Strong Hakka Culture, Bucolic Beauty

Text: Rick Charette

Sitting on a small plain, a patchwork quilt of well-tended farm plots with a heritage settlement at its center, mountains looking down from three sides, Meinong is an old Hakka-culture enclave that is today a tourist favorite.


Taiwan’s “Top Ten Tourist Towns” were declared early last year, chosen with the help of public voting. Looking at the list, I quickly settled on Meinong as my favorite. In the summer I was contracted by National Geographic to cover the towns, and was not surprised when the photographer sent over from the U.S., the well-known Mike Yamashita, mentioned that Meinong was one of the winners that had made an especially favorable impression on him. Special exhibits of Mike’s Taiwan photos were later staged in U.S. cities.


Here’s a shortlist of what visitors like so much about the place: the lovely, quiet farmland, with an in-close, mist-topped mountain backdrop; thriving old-time culture of the hardy Hakka people, in a community brimming with heritage architecture and the aromas of the distinctive Hakka cuisine; relics of the old, now defunct tobacco industry – last century, Meinong was Taiwan’s richest production area; exquisite hand-crafted oil-paper umbrellas and inviting studios; wonderful, leisurely biking jaunts, through sleepy settlement and into the country.


Located in southwest Taiwan, last year Meinong was eaten up by the broad-shouldered city of Kaohsiung, becoming Meinong District. In this article, however, I’ll do as everyone else in Taiwan still does and call it a town.



I promise that an already guaranteed good time will be pleasure-enhanced if you rent a bike to jaunt about. The places you’ll want to visit are spread out over the valley floor. Driving and scooter rentals are two other options; public transportation is not.


There are seven color-coded bike routes, totaling 40 km, with themes including “folk culture,” “religion,” “historical relics,” and “country.” Quality bikes are available for NT$80 daily from shops by the bus station, and at the attractive visitor information center at 789 Tai’an Road, on the south side of Zhongzheng Lake, the local irrigation-water source, which is ringed by parkland and viewing platforms.


Meinong History

Meinong was settled by members of the Hakka ethnic community in 1736. Taiwan Hakka today number about four million, about 15% of the country’s population. Meinong itself is about 90% Hakka. The group has close-knit communities, arising in large part as a result of discrimination and oppression in imperial times. The term “Hakka” in fact means “guest people.” Rarely enjoying secure title to land, they often settled in marginal areas – notably in mountains and foothills – and placed great emphasis on education (i.e., a non-material, highly mobile form of wealth generation). Meinong was long famed for producing an unusually high number of imperial scholars and, in modern times, PhDs.


Yong’an Old Street

The Hakka take great pride in their traditions, and these are on vivid display along Yong’an Old Street, which abounds with old shops/residences, shrines, and other representative structures. At No. 177 is the rustic, open-front Jin Xing Shop, opened in 1929, where master tailor Shie Jing Lai and his wife craft tunics and other traditional Hakka clothing – all bright, lovely, and popular with tourists. Shie loves to talk about the rich symbolism incorporated into the old-style blue-dye attire. One example: The wide-band collar of men’s tunics symbolizes the shape of the classic Hakka fortified village.


At one end of Yong’an is the tall East Gate, telling of a time when watchtowers helped protect against bandits, rebels, marauders from rival ethnic groups, indigenous warriors and, sometimes, government troops, always poorly paid and almost always unwelcome. Beside is Meinong’s original Earth God shrine, built when this riverfront area was opened. Such protective shrines dot the area, as do jingzi ting or “respect writing pavilions,” miniature pavilions where any paper with writing was ritually burned and sent back to heaven by education-venerating Hakka, for it was heaven that had given the miracle of paper and written character to humankind in the first place.


Oilpaper Umbrellas

Taiwan’s exquisite handcrafted oilpaper umbrellas are popular souvenir purchases, and Meinong has long been the mecca of production. Featuring an intricate bamboo frame and lacquered translucent paper, each is a distinctive work of art painted with bold, colorful designs. The secret of the art was brought from mainland China’s Guangdong Province in the early 20th century.


Featuring an intricate bamboo frame and lacquered translucent paper, each oilpaper umbrella is a distinctive work of art painted with bold, colorful designs


The family is all-important to the Hakka, and an umbrella’s circular perfection symbolizes the “perfection” of family togetherness. They are traditional wedding gifts, for the pronunciation of “paper,” zhi, resembles that for “sons,” zi, thus promoting fecundity.


Meinong has two tourist-oriented sales centers. I recommend Yuan Xiang Yuan Cultural Village, an attractive mall which has live demonstrations. I specially recommend Meinong k.c.s. Umbrella, however, for a view into Meinong’s non-tourist traditions. This small workshop, run by a charming, gentle couple, Lin Rong-jun and Wu Jian-ying, has a nationwide reputation. It’s in the country just outside town in the rear of the Lin clan’s venerable courtyard residence; the couple inherited the business from Lin’s father. They’ll make your umbrella to order, and you can also DIY-decorate your own mini-umbrella for a few hundred NT dollars.


