The Stealthy Wansheng River

It might be hard to believe that a river used to wind on both sides of Xinglong Road in the urbanized Wenshan District, yet the path of the river is clearly visible on the Taiwan map of 1921. This river is called Wansheng River.

Speaking of what Wansheng River looks like today, you can see open channels in the two branches of the upstream section of the river. The river’s path remains largely clear as ever, but the path has a varied landscape that includes a strip of vacant land, unknown alleys and lanes, illegally constructed buildings, and building land for development. In addition, there are two bridges halfway along the path. One is Xian Tong Bridge, but only its tablet survives. The other is Wansheng Bridge, which still remains fully intact at its original location. Walk down Alleys 92 and 97 on both sides of Section 5 of Roosevelt Road, and you have two 10 meter-long open channels springing up in your eyes. Then shift to the front of Treasure Hill; the gurgling waters flow into Xindian River, a sign of Wansheng River still doing its share of work to discharge water for the local urban region.

In the past, Jingmei consisted of two main villages: Xingfu Village (locally known as Shiwufen Village) in the east and Wansheng Village in the west. Wansheng River is a natural catchment area surrounded by mountains in Nangang and their extensions. The northern branch of the river originates from Zhongbu Mountain, and the southern one from Jingmei Mountain. When both branches meet, they wind along Xingfu Village and terminate at Wansheng Village (nowadays the Gongguan Campus of National Taiwan Normal University) to flow into Jingmei River—hence the name “Wansheng River.” While the old channels of Jingmei River (which have been repurposed into several long-strip parks—Wanhe Park No. 1, 2, and 3 and Wannian Park No. 1, 2, and 3) were decommissioned after levees were installed as part of urban development, Wansheng River continues its path northward from the channels in the front of the campus, flowing into Xindian River before Treasure Hill, and this explains why the former river is a branch of the latter.

It is said that early residents on both sides of Xinglong Road would cross over Wansheng River for convenience’s sake rather than taking a detour to use a bridge. In the agrarian Taiwan, the river not just discharged water but also supplied water to crop fields. Moreover, its bed was once covered with so much silt that “droughts hit in summer and floods in autumn,” making life difficult for locals. In 1926 (the 1st year of the Showa era), the river’s bed was dredged and paved with pebbles—an important public works project that ended with a commemorative monument.

However, since Wansheng River, which had been collecting and discharging water, was capped, rainwater could not be drained, in the event of sudden rains, as quickly as it used to be, thus leading to floods. A few years ago, this was particularly the case where the river’s northern and southern branches meet (near the gas station at the junction of Xinlong Road and Xinhai Road), because the rainwater discharged from the hills in the north and south could not be timely removed. The proneness of the juncture of the river’s northern and southern branches to floods was not solved until the Taipei City government built a detention basin at each of the branches, opened two drainage channels at the respective cols of the northern and southern hills, and furnished Jingmei Wastewater Pumping Station with more water suction pumps.

Wansheng River was integral to Xingfu Village and Wansheng Village. As extreme weather conditions continue to prevail, rivers can prevent floods for urban areas and mitigate the urban heat island effect. Preserving the old channels of Wansheng River allows us to retain the public memory of the past and contributes to a varied landscape.

※ 感謝鄭之瑜(Kat Chamberlain)老師協助本文翻譯校閱。
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何文賢 / He Wen-hsien

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