Small Community, Big Power
Residents gradually deserted Luzhunan community in Toufen City of Miaoli County as the industry district was introduced into this area. Many beautiful traditional "sanheyuan" (traditional building in a three-section residential compound formation) fell into disrepair. As the community began to wither away, a group of senior locals founded the Miaoli County Traditional Settlement Culture Association. Revitalization came alone as they combined resources from the Multi-Employment Promoting Project (MEPP) and the Empowering Employment Program (EEP) of Workforce Development Agency (WDA), Ministry of Labor. Luzhunan then built up a reputation within Toufen and Zhunan areas. These small-town residents really made the most of local resources!
A Sanheyuan Village Inadvertently Saved by An Industrial Park
Luzhunan Community is located on the right bank of the estuary of Zhonggang River in Toufen City of Miaoli County. Before Han Chinese people settled into this area, it was named for its low-lying terrain and lush reed thickets. Since settlers from Zhangzhou, Fujian moved into the area during the Qing dynasty, the village has developed for over 300 years. The community is one of the minority settlements of Hoklo-Taiwanese in the area, as opposed to numerous Hakka settlements nearby. Around 1968, the village was marked as part of the Toufen Industrial Park, and a construction restriction was imposed. As a result, nearly 50 old sanheyuan buildings in the community were saved from demolition and preserved.
Unfortunately, the industrial park did not bring prosperity to the village. since most of the residents were farmers. They didn't meet the criteria of related skills to work in the industrial park. As a result, the younger generation gradually moved away from the area, leaving middle-aged and elderly residents behind. A lot of old houses fell into disrepair either from abandonment or lack of money for renovations, and the community gradually went into decline. Gradually, as people left and houses crumbled, the area is no longer being home. A few local elders were unwilling to see the decline of this village they grew up in. Thus, they founded the Miaoli County Traditional Settlement Culture Association in 2006, and began working to preserve and pass on Luzhunan's sanheyuan community and traditional culture.
The association's current executive secretary Hsu Shu-fan is a second-generation member of the founding staff. She majored in art at the university in Taipei. After graduating, she worked as a program planner of the National Theater. However, during a trip back home to volunteer in one of the association's events, she felt it was her duty to stay and do her part in preserving the culture of her hometown. Therefore, she quit her job in the National Theater and went back home to work in the association, gradually rising through the ranks - from event planner to executive secretary responsible for all implementation. She said, "It has been no easy feat for the association to get to where it is today. We have to thank the WDA for giving us the strength to move forward over the years."
MEPP and EEP Irrigated the fame of Community
The association has been implementing a Social Type Plan of the Multiple Employment Promoting Project (MEPP) since 2011. At first, the project was used mainly to organize the cultural and historical data of the community, to save old houses, and to provide middle-aged and elderly residents with local job opportunities. In 2014, the association applied for an Economic Type Plan of MEPP and began marketing, designing activities, and organizing tours to bring in income. From DIY activities to traditional cuisine, the association gradually found ways to attract visitors to Luzhunan. In 2017, the association also applied for the Employment Empowering Program (EEP), hoping to attract youths with professional abilities to return and work to preserve the traditional culture of their hometown.
Hsu Shu-fan said, "The way the association implements these projects every year is like stair climbing. We move up one step at a time, but whatever we were doing on the last step doesn't stop. It all adds up, just like 1+1+1..." Writing every proposal is an arduous process. She has to combine resources from previous programs and think hard about the association's future direction. As different programs accumulate year after year, the association hopes to continue local development after the programs end in the future.
When the association first implemented these programs, the community wasn't well-received. The only splash is “…the largest traditional sanheyuan village in northern Taiwan…”, but this factor wasn't impressive enough. Afterward, consultants assigned by WDA suggested they provide all-round services covering "food, drinks, and entertainment". Therefore, in recent years, the association has designed half-day and full-day tours and included traditional cuisine. By providing tourists with delicious food and fun activities, the village has become increasingly popular, and gradually developed a favorable reputation.
