Alishan is an internationally renowned tourist attraction, and during the Japanese Occupation it was listed as one of Taiwan’s “Big Three” forest management areas along with Taipingshan and Basienshan. The Alishan Forest Railway, beginning at Beimen (the North Gate) of Chiayi City, was built to help harvest Alishan’s cypress wood. The wholesale and distribution business of the cypress wood led to Chiayi’s unprecedented prosperity. At that time, Chiayi was classified as one of Taiwan’s four largest cities.
Alishan’s forestry industry began in 1899 when Japan dispatched technician Koike Sankuro to inspect the Alishan area. Koike sent a report back, suggesting that this area had a great number of high-quality conifers, and that most of the trees were more than a thousand years old. Knowing that the area provides resources ripe for development of a forestry industry, the Governor-General of Taiwan began to make plans. In February 1903, the Government-General entrusted forestry expert Kawai Shitaro with the mission of exploiting Alishan forests and establishing foundations for a railway. In 1906, Japanese company Fujita Group founded a construction office in Chiayi, and began building the first sections of the Alishan Forest Railway. However, engineering challenges and growing financial overspend led to a halt of the work in February 1908. In 1910, the Governor-General of Taiwan took the project back, and construction of the Alishan Forest Railway resumed. By completion in 1914, the railway already stretched to 71.9 kilometers in length.
In 1912, work on the main section of the Alishan Forest Railway from Beimen to Erwanping was complete, and soon it started receiving railway traffic. The industry’s organization buildings were also being built, including the government’s forestry agency offices and residences, the Forest Agency Club, and the Chiayi Lumber Processing Plant. Work on South-East Asia’s first wood-burning power building was also complete. Felled trees were transported to Chiayi’s “Cypress Pool,” the largest log storage pool in South-East Asia at the time, via the Alishan Forest Railway. On account of the flourishing forestry industry, Chiayi was hailed as the “wood town”, and today’s Linsen Road was also known as the Wood Street. The area where all the forestry institutions stood acquired the name of “Kuai Ding,” meaning “the Cypress District.” As the industry expanded, it became more convenient for work and living. Such was the formation of the forestry village.
In 1964, Alishan’s forestry work began to shrink, and as a result Chiayi’s lumber manufacturing entered into a gradual decline. The century-old forestry buildings bear witness to the rise and fall of Chiayi’s forestry industry. With the passage of time, the village’s distinctive style has become more striking, and today they are viewed a precious cultural asset which reflects the area’s industrial past. Because the buildings have slowly crumbled, refurbishment is necessary, so as to bring back to life the historical magnificence of the place.
Again, the Forest Agency Club, the state-owned family dormitories situated on Gonghe Road and Beimen Street, and the Chiayi Lumber Processing Plant which includes an auxiliary bamboo handicraft processing plant, are testament to Alishan’s forestry industry. In 1998 and 2005, they were officially registered as Chiayi’s historic sites.
On October 17, 2007, the 3,062nd sitting of the Executive Yuan ratified the Chiayi City Train Station Area Urban Plan as a priority project, and set Chiayi as the art, culture and tourism hub of the Yunchianan Region. In 2009, the Forestry Bureau announced the Alishan Forestry Village and Hinoki Village Plan (2009-2012). Later in September 2009 this plan was listed as part of the “2009-2011 Economic Revival and Public Construction Investment Plan,” which has a total fund of TWD 2.477 billion. Further on, the Alishan Forestry Village and Hinoki Village Plan stood alongside 12 other urban and industrial regeneration projects on the first phase of the Executive Yuan’s “Love Taiwan” renewal plan. It was among the central government’s six specially listed regeneration projects.
The first stage of the plan drew to an end in 2011, and a second phase was carried out between 2012 and 2016. Work on restoring historical buildings continues. By securing the perpetuity and transmission of forestry culture and adhering to locals’ feelings and expectations, a brand new city image, which shall bring to the area overarching development and new opportunities, was born. Such shall eventually enable Chiayi City to turn over a new leaf and become one of the Tropic of Cancer’s newest hotspots.