Following Emperor Jiaqing on his magical journey
Experiencing a Da'an seaside trip
Words by Cai Jin-ding
Translated by Anna Yang
Photos by Reflection Photography
Though many have heard of Taipei's Da'an District, fewer are aware of the one in Taichung--which happened to be voted online as the most remote district of Taichung earlier this year. Historically, however, this place was one of the main Chinese immigrant entry points around 300 years ago and a trading harbor between the island and China. According to legend, Chinese Emperor Jiaqing was blessed by the deities when he visited this spot, which led to the name Da'an ("great peace"), which literally means "blessing" or "safe". The once flourishing Da'an still showcases abundant resources on dining menus with five local, well-known dishes. Today, you can explore Da'an Beach Park Marina and several other notable natural destinations.
Da'an District is located in northwestern Taichung, between the alluvial estuaries of the Dajia and Da'an rivers. In the 17th century, this place played an important trade role. In 1667, a Chinese admiral, Shi Lang attacked Taiwan and made landings at major trading past including Kaohsiung Harbor, Yunling's Wengang Harbor and Haiwonku Harbor located in Da'an.
In June of 1808, Emperor Jiaqing sailed out from the Yangzi River and got lost in a storm. As everyone grew panicked and terrified, they saw two dim lights and followed them to safety into Da'an Harbor. Emporer Jiaqing later named this place Da'an ("great peace") in honor of the peaceful ending to his journey, as documented in the "He An Temple's script".
Emperor Jiaqing's visit to Taiwan is still a local legend. Although historians have not found any proof that the emperor actually arrived at Da'an, local elders still believe the story. Let's follow Emperor Jiaqing and enjoy a magical trip to Da'an with him!
Da'an Harbor (Haiwonku)
The chief of Da'an Haiqian Village says that the old Da'an Harbor was located at his village, and served as a hub for the earliest development between Dajia and Da'an. At the end of the Ming dynasty, the harbor was called "Haiwonku", which means "the place where whales gather". Da'an Harbor, a naturally-formed deep-water port in the early Qing dynasty, encompasses Wujia Harbor to Wenliao Creek. This harbor has another name, "Screw Harbor", due to the curvy appearance of the sea shore.
The emperor's magical trip began with the He An Temple that worships the deities of Jin, Ji and Yao. The history of this temple dates back to 200 years ago when Emperor Jiaqing's ship is said to have arrived at Da'an Harbor.
On April 22, 1805, it is said that the head of Da'an Harbor, Hsieh Chu-lao and his grandfather, Hsieh Hsiao-ching, were fishing at sea when they smelled incense aromas and heard drumming and gongs. They suddenly saw three deity idols and three lambs on a floating boat. Initially, the villagers worshiped the deities and kept the lambs in Hsieh's family but, when everyone in the village received overabundant crops, the villagers decided to build He An Temple and moved the three deities there. He An Temple was built within 22 months and they moved the three deities to the temple on June 22, 1807.
An inescapable fatal disaster
When the rule of the Tamsui T'ing System and Changhua County were established in 1723, more immigrants arrived in Central Taiwan. In 1731, Da'an Harbor was developed into a major trading port and immigration hub for Taiwan. Fujian resident Lin Shou-jun (1699-1771) transferred by boat in Xiamen and arrived in Da'an Harbor in 1734 to settle in Dajia. After renting land from local indigenous residents and developing the farmland and the Dajia sewage system, he grew very rich. However, after too many feuds between the indigenous plains tribes and Chinese immigrants, Lin decided to move to the north and the Lin family grew to become one of the most important in that region.
By 1807, feuds between Fujianese Zhangzhou and Quanzhou immigrant families seemed neverending. Finally the Quanzhou-descended Fujianese defeated the Fujianese from Zhangzhou, with the Quanzhou Fujianese taking Da'an while the Zhangzhou Fujianese fled or were killed. For those now unknown people who were killed, the locals gathered their bodies and buried them at the People's Temple, that had witnessed every local historic moment in the past.
The Quanzhou Fujianese were capable traders and took over the business around the flourishing Da'an Harbor after the warring ended. Whether in immigration, the economy or national defense, Da'an Harbor played a main role in what is now Taichung until the end of the 19th century.
A tsunami in 1898 hit Da'an Harbor and destroyed its protective barrier, while silting decreased the navigability of the ship channels. The administration center was moved from Da'an Harbor to Zhongzhuang. The village chief noted sentimentally, "Right after the feuds between the Zhangzhou and Qianzhou, the barriers by the harbor soon disappeared and the area went into decline. It seemed to be a message from God that Da'an residents should fight less and unite."
Old street memories
Back then, Da'an Harbor flourished with 3-4,000 businessmen. The northern and south ends of the street, with He An Temple in the middle, were occupied by stores, warehouses, eateries, and opium dens, with the abandoned Wu mansion a remnant of the good old days of the past. The ancestors built their building walls with sea shells and pebbles in order to avoid flooding. A sediment control structure was built at north side of Da'an in 1951 in order to avoid the occasional monsoon. The structure is now broken with only one piece left. The locals have painted this remnant to describe the history and culture of Da'an Harbor, and this planned area is called "Memory Aisle".
Village chief Wang Sheng-tsung pointed off into the distance at the under-construction Mazu Cultural Park and said that the 10 white dolphin sculptures indicate the 10 directions of traditional worship. The population in Da'an has decreased dramatically, so the promotion of tourism is an important goal to achieve. The establishment of a local Tour Guide Association in 2001 was done in hopes of bringing more tourism to Da'an.
Promotion of five local food products
In order to bring more tourists to Da'an, the Farmers' Association of Da'an has been trying to promote local dishes featuring sausages, scallions, taro, wine and rice in recent years, and four products were selected as the finest products by Taiwan's Farmers and Fishermen Association in 2017. The "Flying Pig Sausage" brand is prepared with a large quantity of Da'an's pork. The fine Anchuan white rice in Da'an has been cultivated since the Japanese era and scallions grown by the Dajia Creek qualify to compete with Yilan's Sansing scallions. Taro grown by the Da'an and Dajia rivers is harvested from the seventh lunar month to the following April. The Da'an Farmers Association and Winery began operations in 2004 and the red wine and brandy presented have been popular, with the recently promoted "taro wine" quite notable as well.
Da'an Beach Park Marina
Taichung's first beach park was established in July, 1925. In the summer of 1928, the railway between Dajia and Da'an was completed, bringing crowds to Da'an Beach every summer since then. However, the beach facilities were gradually abandoned during WWII.
Da'an Beach facilities reopened again in July, 1961. After several renovations, the beach park has attracted greater numbers of tourists, especially during the annual Da'an Sand Sculpture and Music Festival and Da'an Sand and Wind Festival.
Da'an Beach Park Marina is not only a summer tourists' favorite place to visit, but also a paradise for plants and animals. The endangered Da'an Hygrophilia--listed by the IUCN--was often removed as a weed in Guike Village but, in 2001, local library volunteers worked together to re-cultivate this plant on public farm land at Nanchuan Village, and successfully got this area designated as the Da'an Hygrophilia Ecological Center.
Guike Ecological Center was opened in 2013 where Wenliao Creek meets the sea and features Taichung's only Kandelia plants, occupying two hectares of water and land with the function of preserving the ecological environment by adjusting the salinity level and helping to control flooding. Fishermen once made their living on nine miles of Da'an coastline, but it's now the west coast's most amazing oceanic ecological venue.
Visitors may visit and experience Da'an for its tranquility, enjoy a peaceful moment of sunset and sea waves, view egrets and crabs, and take in the fresh ocean breezes..