by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Pbdragonwang/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

LOCAL RESIDENTS LIVING around the Taipei Brewery, as well as union workers at the brewery, have taken to protest against plans by the city government to sell land owned by the brewery to the National Taipei University of Technology (NTUT).

In particular, the plans will downsize the brewery area by one-third. However, local residents and union members question whether the NTUT, in fact, requires the land.

The land that is to be sold to NTUT will be used for expanding the university’s campus. Yet it has been pointed out that the university already has adequate space, particularly as campus structures as the first floor of the main building are currently used for a luxury car dealership.

In particular, local residents and union workers have called attention to the potential harm to their jobs, as well the historical preservation of the Taipei Brewery. The Taipei Brewery was established during the Japanese colonial era in 1919. As such, with more than a history of brewing alcohol, the Taipei Brewery is seen as a cultural asset that should be preserved by local residents and union workers, who have framed the issue as that the brewing which occurs at the Taipei Brewery and its value as a historic site cannot be separated.

To this extent, local residents take the view that they were not adequately consulted about the plans. As such, last month, fifty residents demonstrated in front of the Executive Yuan, criticizing what they referred to as the “black box” of decision-making about the Taipei Brewery.

Namely, NTUT has been criticized as seeking to grab land by claiming it needs to expand its campus. It has been suggested by local residents that NTUT may, in fact, be hoping to build a luxury high-rise on the site, seeing as the Taipei Brewery sits on premium real estate in central Taipei.

If so, this raises a number of issues. One again sees the recurrent phenomenon in Taiwan when historic sites are raised for development, simply because they sit on valuable real estate. This has often led to clashes between local residents and city governments.

Though there have been relatively few such protests in Taipei in the past decade, this occurred around the Nangang Bottle Cap Factory, as well as was the origin of the Huashan Cultural and Creative Park, and other landmarks such as Treasure Village. It is not uncommon for places in which there was pushback against government plans to raze the area for development to become major cultural sites that attract significant numbers of tourists.

Photo credit: 林高志/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Yet it proves further concerning when this takes place through a national university. There had already been concerns raised in past decades by students about the corporatization of the university, as pertaining to rising tuition fees. This is not helped by the large number of educational institutions in Taiwan.

Taiwan saw an explosion in the number of colleges and universities from 28 in 1985 to 145 by 2005. This has been criticized as leading to a situation in which universities facing declining enrollment turn to other means of making money. While this has sometimes involved a transition toward trying to recruit students from Southeast Asia, there have also been incidents in which Southeast Asian students studying in Taiwan are made to work in factories despite having been promised scholarships. With a number of repeated incidents along these lines, one notes how these prove cases in which universities collude directly with migrant labor brokers in order to take advantage of students.

Yet it would not be altogether surprising if universities engage in real estate speculation, as well. This has proven an issue the world over, with universities serving as the pretext for land grabs or tax evasion, taking advantage of their status as educational institutions. This is all the more concerning when it threatens historic structures and job opportunities.

In this sense, it may be the case that the struggle regarding the fate of the Taipei Brewery will have larger consequences. Even if government stakeholders stress that there will be further consultation with local residents, the incident may draw a line in the sand regarding if universities will be able to expand their land at the expense of local residents and workers in the future–all the more so, given that the case takes place in a central area in Taipei.

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