The Sugar Industry’s effect on infrastructure, society and use of space

While many of the posts so far have discussed ideas regarding the creation of new infrastructure and railways, was there a larger primary motive behind introducing such large infrastructural elements? Importantly, one of the key reasons was to better harness the natural resource of sugar, which not only required the creation of new railways for functionality, but also new spaces and concepts for living. The sugar industry was seen as paramount to the develop of Taiwan, so much that even Japanese economist and educator Tadao Yanaihara (1893–1961) wrote: “The history of the sugarcane industry is the history of colonialism,” (Tu 1992).

Japan’s intervention in Taiwan and Dr. Inazo Nitobe’s proposed plan initially changed the way sugar was made in Taiwan. Instead of using “traditional Tangbu sugar refining” processes, new refineries were constructed introducing new methods. After sugar cane inspection depots were built,
“Acts for improving sugar cane varieties, and cultivation methods were passed, irrigation equipment was constructed, sugarcane fields widened, and a harvest system for raw materials was enforced for consistent quality” (Zhou and Xu, 2000). Along with the fact that the Bank of Taiwan served as the financial centre for its sugar industry (Lin 2015), it’s no surprise why Japan’s intervention heavily influenced Taiwan’s economy, society and government.

Aside from the sugar refineries themselves, infrastructural elements mentioned in earlier posts such as “railroads, postal services, electric systems, and commercial industrialization such as in distilleries” were all largely created for the sole reason of increasing the efficiency of the sugar industry.
The railways and factories were also closely related in their design and positioning. Factories had to be in close proximity to not only natural resources such as water and sugarcane fields/raw materials, but also to the railway for ease of transportation. As such, many factories were initially built near the “Southwest of Taiwan” (Zeng and Guo 20009).  This may be also one of the reasons why the Japanese looked to the South first before catering to Chinese residents as mentioned in the post “Taipei’s Colonial Transition in Urban Plans”.  In cases where the railway ended up being too far from the factories, new factories would be built closer to the railways (Zeng and Guo 2009). Likewise, new sugar railways as seen historically, have also been built to accommodate more stranded factories.

Most importantly, the spatial composition of the factories also presented extremely important cultural and lifestyle exchanges between the Japanese and Taiwanese. The sugar refinery structure and their exterior spaces were constructed in order to manufacture sugar. Conversely, the interior space was much more focused on the long-term housing of Japanese (Lin 2015). Along with these two major elements, dorms and other facilities were also conceived in the beginning, meaning both living and working elements were constructed simultaneously, making the factories a multi-programmatic and comprehensible project (Lin 2015).

The Land-use of the sugar refineries was divided into 3 segments: a production area for sugar production, offices for administration and residential areas for employees. While this was modeled based on efficiency, it is the public facilities that perhaps give more to the society of Taiwan. For instance “hospitals, schools, shrines, entertainment facilities, and public bathhouses” were all included in the sugar factories (Cheng 2000). As such, these refineries almost become villages of their own with fully functional living spaces. Even more impressive, is how transportation facilities such as train stations, police stations and post offices were also included.

As stated above, the focus of development on the sugar industry in Taiwan has reaped it many benefits. Most notably is the amount of catering and care that has been given to the development of the refineries. It’s fascinating to uncover the reason as to why so much infrastructure, from railways, to train stations and post offices were constructed for the sugar industry. This is largely because many of the Japanese themselves were living in the refineries as administrative staff or travelling back and forth as workers (hence the need for shrines). The end result is a series of refineries, or villages, which have not only indirectly contributed to the large infrastructure to Taipei, brought over Japanese technology and facilities to Taiwan.  In retrospect, the level of detail to which all of these features cater to the human is likely to be an implementation on behalf of Gotō Shinpei’s biological principles, where one must understand the habits of the people.  This would explain why religious gods from local Taiwanese are also implemented into shrines.


Figure 1: Sugar Refineries and their Spacial Layout during occupation (Lin 2015)


Figure 2: Traditional Sugar House.  Extracting sugar juice inside sugar house and condensing sugar (Shih 2009)


Figure 3: Modern Sugar Refinery.  Conveying Sugarcane by train and facilities for heating sugarcane juice (Shih 2009)



1. ChinChih-Ming Shih and Szu-Yin Yen. The Transformation of the Sugar Industry and Land Use Policy in Taiwan, JAABE, May 2009
2. Hui-Wen Lin, On Colonial Industries: the Remnants of Bygone Sugar Factories in Taiwan, International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, 2015
3. Z. Y. Tu, Taiwan Under Japanese Imperialism, M. J. Li trans., Renjian, 1992.
4. J. L Zhou and Y. H. Xu, Nanying Sugar Factories, Tainan: Tainan County Government, 2000.
5. X. X. Zeng and H. S. Guo, “A study on the factors for the conservation of the landscape of sugar refineries in Taiwan: the case of Kio-A-Thau sugar refinery,” Journal of Environment and Art, vol. 7, pp.17-36, June 2009
6. P. C. Cheng, “The study of the space of new sugar factory in Taiwan during the Japanese occupied period,” M.A. thesis, Dept. of Architecture, National Cheng Kung Univ., Tainan, Taiwan, 2000.

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