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U L T U R E
Magazine, Dec '98 - Jan ,99
Battle of Chai Hsing
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
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
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
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.
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
photo by nick CAPAIUOLO
Chai Hsing Villa, located just outside of Taichung in Tan