At local shops/studios, an 8-inch umbrella should be NT$400 to NT$600, a 19-inch version NT$1,200 or more.



Between the late 1930s and 2002, Meinong was Taiwan’s tobacco-growing king. After Taiwan’s 2002 WTO entry the industry quickly withered and died. Many of the curing barns are now used as storage sheds, and a few have been turned into pottery studios.


Be sure to visit the Meinong Hakka Culture Museum. This pleasant facility sits in open farm country, with big views all about. Its shape evokes Meinong’s tobacco barns, and there is a full-scale mock-up inside. There are displays on all aspects of local culture and history; some have English, and there are free English-audio guides as well as English tours with advance booking.


Hakka Cuisine

There are a number of good local Hakka-cuisine restaurants, but I especially like Meinong Traditional Hakka Cuisine, home to friendly staff, tasty, hearty, inexpensive food, and intriguing antiques sourced from valley farmsteads.


Traditionally, isolated Hakka communities, often in the hills, grew their own food, with few fresh vegetables available during cool winters. Preserved meats and pickled vegetables were thus common. The culinary style is characterized by an especially sensitive way of combining only the freshest of crisp vegetables, when available. These are chopped and combined in myriad manner, stir-fried lightly to evince the most delicate flavors. The heavy use of garlic, oils, and spices is avoided.


The culinary style of the Hakka is characterized by an especially sensitive way of combining only the freshest of crisp vegetables


The frugal Hakka have a dish for all animal parts; for example, pig’s intestine with ginger slices is a favorite. The heavy labor of both men and women in mine, forest, and oft-marginal field – places of traditional Hakka industries – led to substantial salt loss, leading to extra-salty dishes. Most restaurants these days hold back, however.


Be sure to try the wild lotus, a local specialty, which many locals report plucking from Zhongzheng Lake when kids. In lake-area farms you’ll see workers submerged in water up to chest and neck.


Getting There

High Speed Rail, regular railway, and Kaohsiung Metro services converge at Kaohsiung’s Zuoying Station. Kaohsiung Bus Co. ( coaches to Meinong can be caught outside the station; 13 stop here daily, 8:20 am to 8:20 pm (NT$148 one-way; 90 minutes).



Traditional Hakka Three-sided Courtyard Residences

You’ll come across many old-style residences, even in the town. The semi-enclosed courtyard style is most common, with a single main entrance and high exterior walls to enable defense. To the courtyard’s center-rear is the ancestral altar. True Hakka residences have white brick and black tile; red brick/tile indicates influence by Taiwan’s Han Chinese majority. Other Hakka features are a door-top house name and three-sectioned walls with white-painted mud brick on top, earthenware tiles in the middle, and round stones at bottom. The white represents the older generation’s white hair, the red-tint earthenware symbolizes the hard-working middle generation’s blood (sweat and tears), and the stones represent the hope for many children.




English and Chinese

East Gate 東門

Hakka 客家人

jingzi ting 敬字亭

Lin Rong-jun 林榮君

Meinong 美濃

Shie Jing Lai謝景來

Tai’an Road泰安路

wild lotus 野蓮

Wu Jian-ying 吳劍瑛

Yong’an Old Street 永安老街

zhi (paper) 紙

Zhongzheng Lake 中正湖

zi (child) 子


Jin Xing Shop (錦興行)

Add: 177 Yong’an Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區永安路177號)

Tel: (07) 681-1191


Yuan Xiang Yuan Cultural Village (原鄉緣文化村)

Add: 147, Sec. 1, Zhongxing Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區中興路一段147號)

Tel: (07) 681-0888

Website: (in Chinese only)

(also has teahouse, restaurant, shops selling other souvenirs such as local-specialty dried foods)


Meinong k.c.s. Umbrella (廣進勝紙傘)

Add: 47 Minquan Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區民權路47號)

Tel: (07) 681-3247

Website: (in Chinese only)


Meinong Hakka Culture Museum (美濃客家文物館)

Add: 49-3 Minzu Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區民族路49-3號)

Tel: (07) 681-8338


Meinong Traditional Hakka Cuisine (美濃古老客家菜)

Add: 362-5, Sec. 1, Zhongshan Rd., Meinong District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市美濃區中山路一段362-5號)

Tel: (07) 681-1156


Lovely Lotus Flower Fields

Little Streets and Small Alleys

Noodles, Buns, and Dumplings

Shin Kong Chao Feng Resort Ranch

Hao Bu Hao Chi?

