Travel in Taiwan Culture

Oil Paper Umbrellas--Beauties of Hakka Craftsmanship

By Christopher Logan Photo by Sung Chih-hsiung

The Hakka people of the historic town of Meinung fashion amazing umbrellas out of bamboo and paper. These umbrellas, which are lacquered and painted in colorful designs, actually work fine in the rain. They also shade delicate skin from the hot sun; and, when not in practical use, they make lovely room decorations and even lamp shades.

About a century ago, a Meinung businessman was walking through the town of Chaochou, Guangdong province, when he saw a shop selling ingenious bamboo umbrellas. He asked the master to return with him to Meinung, but the master refused. The businessman made some inquiries and ended up buying the master's shop, tools, and contract, forcing him to relocate to Meinung.


This master taught a generation of umbrella makers during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). The Japanese suggested that the color of the umbrellas--which was dark brown--should be lightened to a warm yellow as well as livened up with colorful designs. These changes started a souvenir industry that has made Meinung famous in Japan and around the world.

These are not flimsy umbrellas--they are hand crafted to be strong and to endure rain, sun, and daily handling. The designs are based on Chinese mythology and decorative themes like fruit, flowers, birds, and beautiful women. They are usually sold in a protective cardboard cylinder for convenient shipping.

Although Meinung umbrellas are sold at some shops in Taipei, you are advised to visit the old Hakka town where they are made. In addition to lovely scenery, Meinung offers an excellent selection of umbrellas and a chance to watch craftspersons at work. There are lots of little shops in the center of town, such as the one run by Chung Hsing-jen (鍾新建) at 128 Chungshan Road; Tel: (07) 681-5358. Chung has been building umbrellas for around 50 years. Prices at these little shops are surprisingly low--around NT$600 for a standard size umbrella.

The Yuan Hsiang Yuan Cultural Village (原鄉緣紙傘文化村), just outside Meinung on the road to Chishan, is the biggest retail outlet for these lacquered paper umbrellas, and it offers an incredible selection. The Village also has a tea house and a Hakka restaurant. There's always someone crafting umbrellas there, and English speakers are usually available. For more information, call (07) 681-0888 or fax (07) 681-0222.

For those who don't have a day to spend strolling through Meinung's rustic streets, a visit to the newly opened Meinung Folk Village (美濃民俗村) is a great way to experience the town's unique Hakka culture. The village is probably the only place where you can see and taste all of Meinung's local specialties. A diminutive potter, who at a glance might be mistaken for a child at play, makes vases and bowls with effortless grace, while an artist puts the finishing touches on one of Meinung's famous oil-paper umbrellas. Restaurants sell traditional tea--by the bowl--Hakka cuisine, and even old-fashioned shaved-ice desserts.

There is no admission fee, and owner Tseng Chi-hua (曾啟華 ) swears that both his handicrafts and cuisine are authentic. One of the original planners of rs of the well-known Taiwan Folk Village in Changhua, Tseng returned to his hometown to implement a similar cultural center in what he says is a more genuine manner. Tseng has prepared explanations (in both Chinese and English) of the area's folk arts, cuisine, history, and scenic spots, and there is even a description of the special characteristics of Meinung's Hakka people.

Among these traits, you will find, are ready smiles and natural hospitality. If they are not too busy, Tseng and the village's artists are happy to sip tea and chat with passersby until the sun goes down behind Moonlight Mountain (月光山).

Meinung Folk Village (tel: 07-681-7504) is located a five-minute drive from the town of Meinung in the direction of Chishan and Kaohsiung.

Travel in Taiwan Culture
Copyright 1995 Vision International Publishing Co.