Report - - Losheng Sanatorium, Taipei, Taiwan, August 2018 | European and International Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Losheng Sanatorium, Taipei, Taiwan, August 2018


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1. The History
The sanatorium of Losheng (or to give it its full name, Rakusei Sanatorium for Lepers of Governor-General of Taiwan) nestles on hillside on the west of New Taipei, near the Xinzhuang. Meaning ‘happy life’, Losheng opened in the 1930s during Taiwan’s period of Japanese occupation. It was specifically built to house Taiwan’s leprosy sufferers (Hansen’s disease). The hospital was to act as quarantine space to prevent the perceived infectious disease from spreading to the general public. Construction began three years prior to opening in 1927. The design resembled a village rather than a hospital and included wide walk-ways, fauna, and social spaces.

A copy of the Japanese 1930’s blueprint for the hospital:

Losheng plan 1930 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The intake was just 5 patients, however, within a year of opening this had swelled to over 100. In 1934 the Japanese introduced a policy of Mandatory Isolation for Leprosy sufferers, the floodgates opened taking the population far in excess of the hospital’s intended capacity, resulting in cramped living standards and leading to food shortages. As containment became more critical, barbed-wire was added around the perimeter along with an armed guard stationed at the hospital entrance. Additionally, disinfection areas were set up across the hospital so that staff and the visitors could be ‘decontaminated’. With the scarcity of food during World War II a number of inmates tried their luck at escaping. The majority were captured by

Japanese police, beaten, returned and confined to a small cell on the edge of the hospital.

With the exit of the Japanese from Taiwan after the war, the newly-installed KMT government took over. Things changed little however, with food remaining scarce and treatments basic (ineffective drugs like penicillin and traditional Chinese medicine). In 1956 the first effective treatment for leprosy was implemented. Dapsone (DDS) had been found to be effective against the Leprosy bacterium, although the initial introduction in Losheng didn’t go too well. Quantities were limited and distributed by a ‘lottery’ system leading to tensions between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and the staff. Even when stocks of DDS increased the lack of patient guidance only exacerbated the numerous and painful side-effects. What resulted in many cases were overdoses and even poorer health of many who took it, leading to the drug being feared rather than it being seen as a saviour.

The 1958 International Leprosy Conference in Tokyo significantly concluded that Hansen’s disease was not as contagious as originally thought. This led to the recommendation of the withdrawal of isolation measures for those suffering from it. Taiwan lagged behind, finally embracing the recommendations in 1962. This, along with adjustments of DDS dosages to lower and safer levels and the majority of patients in recovery, saw life in Losheng improve markedly as former patients were free to go into the outside. The majority chose to stay in Losheng, seeing it as a safe haven and perhaps daunted by the prospects of having to adjust to the outside world and face the stigmas still surrounding the disease. With this reinforced sense of collectiveness, new buildings were constructed including a cooperative store and Buddhist temple and (more recently) a Catholic church.

This new-found harmony in Losheng saw a new threat raise its head in 1993. The Taipei Metro selected the land Losheng stood on to construct a new depot for the MRT’s proposed Orange Line, which would terminate in nearby Huilong. The initial plan required the demolition of the majority of the sanatorium along with a scheme to relocate the residents to a newly proposed hospital nearby. It took a few years before Taipei Metro finally acquired the Losheng site from the government in 2002. Two years later, after a lot on negotiations and the demolition of some of Losheng’s outer buildings, the new hospital was completed in 2004. Much to the chagrin of the residents, the hospital’s actual design was fundamentally different from the ones seen during the consultancy period; its large tower being a far cry from ‘house-like’ accommodation proposed.

Line drawing of Losheng: copyright Tom Rook, 2017


The buildings south-west of the red line have been demolished:

losheng+lost+scrn by HughieDW, on Flickr

The on-going conflict between Losheng resident’s and the MRT company has led to the formation of a number of action groups including the Losheng Youth League. Over the last few years they have organised protests and drawn significant media attention to Losheng’s plight. This has led Taipei Metro to propose a 41% [demolition] plan, guarantying the preservation of only a fraction of the remaining buildings. Critically though it involved the demolition of the cooperative store and the hospital’s remaining two wings (on the western and southern sides of the site respectively). Predictably this was rejected by residents and the Ministry of Culture put forward a ’90%’ plan which allowed for the completion of the depot, while retaining the vast majority of Losheng’s buildings. This was in turn rejected by Taipei Metro as being unworkable, citing safety concerns as the issue.

A key moment arrived in 2009 when Losheng was given protection under the ‘Cultural Assets’ Act and designated as a cultural monument. Additionally, the opening of the Fu Jen University section of the Orange Line track in 2013 helped head-off claims that the line’s operation would be impossible without more demolition. However, issues around access to the sanatorium across the railway line rumbled on. In 2016, the construction company brought the two sides of the conflict together, and agreement reached that a large sloped platform was required. Mid-way through 2017 supporters watching the progress of construction became unhappy due to no evidence of the sloped platform and construction of the original land bridge plan looked to be underway. A petition to the government resulted in a lengthy, official response. Apparently, the hospital supporters’ proposal was rejected due to a number of concerns including cost, passenger transfer delays and, most laughably, the potential for the steep gradient to result in runaway mobility scooters rolling down onto the main road! By early 2018, the construction of the land bridge was well under way, much to the annoyance of the hospital’s supporters who fear further betrayals of trust before the depot’s projected completion date of December 2018.

2. The Explore
It was a bit of a last-minute decision to come to Taiwan, so I arrived in the capital city, Taipei, without having done any research or a to-do list. There isn’t a big scene out here but there are plenty of places to explore. Last year when I was here I checked out the pretty well-know UFO village on the coast at Wanli (report HERE). After a bit of digging and having discovered a few excellent blogs, places began to reveal themselves. And, to my amazement, Losheng Sanatorium came up. It looked too good to be true. Having located it, I set off on the bus early one morning. After a change of bus and just under an hour’s journey time I found myself at the bridge over the railway that leads into the complex. It’s a big site and there are still quite a number of people living in the commune. I soon found the main hospital complex and it was just the matter of hopping over the railings and in through the open door. And wow. What a place. It didn’t disappoint. Despite some of the things being removed recently and the MTR depot encroaching on the southern side, there was still loads to see. The place was completely clean; no trashing and no graffiti. Despite part of the hospital being demo’ed previously there is still a lot to explore and I spent a couple of peaceful hours pottering around the place. It’s hard to believe a place like this exists. In the UK it would have been trashed by the idiots years ago. Here’s hoping this gem of a place gets saved and restored to its former glory.

3. The Pictures

img8979 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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Part 2:

img9033 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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