Taitung by the sea

Sleep, Eat, and Buy Options in Alishan’s North Sector

Mt. Guanyin

A Night at the Market

Alishan North

Green and Sleepy

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Taiwan and Hotpot

Jinyue Indigenous Village

Seven Stars Mountain

DaMorLee Leisure Farm

Quick Trip to Taipei

Up into the High Mountains

Romantic Evenings in Kaohsiung

Railways to Bikeways

Xiang Luo Lei Restaurant

Land Ho! Penghu – Beckoning You

The Guanshan Town Circle Bicycle Path

The Heart of Hualien

Dageeli Tribe Restaurant

Coastal Hualien

Ximending (West Gate District)

Bunun Hunters Restaurant

Hello Hualien!

The Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area

Tianwei Highway Garden

Prowlin’ in Maolin

Strawberry Town

The Maolin National Scenic Area

Stairways to the Sky

Pedaling Along

Daluan Restaurant

Around the Northern Tip

Hats and Mats

Orange Country

Travel Taiwan, Film Taiwan!

A Place to Relax

Through the Grapevine

The Tatami of Dongshi


Lion’s Head Mountain and Beipu

Exploring the Valley of the Glowing Sky

Fruit of the Angels

Its Cake Culture

The Amazing Bamboo

Yilan’s Kumquats

Lovely Nanzhuang

The Sea of Flowers in Xinshe Festival

Healthful Eating and Delicious Flavors

The Black King Kong of Yuanchang

From Art Brush to Beauty Brush

A Strange Fruit

The Sound of Drums

Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival

The Hot Springs of Beitou

Simakusi (Smangus)


Water Frolics

Overnighting on the Northeast Coast

Giant Buddha, Old Temples, and Glass Art

Mt. Beidawu

The Most Joyous Thing in the World is Music

Taiwan Fun on the Tropic of Cancer

FUN WITH CHINESE - Men in the Fields during Rain

NK 101 Tea @ Style

Taitung Backpack Bus Trip

The Life of Pi

Taipei’s East District Where the Art of Shopping Is Serious Business

Spring Onion Country Yilan's Sanxing Township Offers Ideal Conditions for Cultivating Scallions

Sandy Beaches, Rocky Coastline, Quiet Country A Whirlwind Tour Round Hengchun Peninsula

What Happened at Wushe

Confucius Day

Keeping It in the Family: I Wan Jan Puppet Theater

Taiwan Has a Unique Culture

Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit and the ROC's 100 Years

All the Flowers You Can Dream Of

Music from the Marshland

Pristine Scenes

Fierce Faces

Following the Tide

A Wonderful World Out There

Off to the Beach and the Rocks

Taiwan’s Easy Rider Goes Into the Wild


Taipei Int'l Flora Expo




Taiwan's Ultra Man Going Beyond Extreme

Rice by Any Other Name

Taiwan is Beautiful!


Slate Houses and Mud Rivers

From Fir Formosa

Touring Kaohsiung by KMART


Taoyuan HSR Station

Taking Taiwan's Slow Train

Bus Trip to Central Taiwan

Establishing a Beautiful Taiwan

High Mountain Ecology

Exploring High Mountain HighsTaiwan at Her Peaks

Cultural Tourism in Taiwan:What's in It for You?

Getting to Know Taiwan's Indigenous Cultures

Leaving Stress Behind

Taiwan! "Feel Good" Country

Exploring Taiwan's Rural Side

Aboriginal Tribes & Festivals

The Famous Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Night Markets in Taiwan

Great Arts, Culinary Exhibitions and Events in Taiwan's National Palace Museum and Other Places

Mountains in Taiwan

Water Fun in Taiwan

Taiwanese Arts, Arts Festivals and Interesting Artifacts

"Taiwan's Ghost Festival and Other Religious Events"

Dragon Boat Festival

City: The Tallest Building Taipei 101 & Kaohsiung's Love River

National Scenic Area (IV)-Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area, Penghu National Scenic Area, Matsu National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (III)-East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, East Coast National Scenic Area, Maolin National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (II)-Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area, Alishan National Scenic Area, Southwest Coast National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (I)-North Coast & Guanyinshan National Scenic Area, Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area

Offshore Islands- Penghu、Kinmen National Park、Matzu、Green Island(Lyudao)、Orchid Island(Lanyu)

Eastern Taiwan- Taroko National Park、East Rift Valley、Rueisuei & Hongye、Jhihben

Southern Taiwan- Alishan、Tainan、Kaohsiung、Dapeng Bay & Little Liouciou、Kenting National Park

Central Taiwan- Miaoli、Taichung、Changhua、Nantou、Yushan National Park

Northern Taiwan -Taipei City、Yangmingshan & Beitou、Danshuei、Wulai、Jioufen & Jinguashih、Yilan、Taoyuan & Hsinchu