John Seed in Jianshi and Smangus

Atayal artist Yawi

After travelling through central and southern Taiwan the next part of John Seed’s trip spent a few days in Jianshi Township of Hsinchu County. The photo above shows the Atayal artist Yawi. He has a studio up in the mountains and he kindly showed us around. His artworks have been purchased by the former Vice President Annette Lu and the current First Lady Chow Mei-ching.

Ginger cultivation in Jianshi

We also went to see the area where ginger is being cultivated in Tianshui. This is another important local environmental issue. The ginger growing is done by outsiders who come in and rent or buy the land, usually via dubious legal methods. The cultivation is being done on slopes which are steeper than the legal limit. The extensive clearing and disturbance of the soil creates a significant risk of a landslide. The growers exploit the land for short term profits while the local residents have to live with the effects of environmental degradation and risk of landslides.

Peach trees growing on terraced land

The peach trees growing on terraced land next to the ginger field provide quite a contrast in cultivation methods. Terraced slopes like this are a quite stable and a sustainable form of farming. In my observations in various parts of Taiwan indigenous people usually farm in ways that maintain the integrity of the landscape. It is often outsiders that are responsible for unsustainable land use practices.

Young people singing at concert

The main event during this part of the visit was to participate in an Anti-Dam Concert at the Jianshi Township Activity Centre on Sunday 3 April. I have briefly mentioned before on this blog about plans for the construction of two dams in Jianshi Township. The government is continuing to conduct investigations into the construction of the dams and it is a major concern for the residents of the area. The concert was held to bring together people from the different communities in the area to help them unite in opposition to the dam. There was some great singing and dancing by several groups along with several speeches about the dam issue.

The Bilin Dam (比鄰水庫) is planned to be built in the front mountain area of Jianshi while the Gaotai Dam (高台水庫) is planned to be built at Yufeng (Marqwang) in the rear mountain area of Jianshi. There is also a plan to construct a tunnel to divert water from the Gaotai Dam to the Bilin Dam. Both dams would have massive impacts on the environment and force the relocation of many local residents. As the majority of residents in the area are Atayal people the planned dams would also severely harm precious cultural heritage.

John Seed spoke at the concert telling of his experience with the campaign against the Franklin River Dam in Australia in the 1980s. He also sang the song “We Are Here for the River” and showed a short video from the campaign against the Franklin. This campaign was ultimately successful in stopping the dam. The video also showed Bob Brown who is now a senator and leader of the Australian Greens. Brown visited Taiwan in 1996 to take part in the campaign against a dam in Meinong, another successful campaign.

Civil Media have compiled an excellent video report of the Jianshi Anti-Dam Concert: Part 1 and Part 2. If you can read Chinese then POTS (破報) has an article on the concert and dam issue. There is a Facebook group that posts regular updates about the issue.

Lahuy and John Seed at Smangus

After the concert was over we drove up to Smangus. The next day we went on a hike to the Yaya Qparung (grove of ancient cypress trees). The photo above shows Lahuy and John at the start of the hike with peach trees in full blossom behind them.

This was the third time I have hiked to the ancient trees. Each time I have learnt and discovered many new things. The first three kilometres of the trail is an area that used to be cultivated by the people of Smangus and there are still many signs of this previous land use. Lahuy and Kevan, a Ph.D. student staying in Smangus, have shown me many of these and also told some of the stories related to the area.

John at the ancient tree

The ancient trees are an amazing sight and it was great to spend some time sitting around marvelling at them. It is incredible to think they have grown there for more than 2,500 years.

After visiting Smangus we travelled to Marqwang. We spent some time talking with the local pastor Sangas about the plans for the dam. He said it is unlikely that the decision to build the dam will be made this year because of the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections. If the government wants to proceed with the construction of the dams it will most likely be announced next year after the elections. The interim period is an opportunity for the people of Jianshi to continue to argue against the dam and ensure that their voices are heard by the government.