Tourists who have visited Luzhunan all say that it's a beautiful place with traditional flair. The village, which locals were so used to, became a place of warm hospitality. Interactions with tourists made locals gradually accept and identify with their neighborhood. The association started with the goal of preserving traditional culture. However, while implementing the programs of WDA, the responses from tourists coming into the village, and their interaction with locals brought great changes.
Raising Profile with the Haocaitou Art Festival
The village has also revealed a different face by holding large events to raise its profile.
Since 2014, the association has organized the Luzhunan Haocaitou Art Festival during the Lantern Festival. A key part of the event is a parade movement that tours around the village with participants holding radish lanterns. In the past three years, the village has invited Ming Hwa Yuan, Ju Percussion Group, and Paper Windmill Theatre to perform. After the parade, everyone gathers at the temple to watch performances, appreciate installation art, and solve riddles. The event slowly fuses an artistic lifestyle and local culture.
By organizing this type of large event, the association creates a feeling of "coming home for the holidays", showcases the village's traditional culture, and attracts tourists to come and get to know Luzhunan. Hsu Shu-fan's experience working at the National Theater and Concert Hall made her well-equipped to organize such an event. Sponsorship from local businesses also enabled the community to unleash its potential and boost their publicity. The 6th Haocaitou Art Festival held in 2019 featured local elements reshaped into new creative art. This served to beautify the streets as well as showcase the traditional culture of the community so that visitors could better experience the charm of Luzhunan.
Programs of Workforce Development Agency Drive Local Growth
The members of the association include senior people that joined from the beginning, as well as newly hired young people. At first, the association used the recourses of MEPP to hire middle-aged and elderly staff. Now, they are trying to get young people to return to their hometown with the EEP. Hsu Shu-fan believes that the elders are the soul of the community. Heritage has always been the association's mission. These elders dedicated great efforts to promote traditional culture and design activities in the early days of the association. Traditional culture is preserved in them. Their everyday "skills" are important assets for the village to perpetuate its traditional culture; they are the only ones that know what is the essence of traditional activities, and how these should be done.
These older men and women have also grown a lot over the years. At first, they often limited themselves due to their age and had a hard time communicating and interacting with visitors. However, through the encouragement of Hsu Shu-fan and other association members, they were able to push their limits.
They have found confidence and a sense of achievement from their work. They can now handle tours on their own, and the association is actively training and encouraging recruits to obtain relevant licenses.
Hsu Shu-fan said, "Concepts like community building, placemaking, and social enterprises have caught on in recent years. We're starting to see young people who want to return and do something for their hometowns. EEP of WDA is designed to attract young people to get a job back home. Nonetheless, it's harder for some young people to stay at one job for a long time. Some effort is still necessary for them to identify with the job, and dedicate themselves to the village."
Hsu Shu-fan has found young people that vitalize the community by implementing EEP. Through education, she hopes to promote a traditional culture based on the preservation of Luzhunan. In the future, she hopes for the village to set up its own workshop. This way, more young people can stay and start businesses so that they can sustain themselves, promote the village, and work towards the goal of making a profit.
The Luzhunan Haocaitou Art Festival is an innovative evolution of a traditional custom: Holding parades with radish lanterns for Lantern Festival. It has developed into a special highlight of the village.
Luzhunan Village has nearly 50 old sanheyuan residences, making it the most well-preserved traditional settlement in northern Taiwan.
Miaoli County Traditional Settlement Culture Association organizes traditional culture DIY activities.
Large events like the Haocaitou Art Festival bring the work of artists-in-residence to the village, providing splash to the rural scenery.
Case Story - Empowering Employment Program
Miaoli County Traditional Settlement Culture Association - Hsu Shu-fan
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Please attribute this article to "Workforce Development Agency, Ministry Of Labor."