Just South of Pingtung City 屏東市 in Cháozhōu Township 潮州鎮, lie the remains of Pingtung Mingde High School 屏東潮州明德中學, a rather foreboding concrete husk that looks more like a multi-storey car park than a place of education. It’s lain derelict for well over a decade, yet still contains plenty of evidence of it’s past life if you venture inside.
The name Mingde 明德 is taken from the first guideline of the Confucian text ‘The Great Learning 大學’, which can be summed up as a series of principles on how one can achieve self-perfection and improve the world around them. This book has had a huge influence on Chinese thought and education for well over a millenium, and so it’s little wonder that a school should look to it for naming inspiration. It’s also no surprise that Chaozhou Mingde isn’t unique, as many schools in Taiwan have assumed the Mingde moniker, along with restaurants, temples and even MRT stations.
In Taiwan, high school is usually split into ‘Junior High’ which spans ages 12-15, and ‘Senior High’ (15-18) which are ordinarily separate institutions, however, Mingde was apparently slightly unusual in that it was a comprehensive school that spanned their entirety – presumably forgoing the notorious entrance exams often required for students to progress to many Senior High schools. Up until 2014, only education up to Junior High level was compulsory, so I’d be interested to know how many students at Mingde opted to stay on to the Senior level. Due to the presence of a wealth of practical equipment encountered within, I’m of the opinion that Mingde offered students a more vocation based educational track, over the more rigorous academic approach favoured by most establishments.
The school building itself isn’t going to be winning any prizes for beauty and demonstrates the ‘function-over-form’ brutalist philosophy that dominated KMT-era architecture during the 60s and 70s (which is when, I’m making an educated guess, it was built). The blocky, utilitarian design consists almost entirely of right angles and is based on a long, thin building profile, that was supposed to provide an equal distribution of sunlight and ventilation to all classrooms – an absolute necessity in the baking heat of Southern Taiwan.
Inside, the ground floor seems to be in use as a toilet for the local strays as well as housing a load of busted arcade machines that I’m assuming were dumped here later, and didn’t in fact, constitute part of the curriculum. Most of the classrooms on this lower level have been stripped of anything interesting, although I did find a few old brass instrument cases, and many of the blackboards are still present, containing ghostly remnants of their final lessons, fading underneath the graffiti that came later.
The vast majority of the school’s furniture and items of interest seem to have gravitated towards the 3rd floor (presumably they’re too much hassle to take downstairs), with desks and chairs strewn everywhere alongside syringes, sheet music, televisions and other assorted leftovers. This floor housed the science labs, evidenced by the row of sinks in the outer corridor that span the building’s entire length and, rather bizarrely, an inordinately large number of medical dummies which have been dismembered – their parts scattered around in a fashion resembling Ted Bundy’s living room. You might find a head here, torso there, and a scattering of arms in a pile nearby. On the far side of the 2nd floor, there are the remains of the old lecture theatre, with yet more appendages arranged artfully on the raised seating, probably for photographic purposes by other curious wanderers.
In 2001, less than 130 students remained at the establishment, resulting in a severe lack of funds despite efforts to revive it, including a failed attempt by the school president to convert it into an Institute of Technology (which only succeeded in increasing it’s debts), and the leasing of the playing fields to a local driving school (which explains the odd road markings painted onto them) in a bid to generate extra revenue. Souring relationships between the president and the school board, alongside it’s still deteriorating finances, probably hastened the inevitable, and the school was forced to close by the Ministry of Education in 2002.
Since it’s closure, the grounds West of the school building have been appropriated by local residents as allotments, growing various fruit and vegetables, some of which climb up the old school walls, while the sports grounds have seen extensive use as parking space, as a result of their close proximity to Chaozhou Night Market 潮州夜市, although this convenience backfired in early 2017, after one of the concrete railings detached and fell, doing considerable damage to the two (thankfully unoccupied) vehicles beneath it. Parking has since been discouraged by gating shut the main entrance and erecting warning signs.
I find it a real shame that such a large, relatively central expanse of land is wasted – The night market, for example, would easily be able to fit inside the grounds – even without the school being demolished (although I appreciate it’s wouldn’t be the nicest backdrop to have when you’re out to eat and have fun). Most likely, the usual labyrinth of legal complexities regarding property ownership are preventing anything productive being done, so it’ll probably keep it’s present job of being an almighty eyesore for the foreseeable future.