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Downfall: Republic Era
1945 – 2009

Following the Second World War, economies around the world sunk into recession, causing Taiwan’s exports to become sluggish and the rush straw hat industry to decline. Following support from First Lady of the Republic of China Soong Mei-ling and the National Women’s League of the R.O.C., the Republic of China government mandated that all high school students in Taiwan should wear straw hats made on the island, sparking another period of prosperity for the rush weaving industry.

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© ZHEN FA HAT & MAT CO.

However, the industry’s good times were not to last, as industrialisation and international trade grew in importance – presenting the hat manufacturing industry with unprecedented challenges. Rush products, with their complex and high quality patterns, could only be made by hand. As a result, traditional rush weaving was unable to compete with the mass production of industrialized factories using cheap straw materials. Furthermore, in 1971, the Hats and Mats Producers Cooperative in Miaoli County filed an involuntary bankruptcy due to a tax evasion lawsuit, impacting the income of many producers and employees in the rush weaving business.

During this period, Taiwan was moving from an agricultural to an industrial economy. In Yuanli, many women left rush weaving business to work in factories. The outputs and sales of rush products steeply decline, as traditional areas of rush cultivation were used for factory construction and distributors of rush products went out of business. Gradually, less and less people made a living through rush weaving, and the industry’s Golden Age became history.

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© National Central Library