museum

The Beitou Hot Spring Museum has a room devoted to Beitou’s fame in the 1960s as a favoured location for Taiwanese language movies.

By default Beitou Hot Spring Museum also serves as a museum of Japanese colonial architecture, and the building’s upper floor is a fascinating place to explore the original lobby area which is kitted out in traditional Japanese style and whose wooden screen doors and tatami mat flooring have been restored, as well as a fine veranda overlooking Beitou Park and Beitou Creek. The upper floor’s remaining spaces have been converted into a multimedia auditorium, exhibition space, and small room displaying information on Beitou’s role during the late 1960s as a popular location for movie shoots; over one hundred Taiwanese-language films were filmed in the area during that decade. Exhibits on the ground floor of the museum focus on Beitou’s fascinating geology, hot spring formation, and the history of the old bath house. Again, the vast majority of information boards are only available in Chinese, but sections pertaining to Taiwan’s famous hot springs and the old public bath house’s renovation do have English translations. In addition, one of the lounge rooms situated next to the bath hall shows an excellent video documentary outlining the story behind the museum’s establishment and its role in bringing Beitou’s community together, which is well worth seeing and thankfully does have English subtitles.

Bath House Floor Tiles Beitou Hot Spring Museum

The floor tiles in the bath house are a mixture of original tiles and modern replacements.

Natural (High)Light

The main bath hall itself is the highlight of a trip to the Hot Spring Museum, and besides admiring the ancient Roman style and motifs, there is a wealth of information detailing the painstaking steps (following international standards requiring ‘maximum preservation and minimum intervention’) taken to restore the building to its former glory. This included working with a local tile-maker to produce floor tiles that matched the exact hue of the originals, and using the extensive collections of local amateur photographer Ms. Chuang Hsiu-Luan, to accurately reproduce the design of the stained-glass windows which, by the early 1990s, had long been stolen. At nine metres long by six metres wide, the scale of the main bath is hardly overwhelming, but its architectural context and expert use of natural light result in an area that appears much grander and more spacious than its dimensions might suggest. On weekdays, when visitor numbers are relatively small, the main bath hall is a peaceful, meditative space, and thoroughly suited to its role as an occasional art exhibitions space.

Left Words, Left Impressions Beitou Hot Spring Museum

Visitors’ messages posted on the wall of the ‘Left Words, Left Impressions’ exhibition currently running at the Beitou Hot Spring Museum.

After strolling back upstairs having finished the museum tour, visitors are left with a better understanding not only of Beitou’s history, the area’s endlessly fascinating geology, and its important role as Japanese Taiwan’s premier leisure (and pleasure) resort, but also of the power of communities in Taiwan to fight to protect their heritage. This beautiful old public bath house, an architectural and cultural relic unique in Taiwan, would not exist today were it not for the patient but devoted activism of Beitou’s children, teachers, and other members of the community. The Beitou Hot Spring Museum is, in short, an institution containing lessons from the past that are as important for our present and future.

By Matt Bowden for Love Taipei

Beitou Hot Spring Museum

Entry: Free

Open: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm, Tuesday – Sunday

MRT: New Beitou

No.2, Zhongshan Road, Beitou District, Taipei

Phone: (02) 28939981

Web: http://beitoumuseum.taipei.gov.tw/

  • Bath Tiles
  • Bath House Floor Tiles
  • Film Poster 1
  • Stained Glass Window
  • Left Words, Left Impressions
  • Museum Exterior
  • Main Bath
  • Shoe Rack
  • Bath Tiles Hot Spring Museum Feature Image
  • Beitou Hot Spring Museum Feature Image

Hiking – Guizikeng to Miantian Shan

Danshui from Facing Heaven Mountain ???

On a clear day views from the top of Miantian Shan stretch far out beyond Danshui into the Taiwan Strait.

Sitting at the western end of Yangming Shan, Miantian Shan – Facing Heaven Mountain – and its sister peak, Xiangtian Shan – Towards Heaven Mountain – are a familiar sight for residents of Beitou, Guandu, and Danshui. At 977 metres high, the mountain towers over these areas of Taipei, its slopes rising steeply from the Danshui River estuary and Taipei basin. Up until an estimated 400,000 years ago, Miantian Shan was an active parasitic volcano in the now dormant Datun volcano group and its beautiful domed summit is the perfect place from which to imagine what this landscape may have looked like in the long distant past, as well as surveying modern-day Taipei, Danshui, and Taiwan’s north-west coastline.

Stick insect ???

Stick insects sometimes give themselves away with their furtive movements.

