The Octagon Building
The Octagon Building
The Octagon Building is all that remains of a large mansion complex built by tycoon Ye Kai-hong, who during the 1800s was the richest man in Yanshui.
During Ye’s lifetime, Yanshui was the fourth largest city in Taiwan. This fact may come as a surprise to visitors to today’s small, quiet town, but at the time, Yanshui was a mercantile port city with a harbor full of cargo ships carrying goods in and out, mostly bound for China (by the turn of the 20th century, the harbor had silted in, and Yanshui is now more than 15 kilometers inland!). In those heady days when Yanshui was still a major seaport, the city was home to some of the wealthiest merchants in Taiwan, making Ye a king among kings.
Ye made his fortune dealing in sugar, which he exported to the mainland. When he decided to build a new home in 1847, he brought a lot of the materials used to construct it from China on his ships. In fact much of it—the limestone pavers, bricks, and columns—did double duty as ballast on those ships, and much of the wood used in the house was originally intended for shipbuilding. Ye not only brought his building materials from the mainland, he also hired artisans from Fujian to do the work.
The completed home was a large complex that also included Ye’s offices, a tea house, and a large garden. The Octagon was in the back of the complex, which covered a total area of 300 pings, or nearly 1000 square meters. It took ten years to finish building. All of the carpentry was done without nails, using traditional mortise and tenon joints. The shape of the Octagon Building and the large amount of wood used in its construction is highly unusual for the period.
This is apparently why, when Japan colonized Taiwan in the wake of the 1895 Sino-Japanese War, Prince Fushimi Sadanaru confiscated the home for use as his residence and headquarters. The prince was quite enamored of the mansion and insisted upon taking it as his own.
The mansion remained in the hands of the Japanese colonial occupiers until the end of World War II, but it did not fare well. The front section was partly demolished during a road improvement project and subsequently, the entire front part of the house was destroyed in allied air raids; today, only the Octagon survives.
The Octagon Building was returned to the Ye family after World War II. Today, visitors are welcome to come in and walk around the first floor. While you’re at it, be sure to take a stroll through the alleys behind the Octagon, and bring your camera! This area is quite picturesque; camera buffs will get some great photos.
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No. 1, Ln. 4, Zhongshan Rd., Yanshui Dist., Tainan City 73747, Taiwan (R.O.C.)