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Lumber Factory



1921, 紙本水彩, 18.2×23.5cm

watercolor on paper





    Railroad tracks, factory buildings, smokestacks, steel cables, colossal cement structures, and loudly whirring machinery—all of these modern marvels comprised Chiayi’s lumber factory, often referred to as “East Asia’s Finest.” By the early 1920s, Chiayi had grown into a thriving metropolis after substantial investment in its lumber industry. The central force behind this great transformation was none other than the lumber factory on the town’s northern outskirts.






    This watercolor painting bears witness to the tremendous changes which Chiayi underwent during Chen Cheng-po’s youth.











    A three-story, steel-reinforced concrete structure, the sawmill was completed in 1914. Logs ready for sawing after their soak in the “Chinese fir pond” were brought by conveyor belt to the second floor, where they were split into lumber. After being dried and processed, the lumber was ready for sale to private merchants. Unfortunately, the original sawmill was destroyed in 1941 by an earthquake, but it was reconstructed under the direction of the Taiwan Governor-General’s Office, and factory operations continued throughout the war.





    The factory’s conveyor belt. Source: Chiayi Town Hall, Big Chiayi (Osaka: Eishin Publishing House, 1929).





Boiler room





    Constructed in 1913, the boiler room was Chiayi’s first reinforced concrete structure and coal- or wood-fired power plant. The boiler produced more than enough electricity to power all factory machinery, so surplus electricity was routed to the nearby Beimen neighborhood. In 1931, after the Chiayi Lighting Corporation began supplying electricity to the lumber factory, the boiler room was no longer used for power generation. Instead, it was converted into a power distribution center.





Sawdust storeroom





    The sawdust produced during the milling process was collected and stored in this room. It was then transported to the boiler room by two conveyor belts, as pictured in the painting, and fed into the boiler to be used as fuel to generate electricity. Today, the wooden warehouse no longer stands. All that remains of the sawdust storeroom is its reinforced concrete structural foundation. 










    In the boiler room, the steam generator noisily churned away as grayish-black smoke was drawn into the exhaust duct, piped up the 120-foot-tall iron smokestack, and finally discharged into the sky high above the factory. In early Chiayi, the tall smokestack was a spectacular symbol of progress, visible from all points around town. However, this landmark was destroyed by a 1965 earthquake; a portion of the flue is the only remaining vestige.





Overhead crane





    The image of this monumental overhead crane came to represent the factory more than any other. Manufactured by the US company Allis-Chalmers, the “sky wagon” (the crane) was composed of a pair of triangular steel-frame towers positioned on opposite sides of the log pond. The towers, set on tracks, could be moved up and down the pond’s banks. The tops of the towers were connected by iron cables from which the crane’s hook block was suspended, and the hook could be moved back and forth over the pond to pick up and transport logs. 





Drying room





    The rectangular, “snail-shaped” drying room was constructed in 1914 and housed Taiwan’s earliest steam-drying equipment. In order to reduce the moisture content of the wood and dry the logs, iron hoses blasted hot air in the direction of the logs as they were slowly carried on a conveyor belt towards the exit. Water vapor exited the room through two antenna-like gas flues above the roof.





The writing on the back of the painting





    The movements of Japan’s imperial family attracted much attention within the country and even in colonial Taiwan. In August of 1921, the Crown Prince Hirohito was homeward bound following a tour of continental Europe. Since Chen completed this watercolor on the day that the Crown Prince’s ship passed through the Taiwan Strait, he made note of the special occasion on the back of the painting.






    The back of the painting bears two passages which are translated as follows:








    At noontime today, August 28th, the battleship carrying His Highness the Crown Prince entered the Taiwan Strait. It will have passed through Taiwan’s territorial waters by approximately sunrise tomorrow, August 29th. This painting commemorates this propitious day.

    August 28, 1921 (10th year of Taishō’s reign)

    Within a painting dominated by the color purple, there should still be a variety of hues and tones, especially for a hot, summer scene such as this.



10. 28/8.