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Reviving the Glory of Youth – The Golden Age of Audio

Reviving the Glory of Youth – The Golden Age of AudioFor many people, Taipei is chock full of memories of the good old days. The southern neighborhood of North Gate (北門), which includes Zhonghua Road (中華路), Boai Road (博愛路), Kaifong Street (開封街), Hankou Street (漢口街), and Yanping South Road (延平南路), used to house many stores selling sound systems and electronic and photographic equipment – an undeniable paradise for AV aficionados. As the years roll on, it’s worthwhile for everyone to remember or discover the past and changes of this neighborhood.

Built Up and Torn Down: The Once Prosperous Zhonghua Mall

By 1961, just a little over 8 months after construction began, Zhonghua Mall (中華商場) had established itself as the most famous landmark in Taipei, and would go on to become part of this city’s collective memory. The complex was comprised of eight connected three-storey buildings named after the eight traditional virtues, “Zhong,” “Xiao ,” “Ren,” “Ai,” “Xin,” “Yi,” “He,” and “Ping.” The names might have been traditional, but what they were selling was strictly cutting edge for the time. There were 1,644 tenants at the Mall, each occupying a two-ping divided space. Every shop had its own special atmosphere to keep people lingering. Whether one desired tantalizing food from a variety of regions, the latest fashions in clothes, or music old or new – whatever you wanted, they had it! But without a doubt the most popular items at the mall were the stereo systems and other electronics. Back in the day, if Taipeiers wanted to buy a stereo or a particular household appliance, the first places they would think of would be Buildings Zhong and Xiao at Zhonghua Mall.

Electronics district in the pastPinCha Audio (品嘉音響) owner, Zeng Wen-qing (曾文清), originally came from Nantou (南投) to seek his fortune in Taipei. Remembering the old days at Zhonghua Mall brings a glow of youth to his face as he says, “When I was young, I often went to Buildings Zhong and Xiao. If you were a budding collector of the latest electronics, these were the places to visit.” At that time, if you mentioned Hai Li Electronics (海利電子), Hong Yuing Audio (鴻運音響), or Yue Yin Tang (樂音堂) to an electronics aficionado, he/she would no doubt go on and on about all the great stuff those stores had.

Six overpasses connected the buildings. Vendors who couldn’t afford to rent a place in the mall would put a stand on the overpass or under a nearby arcade, and among them were some expert repair men. At its peak, there were over 200 stores in the mall and its adjoining neighborhood, making it the biggest audio and electronics district in Taiwan. In the march of progress, every city tears down buildings and rebuilds neighborhoods, and Taipei is certainly no exception. After 31 glorious years, the Zhonghua Mall finally had to go under the wrecking ball. The old mall stores relocated to Zhonghua Road, Kaifong Street and the Yanping South Road, but kept their businesses going. Thus, the prosperity of Zhonghua Mall lives on today!

Old Glory Remade by New Thinking

By the winter of 1992, Chunghua Mall had been torn down completely as part of urban development. The connected buildings were gone, as were the neon signs that had blinked and glowed for so many countless nights. The geographical location would settle into a deadly quietness, while nearby Zhonghua Road carried where Buildings Zhong and Xiao left off – being the preeminent sales center for sound systems and home appliance components.

The CEO of North Gate Electronics (北門電器), Huang Zhen-nan (黃振南), didn’t own a place in the old mall, but opened the first audio store in the North Gate business district along Zhonghua Road. He notes that after Zhonghua Mall closed down, some stores did move away, but adds: “We all benefit from benign competition, and despite the elimination of the market mechanism, there are still over 30 old brand audio stores standing here.”

Zhonghua Mall in the past (Photo: Wang Neng-you)Just as the older generation learned how to survive in a competitive market, the second wave of entrepreneurs grew up with the memory of electronics being updated continuously. From the simple radio to the Walkman, the CD player and on to the latest digital stream of today – technology keeps moving on, and these entrepreneurs have taken on the responsibility of activating business with their new thinking.

For example, Lan Yu-ting (藍于婷) took over the Shining Audio (翔韻音響) store from her folks and continues to develop new ideas, such as hosting free speeches about music, teaching school kids how to DIY speakers, and even filming the first 360-degree panorama of North Gate! Zhang Ting-jia (張庭嘉), from Image Audio (映象音響), wants to break the mold of the traditional store. She employs her people skills to invite street artists to paint the business district’s murals, where tourists often check in and post pictures on Facebook. This way, visitors get a chance to see this audio and electronics street hidden in the heart of Taipei.

According to Director of the New Zhonghua Road Audio and Electronics Street Association (新中華路影音電器街促進會), Huang Yi-ting (黃意婷), Taipei City has been strongly promoting the redevelopment of west Taipei recently, bringing vast crowds to the area. During the Taipei Lantern Festival, for example, she heard young passersby exclaiming: “There IS an audio and electronics street in Taipei!” This simple affirmation warmed her heart deeply. The heyday of Zhonghua Mall might be gone with the demolished buildings, and it may be disappearing from the collective memory. But the surviving stores still employ new ways and new thinking, and will continue to create and recreate an even brighter future.

Article | Tu Xin-yi
Photos|Liang Zhong-xian, Wang Neng-you, Taipei City Government Department of Information and Tourism, Business Today

The old Zhonghua Mall was full of new andfashionable products, causing people tocrowd in. (Photo: Wang Neng-you)/With Zhonghua Mall torn down, ZhonghuaRoad is now the main traffic route in Taipei City.(Photo: Business Today)

Source: TAIPEI Quarterly