Hiking to the summit of Miantian Shan is a common pursuit among Taipei’s weekend walking enthusiasts, but most people tend to begin their trek from half-way up the mountain after having driven or taken a public minibus to Qingtian Temple. The trek from there to the summit and back can be arduous in hot weather but is generally an easy 6 kilometre, 3 hour climb suitable for hikers of most ages and abilities. Yet for those purist hikers who froth at the mouth at the mere mention of using a vehicle to gain elevation, there will be a hint of the perverse, of serious moral delinquency, about starting a mountain climb from half-way up. The good news is that there are a number of trails that can be followed from Beitou, at the foot of the mountain, to the top.

Pink Silver Grass

Silver grass flower heads turn pink when growing in the vicinity of sulphur fumaroles.

Beginning and ending a Miantian Shan hike in Beitou has its advantages; easy access via the MRT, a limitless number of hot springs at which to soothe trail-weary muscles following the hike, and the opportunity to see even more of this stunning western edge of Yangming Shan National Park. Allow for 6 to 7 hours to complete the full trek, and prepare plenty of fluids and snacks, particularly if the sun is out. The lower section of the hike takes you past the steep white cliff-faces of Guizikeng and through the terraced fields and bamboo groves of small mountainside farmsteads, and is generally wonderfully quiet, even on a weekend. The upper section of the walk joins the much busier main Miantian Shan ascent from Qingtian Temple, making for a solid 16 kilometre trek in all. (Click here for the Love Taipei map, and here for the National Park map.)

Guizikeng Trail to Fuxing San Road

  1. Setting out from either New Beitou or Beitou MRT, you will need to make your way by bus, taxi, or on foot to the beginning of the Guizikeng trail, which commences from the intersection of Zhonghe Street (???) and Xiushan Road (???), where you will see a police station on the street corner. Follow the road uphill, keeping to the road on the left as it forks, alongside Guizikeng Creek. It’s a 1.8 kilometre, 10 minute walk up Xiushan Road to the hiking path, whose start is indicated by a small row of houses on the left bank of the creek, and a bridge leading over to them. This is a great place for nature lovers, as the creek plays host to an abundance of different flora and fauna, and birds in particular, including the little egret, kingfishers, and occasionally the crested serpent eagle, whose presence is a sure sign of snakes. In places Guizikeng’s steep valley sides reveal exposed white cliff faces, which hint at the area’s previous role as a source of clay for use in ceramics manufacture. The valley has a number of folk-tales and legends attached to it, and for a long time the ‘Precious Pit’ – Guizikeng’s English translation – was actually called ‘Ghost Pit’, perhaps due to the ghostly white hue of the rocks.

    Guizikeng ???

    The bare rock faces visible along Guizikeng hint at the area’s past as the source of fine white clay.

  2. From the start of the hiking path it’s a steep climb up the valley sides, and following heavy rain the path can be hazardous with small-scale erosion and mud-slips. After twenty minutes or so the path meets a flat ridge, much of which is covered with vegetable gardens, before leading off to the right. This is a good place to take a breather, and there’s a small covered pavilion from which hikers can admire the views east over Beitou towards central Taipei. Continuing along the trail the walking is pleasant and, for the most part, flat, as the path hugs the side of the mountain for 1.5 kilometres. A little water channel runs next to the path and keen eyes will spot a number of frog species and their food-chain superiors, the common scaled water snake. The green bamboo viper - which is venomous and also has a penchant for amphibians – has also been spotted here, so remain vigilant.

    Datunli Village ???

    The village of Datunli is perched half-way up the slopes of Miantian Shan.

  3. At the amusingly named ‘Rubbing Station’ – a wooden stand kitted out with a number of metal plaques, rubbings of which supposedly serve as a souvenir of the trail – the trail forks with one path leading back down to Guizikeng, and the other heading sharply uphill. Follow the uphill path. This is a 700 metre, 20 minute walk through a mix of bamboo groves, pomelo orchards, and vegetable terraces, which hint at the fertility of the mountain’s volcanic soil. Before long the footpath meets the tarmac of Fuxing San Road. Turn right here and for ten minutes or so continue along the road through the village of Datunli (???). At the first road junction take the road going left uphill. A signpost at the junction helps by clearly indicating the direction to ‘Qingtian Temple Hiking Trail’. Another 5 minutes and the road comes to an abrupt end outside the Qingtian Temple, where there is welcome relief in the form of toilets, seats, and small stands selling fruit and refreshments.

