When a magnitude 7.3 earthquake rocked central Taiwan on Sept.
21, 1999, the village of Huashan in Yunlin County's Gukeng Township
was initially spared, far enough away from the quake's epicenter to
withstand the blow.
But in the hours and days that followed, Huashan was battered by
a series of landslides. The earthquake had shaken loose soil and
trees on nearby mountain slopes, and powerful typhoons sent them
cascading down into the village and the surrounding area.
Roads crumbled and houses, buildings and bridges collapsed under
the weight of the buckling mountains.
Despite the destruction, Huashan has since pulled itself out of
its nightmare to become a prosperous community, fueled by a crop that
had been the town's trademark decades and even centuries earlier:
The coffee trade has enabled Huashan to reposition itself as a
tourist destination with its famous Taiwan Coffee Festival, splendid
night views and mountain forest landscapes, beautiful walkways and
Koji pottery art.
With the help of the Yunlin County government and NT$600 million
from the Soil and Water Conservation Bureau, the township also built
the country's first debris flow education garden in Huashan three
years after successive disasters.
Soldiers worked hard to return disaster areas to normal. （Oct 16, 1999 CNA）
The garden, which features natural landscapes and new equipment,
such as flood drainage facilities, is a model for the control and
prevention of debris flow, according to Yunlin County Councilor Hsieh
Su-ya, who played an important role in Huashan's rebirth as head of
Gukeng Township between 1998 and 2006.
The unique showcase not only helps protect the safety of local
residents but also gives provides a boost to the local economy, she
Many of the park's water conservation features, such as sabo
dams, slit dams, and sediment control dams, were environmentally
engineered and built with locally available mud and gravel to prevent
flooding, Hsieh explained.
Though the garden is one of the area's landmarks and has had a
positive economic effect, it's coffee that sparked Huashan's economic
"The transformation of Gukeng to prosperity did not happen
overnight, " Hsieh said, recalling how hard she tried to create a
unique agricultural brand for the township even before the earthquake
She considered oranges, bamboo shoots, and tea, but after a
meeting in 1998 with Chang Lai-en, a local coffee farmer in Gukeng's
Hebaoshan region and a pioneer in the coffee business, Hsieh embraced
the crop's potential because it evoked memories of Gukeng as a coffee
"Suddenly the answer arrived as though a gift from the gods," she
says. "I realized at that moment that coffee was the best fit for us
to go from traditional farming to recreational agriculture, or
According to the 50-something Chang, Gukeng was already planting
coffee when the Dutch occupied Taiwan in the 17th century, and
because of its high quality, it was all shipped overseas.
Soldiers built lavatories for Yongchang primary school. （Oct 10, 1999 CNA）
Hebaoshan, nicknamed 'Coffee Hill,' and the surrounding area used
to be covered by coffee plants, he said.
The golden age of Taiwan's coffee industry started in 1902, when
the colonial Japanese government decided to develop this lucrative
crop, mainly in Gukeng, which had suitable soil and a subtropical
Though Hsieh had taken to the idea of coffee in 1998, little was
done until the township was shaken by the earthquake and subsequent
Farmers were encouraged by the local government to plant coffee
to protect the topsoil, according to coffee grower Chung Chiu, who
previously grew bamboo shoots.
"So we switched to coffee growing, " Chung said. "Coffee was our
best hope to pull us together after the disasters."
It wasn't until four years later, however, that the community
really made a name for itself when Hsieh launched the "Taiwan Coffee
Festival" at a cost of NT$3 million.
Aside from raising the visibility of the rural township and
putting a spotlight on the coffee industry, the event also generated
NT$200 million for the local economy. Revenue from the festival
soared the next two years to about NT$400 million and NT$1 billion,
Building on the success of the festival, the Gukeng Farmers'
Association inaugurated a recreational agricultural center in October
2003, designed to hold training sessions on making coffee and special
exhibitions, Hsieh said.
Another draw, the Literature Walkway, a brainchild of writer Ku
Meng-jen, was inaugurated in 2004 when Ku was chief of the Yunlin
County Cultural Affairs Department. A year later, Ku launched the
Huashan Poet Festival.
The walkway stretches a distance of more than 600 meters and
matches works of famous writers set in Yunlin County with the
beautiful surrounding landscape.
The combination of nature and literature, along with the lure of
locally grown coffee, attracted an estimated 1 million tourists a
year to the mountain village of 35,000 inhabitants for much of the
decade -- and the commercial impact is clearly evident.
More than 100 coffee shops and homestays have been set up in the
greater Huashan region, earning a good share of the hundreds of
millions of Taiwan dollars from tourists that pour into the area
"Our business is booming, with a good influx of visitors who come
to Huashan just to enjoy a cup of coffee, " said Lai Song-chi, a
coffee shop operator who settled down in Huashan after the 921
Huashan's economic prosperity, however, has not been immune to
the country's economic slump, as tourist numbers have plummeted
within the past year.
Hsieh says the region must find innovative ways to revitalize
itself again, such as improving coffee growing and roasting
techniques, integrating sightseeing resources, developing regional
agricultural products and tour itineraries, and improving the quality
of tourist attractions.
But is hard to believe that any of those measures will live up to
the tremendous boost the humble coffee bean gave to Huashan in
pulling it out of its nightmare after the earthquake in 1999.