When talk turns to tourist attractions in Lukang, most people mention places like Longshan Temple, lovely street views, and edible delicacies. However, people rarely remember that Lukang, located in north-western Changhua county, used to be the second largest town in Taiwan in the 17th century.
Much has changed since then, of course, thanks to rapid development and the advancement of technology in the 20th century. Some old buildings have been replaced by modern ones and factories and stores have been built.
Development brings with it more tourists and business opportunities, but the truth is that it can also cause problems – for one thing, Lukang’s traditional culture and people are flowing away gradually, and the environment is sustaining damage.
A group of native Lukang youngsters has decided to change that by preserving the traditional face of Lukang in the hopes of raising people’s awareness about public issues and to find a connection with their hometown.
They have launched several initiatives – most of them are free – such as holding concerts and offering guided tours.
Among the initiators of the campaign are two brothers: elder brother Chang Ching-yeh, CEO of The Kids from Lukang Co Ltd, and the younger, Annon Chang, chairman of The Lukang Renaissance Association. The two organisations were founded in 2012, and since then, the brothers’ plans have been put in place and are attracting more people to join.
The elder Chang, a 31-year-old musician, dreams of making Lukang a capital of cultural art.
“To pursue what you really like is the most exhilarating thing, we don’t need to do everything just for money,” he says in a recent interview.
In 2009, he joined a dance troupe touring Italy, a trip that became the turning point of his life. During the tour, he met some Sardinian performers, who told him that they never miss important festivals in their hometown even though they work in other cities.
Inspired by their love of their homeland, Chang began to wonder why the bond between Taiwanese people and their hometown is becoming weaker. To him, culture is an aggregation, accumulated by people’s daily experience and living environment, which cannot be torn apart.
Some may consider there will be no future if they choose to stay in their hometown, but Chang believes that there is still a lot of potential in Lukang. And so he decided to return home and make changes.
With some support from the government, Chang began to fulfil his dream of preserving Lukang’s traditions and encouraging cultural industry.
“It will be a pity that these old values are being lost to make way for business and tourism. It doesn’t mean that Lukang cannot be developed, but it has to be done only on the condition of not damaging the original,” he says.
By holding more than 40 activities, including concerts, art festivals and screenings of documentaries, Chang and his team “service” people with the arts.
“We are not doing it for praise but for what we believe is right. We have a strong sense of local identity and hope to encourage people to care more about public affairs,” he says.
“To cultivate culture is like planting a tree, which needs enough time to have a firm root. I will keep it up, use art to touch more people and bring new atmosphere into Lukang,” he says.
Following in his elder brother’s footsteps, Annon, a 28-year-old office worker, wants to bring about an environmental renaissance in Lukang.
He devotes himself to cultural preservation by inviting local people to clean up the environment together, and by holding civic forums and exhibitions every month.
“We don’t need to give up everything to realise our dreams. Instead, we only need to make good use of our free time,” Annon says.
Though some people regard them as fools, he says, he believes only when the people themselves make an effort can a better environment be created.
“People should stop criticising and start to make our life better,” he says.
“We should not let tourism take away our own cultural spirit, and I believe that it is our traditions and historic sites that attract visitors.
“Therefore, what we need to do is protect those antiquities instead of focusing on modernising the town rapidly.”
Annon and his partners believe strongly in their effort to maintain the environment – to the extent that even though sewage is smelly in hot weather, they’re still willing to clean it up when there is a problem.
The brothers say that no matter how the generations change, Taiwanese people should know their roots and never forget history “because they made us become who we are today,” Annon says.
Their belief and perseverance have already touched many others, who are beginning to follow in their footsteps to preserve Lukang’s culture. – The China Post/Asia News Network