Qingtian Temple to Miantian Shan

  1. Qingtian Temple marks the beginning of the Miantian Shan hiking trail, and is the preferred starting-point for those trekking to the summit. The number 6 minibus (?6) runs from outside New Beitou MRT to this stop every half an hour or so during the day, and as such the volume of people on the trails sees a large increase from here. Qingtian Temple is a small but elaborately decorated building dedicated to the Goddess Mazu, and has a history of some sixty years. Opposite the temple is a traditional opera stage, though the views from this point on the mountain are so wonderful that they would test the concentration skills of even the most focused opera-goer. The Taiwan blue magpieis often spotted flitting from branch to branch in the tree that stands between the two buildings, which is unusual for a bird that is normally shy of human company.

    Qingtian Temple Rooftop ???

    Qingtian Temple’s rooftop boasts some elaborate decoration.

  2. Heading up the hill from Qingtian Temple the trail is clearly marked, not least by fellow hikers. Qingshui Temple – devoted to the Song Dynasty Buddhist monk, the ‘Great Master of Qing Shui’ – stands directly above Qingtian Temple, and although it isn’t architecturally interesting, it does boast a stunning viewing terrace offering the walk’s first views of the Taiwan Strait. The hiking trail continues sharply uphill along a bamboo- and tree-lined path for a breathless 1.3 kilometres before meeting a fork in the road. Staying on the right-hand branch of the trail, follow the sign for Erziping (???) and the path both widens and flattens out for a pleasant 500 metre stroll. At Miantian Pavilion, look out for the silver grass; its flower heads here are a red-pink colour, an interesting phenomenon which happens whenever the grass grows in the vicinity of sulphur fumaroles.

    Incense burner top at Qingshui Temple ???

    A statue sits basking in the sun atop an incense burner at Qingshui Temple.

  3. Take the next trail leading left which is clearly signposted as ‘Miantian Shan’. From here it’s a steep 600 metres slog to the summit of Miantian Shan, and about two thirds of the way up the forested slopes give way to silver grass, which flowers in autumn, creating a feast for the eyes. The long walk really begins to pay off here as grand vistas open up, taking in the whole of Taipei, and on a clear day revealing the central mountain range in the distant south. Two giant, square aircraft beacons denote the summit, and create a provocative juxtaposition between nature and civilisation. From the mountain top on a clear day there are views over Danshui to the south-west, Guanyin Shan to the south, Taipei to the south-east, Datun Shan and and Qixing Shan to the east. Views to the north and north-west spread from Sanzhi to Taiwan’s northernmost tip at Fuguei Cape.
Chinese silver-grass on Facing Heaven Mountain ???

In autumn the upper slopes of Miantian Shan are covered in flowering Chinese silver grass. 

The Descent: Xiangtian Pool

  1. The trail down from Miantian Shan’s summit leads over a saddle to its sister peak and fellow parasitic volcanic dome, Xiangtian Shan – ‘Towards Heaven Mountain’ – whose peak stands at 947 metres altitude. Silver grass covers the summit, however, which largely obscures any views. There are some remarkable pine trees and tree-ferns lining the trail leading off the mountain and the whispering of the wind through the pine needles creates a serene natural accompaniment to the hike. It’s only twenty minutes downhill to Xiangtian Chi – ‘Towards Heaven Pool’ – a seasonal lake which stands in the centre of Yangming Shan’s best-preserved volcanic crater. At nearly 400 metres wide and, in places, over 100 metres deep, the crater is a peaceful and fascinating environment in which to contemplate the immensely powerful natural forces which created these mountains.
Commemorative Stele on Facing Heaven Mountain ???

This stele was erected by Beitou residents in 1925 to commemorate a visit to the area by the Japanese Crown Prince, Hirohito. 

Qingtian Temple to Beitou

  1. From Qingtian Temple follow the road downhill for a couple of hundred metres until a signpost points to a trail marked ‘Fuxing Senior High School’. The signpost indicates that it’s a 2.4 kilometre, 90 minute walk to the school, but an hour should suffice, depending on how keen you are to get to a hotspring. The trail is very quiet and well looked after, and despite some short intervals that require road walking, it makes for a pleasant descent.

    View from Xiangtian Shan ???

    The view from the top of Towards Heaven Mountain (Xiangtian Shan) is obscured by silver grass, but some of Yangming Shan’s other peaks are still visible. 

  2. Along the way the trail passes the massive Wu Clan ancestral hall, which aside from being home to some rather aggressive dogs, makes a nice rest-stop. Shortly downhill from the hall is Datun Primary School, whose classrooms must have some of the best views of any of Taipei’s schools and must result in dangerously high levels of day-dreaming among the pupils. Continue downhill from here, and the trail runs behind some small-scale housing complexes before descending into Beitou’s residential neighbourhoods. The trail ends roughly opposite Fuxing Senior High, and only slightly further down from that is Zhonghe Street, which marks the end of the hike and the beginning of a lengthy rest and recuperation period.

