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Compass Magazine, Dec '98 - Jan ,99

The Battle of Chai Hsing

by Nick Capaiuolo

As I walked onto the grounds of the Chai Hsing estate, a pack of hostile dogs approached me.
The surly mutts edged uncomfortably near while barking hysterically and their owner did nothing to call them off. Perhaps, as far as he was concerned, I was just another person paying undue attention to what was admittedly his private affair.
If that were his attitude, it would be understandable; his residence was the subject of an intense and ironic battle between family and government and involved the fate of his family's century-old house.
The conflict involved the razing of the classic residence. One might expect that this beautiful villa had been slated for destruction to provide building space for a commercial development. This is in a sense true but, in fact, the story is a bit more complicated.
The estate has belonged to the Lin family since its earliest days. Several years ago, however, the Lin family decided to sell their house due to financial problems. Although the family was divided on the issue, the decision to sell was eventually reached.
The new owners (a construction company) decided to raze the house and this decision fell on many unsympathetic ears. Legal wrangling ensued and things took a dramatic turn late one night when bulldozers moved in and began tearing down the west wing. Police were called in and the destruction was halted. However, significant damage had already been done.
This attracted the attention of a Tunghai University professor who took the cause to heart. He began to rally supporters to save the building. Eventually he was able to garner enough support to help induce some changes in the legal system regarding the preservation of historical sites.
It was then that the activity also attracted the attention of the government, which had previously not shown much interest in the old house. In early 1997, the residence was finally declared a historical site and by late 1997, Chai Hsing was re-acquired from the construction company. By 1998, the furor had died down considerably and when the dust settled, the government owned the house and members of the Lin family were allowed to continue residing there for an indefinite period.
Located in Tan Dz, between Taichung and Feng Yuan cities, the Chai Hsing Mountain Villa is a superb example of traditional Taiwanese architecture. Construction began in 1868 and was completed six years later. The estate spreads out over 90,000 square feet and is surrounded by a bamboo forest. Fronting the house is a large pond. Building materials for the house were all imported from the mainland.
What is unique about the house is the amount and quality of artistic detail that is present. Nearly every wall, pillar and ceiling is covered with paintings, engravings or calligraphy.
Most of the engravings on the wood, stone and porcelain were made in China and then brought to Taiwan for painting and final construction.
At the height of the Lin family's power, the house was a gorgeous example of the good life in Taiwan.
In recent years, however, the house began to be neglected; on some walls, some of the beautiful ceramic engravings have been chipped off by vandals. Even in its state of minor neglect, though, it is still a beautiful residence and the type of which is becoming increasingly difficult to find in modern Taiwan.
I spent an afternoon exploring and photographing the grounds and talking to the owners who turned out to be amicable despite their obvious weariness with uninvited visitors to their house.
Sensing their owner's change in attitude, the dogs also lost interest in me and wandered off. Perhaps they, too, were tired of the endless parade of visitors to their home.


PHOTOS: photo by nick CAPAIUOLO

The Chai Hsing Villa, located just outside of Taichung in Tan Dz.


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