Former Dapu Taisugar Factory
Dongyuan Dapu Sugar Factory Ruins Introduction
If you head up Route 105 about half a kilometer east of the town of Dongyuan, you’ll find the ruins of the old Dapu Sugar Mill…but only if you can discover where they lay hidden in the woods.
Dapu Sugar Mill dates back very nearly to the beginning of Taiwan’s Japanese period. Taiwan was ceded to Japan after that country’s victory in the First Sino-Japanese war in 1895. The new rulers lost no time in setting up a system designed to develop the island and extract its resources to power Japan’s burgeoning industrial base.
In the lowlands, irrigation systems were built to increase rice cultivation. In the mountains, logging operations culled the thousand-year-old stands of Taiwan cedars. But where the western plains rose to meet the foothills of the central range, sugar was king. Sugar had been one of Taiwan’s main export items ever since the Dutch occupation, but it was the Japanese who industrialized the process, built rail routes connecting farm to factory, and sent sugar production soaring. By 1939, the island was producing 1.5 million tons a year.
Dapu, built in 1908, was Tainan’s first sugar mill, but it very nearly didn’t get off the ground. The hilly landscape meant that no rail lines had been put in and full-scale mechanization was impossible. In the end, a unique, small-scale steam-powered operation was developed to extract the cane juice for brown sugar, ethanol, and molasses. The cane was carted up to the mill, where the stalks were fed into a chopper, pounded, and macerated to extract the raw juice. The waste fiber, or bagasse, was recycled as fuel to heat the boilers. Any liquid waste was funneled into the Guizhong River through a vaulted brick tunnel.
As Taiwan industrialized in the 60s and 70s, sugar production declined, and in 1983, this small local mill was forced to close. The impact on the town was huge. Before the closure, 1500 students attended the local elementary school. Now, there are 200. It has only been in the last few years that the area has seen a resurgence of its fortunes with specialty products like coffee and kiln-dried longans.
Today, the ruins of the abandoned factory look like something out of a steampunk post-apocalyptic fantasy. Buried in the woods and overgrown with philodendron and strangler figs, the only sign from the road that anything is there are the brick posts of the former gatehouse. If you’re adventurous enough to enter and work your way through the woods, you’ll eventually come upon broken brick walls behind which you’ll find the rusting remains of enormous gear wheels, pipes, and boilers. Beyond them, the vine-encased smokestack towers over the forest. Look and you’ll find the old chopper into which the stalks were fed, and nearby, the square mashers and the overgrown conveyor system. The macerators, looking like layers of black teeth, still occupy the central room, and behind that stands the old concrete water cistern high up on four tall legs, so swallowed up in a strangler fig that it is now almost more tree than structure.
If exploration is your thing, the abandoned ruins of the Dapu Sugar Mill are an amazing place to visit. Almost nobody knows about this place; nobody ventures here. Peaceful, eerie, and dreamlike, this spot is a requiem to a bygone age.
*Please note that visitors to the sugar mill are asked to check in first with Mr. Yu ( +886 916 301 338) at the local Culture and Tourism office on Dongyuan Old Street; the ruins have a number of pits and unsafe areas, and cell reception in the woods is spotty to non-existent. Visitors are strongly advised not to explore the ruins alone. Bug spray and good walking shoes are recommended.
Dongshan district, Tainan city
+886 916 301 338