By Matt Bowden for Love Taipei

Miantian Shan Map ?????

Love Taipei’s map of the Guizikeng – Miantian Shan – Beitou hike. 

 

 


  • 'Prince's Stele'
  • Danshui From Mian Tian Shan
  • Datunli Village
  • Guizikeng
  • Incense Burner
  • Qingtian Rooftop
  • Silver Grass
  • Stick Insect
  • View From Xiangtian
  • Pink Silver Grass
  • Miantian Shan Map

Review – Out of China

Out of China - Detail from Seygert van Regteren's 1635 Version of Cadidius' Account of Taiwan

Detail from Seygert van Regteren’s 1635 Version of Cadidius’ Account of Taiwan.

Out of China: A History of 17th Century Taiwan by Macabe Keliher

Long before people took advantage of Beitou‘s position at the foot of Yangming Shan to enjoy the benefits of its hot springs, some individuals were making the hazardous journey – often over very considerable distances – to exploit a different, though related, natural resource: sulphur. One such person was a man named Yu Yonghe, a literati and itinerant wanderer, who hailed originally from Zhejiang. In 1697 he found himself in Fuzhou, and when the provincial governor requested the services of someone to help them replenish their stores of sulphur (which had literally gone up in smoke a few months before, when their stores of gunpowder exploded), Yu duly obliged. Word of abundant sulphur supplies at the northern tip of the Chinese empire’s newest possession – Taiwan – had long before reached the Mainland, and this was an opportunity to make use of them.

Out of China - Detail from Aborigine Receiving Tattoos, from Taiwan Fanshe Fengsu, Eighteenth Century.

Detail – Aborigine receiving tattoos, from Taiwan Fanshe Fengsu, eighteenth century.

Macabe Keliher’s book, ‘Out of China: A History of 17th Century Taiwan’, tells the story of Yu Yonghe’s journey from Fuzhou to Xiamen, his crossing by boat to Taiwan Fu (Tainan), and his obstacle-ridden trek overland from the south of the island to Danshui and, finally, to Beitou. Keliher tells this story well, taking Yu’s own diary as his primary source material and structuring narrative. As Tu Cheng-sheng, former Director of the National Palace Museum, says in his preface to the book, Keliher has done an excellent job of translating these diaries and weaving them together with his own strong knowledge of early Qing Dynasty social conditions to create a broader history of late 17th century Taiwan. He commands the source material well, and the book engages the reader throughout, subtly drawing on revealing details.

The book was published in 2003 to accompany the exhibition entitled “The Emergence of Taiwan on the World Scene in the 17th Century” at the National Palace Museum, and Out of China has successfully brought an important historical character to life, helping us gain an insight into not only into the minutiae of Yu Yonghe’s own daily existence (lack of sleep, rain-drenched clothes, the tribulations of making a river crossing), but also into the prevailing attitudes of Mainland bureaucrats towards this new island frontier and its aboriginal inhabitants. Yu is a contemplative mind, and on more than one occasion in his diaries he calls into question the contempt in which many of his fellow Mainlanders hold the Taiwanese tribespeople and the discriminatory treatment they receive. “Just because they are different does not mean we must discriminate against them…they are still people, their flesh and blood the same as ours,” he explains in one heartfelt passage. The book thus raises a new, important historical perspective in evaluating China’s experience with colonisation, shifting the focus from the country’s role as victim, to the part it has played in the oppression of minorities – a subject which still remains no less relevant today.

Out of China by Macabe Keliher

Out of China – Macabe Keliher

Beautifully illustrated and incorporating a number of explanatory diversions into subjects such as ‘Spaniards in Taiwan’, ‘The Dutch at Penghu’, and ‘The Zhengs as Colonizers’, Out of China is an accessible and illuminating introduction to 17th century Taiwanese history. Despite structuring his narrative with a verb tense that sometimes results in confusion regarding the timing of events, Keliher has achieved an overall result that is nevertheless very accomplished and readable. Out of China will be a welcome addition to any English-language library focused on Taiwan.

Out of China: A History of 17th Century Taiwan by Macabe Keliher, published by SMC Publishing, is available at Page One, Taipei 101 Mall, priced at NT$300.

  • Out of China - Macabe Keliher
  • Detail from Aborigine Receiving Tattoos, from Taiwan Fanshe Fengsu, Eighteenth Century.
  • Detail from Seygert van Regteren's 1635 Version of Cadidius' Account of Taiwan