After missing my stop on a bus ride bound for one of the lesser known Yangmingshan hiking trails, I spotted the huge, partially collapsed iron-frame of what I assumed at the time was the remnants of a warehouse from the road. It didn’t strike me as being particularly interesting, but I thought it might make for some unique photos, so before getting the bus back to the trail, I made a mental note to come back at some point if I could find anything else in the area to check out. Skip forward a month or so, and I returned to investigate the mansion I’d discovered in the meantime scouting out the area from above on Google Maps, before turning my sights to the old warehouse, which turned out to have much more to it than I first suspected.
The details are fairly hazy for such an immense complex, but the history of the Taiwan Iron Company 臺灣煉鐵股份有限公司
seems to date back to 1944 during the rapid industrialisation of the Japanese colonial period, when an ironworks was established by Taiwan Heavy Industries in Xizhi District of Taipei, on the site of what is now the Sijih Cathay General Hospital 汐止國泰綜合醫院, to produce pig iron for the war effort, using ore shipped over from Hainan Island which was then controlled by the ROC; along with coal mined in nearby Keelung and Ruifeng.
During this early period, a huge number of people relied on the various metalworks (many of them small-scale outfits) scattered throughout Taipei for employment. This site seems to suggest that by 1952, when Taiwan Iron was formed to take over the running of the works, there were as many as 32 in the Taipei county area alone, although Taiwan Iron seems to have been by far the largest, with a poster in this thread on PTT claiming that around 5000 people worked there in it’s heyday – many of them at the Xizhi plant (take that figure with the grain of salt it deserves though).
The relationship between the Xizhi and Jinshan plants is unclear although an article claims they were closely linked. I can’t tell whether they were constructed around the same time or even which came first (although I strongly suspect it was Xizhi). My guesses would be that either the pig iron produced at Xizhi was then sent to Jinshan to be forged into steel – a much more useful material, or, that demand at Xizhi exceeded their production capacity, and Jinshan was constructed as a ‘satellite’ pig iron production line. The company listing for Taiwan Iron indicates that the business was registered at Jinshan, although my belief is that after the closure of the main Xizhi plant, work still continued at Jinshan for a time.
At some point, possibly in the early 90s, Taiwan Iron went public and listed on the stock exchange, represented by the broker ‘Yuanta Securities 元大證券’. After this, conflicting interests resulted in arguments among shareholders that all came to a head in 1998, when the vice president of Yuanta, Huáng Nǎixuān 黃乃宣 was assassinated outside his home possibly as a result of a dispute over land. This article also posits that there was potential involvement from the infamous Taiwanese politician/crimelord Lo Fu-chu 羅福助, although I can’t find any other sources to back that up.
It seems that Taiwan Iron struggled on for a number of years after these events until 2008 when the company was officially dissolved. I can’t find much information as to the underlying causes of this, although I’ve seen mismanagement suggested, as well more infighting among shareholders – it’s also possible that China’s accession to the WTO in 2001, led to a decrease in international demand for Taiwanese Iron/Steel, resulting in a downward turn for the industry.
The land at Xizhi was sold to Cathay Financial Holdings 國泰金融控股 circa 2005, who then themselves sold it off piecemeal to various developers to become the sites of commercial and residential properties, along with the hospital mentioned earlier in the article. The old blast furnaces were apparently moved to vacant land adjoining a nearby sports complex where they languished until 2009 when they were finally broken down and scrapped.
The Jinshan plant itself as it currently stands struck me as uncommonly dangerous when I was there – The huge girders comprising the roof supports have started to buckle and collapse due to constant deterioration from the elements and you can see beams that have fallen scattered across the floor. The floor itself is also somewhat of a deathtrap as the vast chasms that presumably at one point contained molten ore, have filled with rainwater that has turned Red from the rust collected there, as well as wreckage that has fallen from the roof, making it incredibly difficult to pick your way through. The rusty smell hits the back of your throat if you linger too close and is fairly overwhelming (although hopefully not poisonous).
The lower level itself, used to access the ‘pits’ has totally flooded and is inaccessible, although I did notice fish and frogs hanging out there – the former almost certainly introduced by a kindly local, although I can’t see the rusty water being too beneficial for their health. There are a few large buildings scattered around the plant – the uses of which I can’t really determine as they’ve been stripped of anything interesting and I don’t know enough about Iron/Steel production to speculate, going off the little that remains.
One thing that’s interesting is that it was only after I’d wandered for some time that I realised that it wasn’t concrete or dirt I was walking on throughout most of the site – it was tiny flakes of rust that form a kind of carpet over the majority of the area, crunching softly underfoot as you walk over them.
The area the factory is situated on is extensive and it seems many locals have started to use it to grow various crops, as well as use some of the outbuildings for storage purposes. Unlike Xizhi, this area of Jinshan is very quiet and rural, so I can’t see many developers being eager to snap up this land and I imagine it will sink further into decline, although I did see an interesting proof of concept for developing the area as part of a student design competition. If something were to be done with the land here, I would hope that unlike Xizhi, they would at least leave a little relic, or reminder to preserve the memories of an industry that was once so important to the people here.