The History of Sulfur Mining
Sulfur mining is one of the most distinctive resources of Datun Volcano Group. Judging from the available historical and archaeological data, sulfur harvesting in this area was established as far back as the late-stage Shihsanhang culture. The settlements of the Basay people of the older communities of the Shihsanhang culture included Mt. Huangzui in the Quimoury (Jinbaoli Community), which is a known area of sulfur production. Harvesting sulfur to trade with other tribes was an integral part of the lifestyle of Basay people.
During the early indigenous period, the harvesting and exporting of sulfur from the Yangmingshan area was mainly conducted at Ki-pataw (Beitou community) and Quimoury (Jinbaoli community). The mining of sulfur was done by hand-diggings around the sulfur mine are .Trade was conducted with Chinese merchants in Tamsui and Keelung for required goods and exported by the Chinese merchants for resold.
In 1696, the gunpowder depot of Rongcheng (present day Fuzhou City) in China’s Fujian Province went up in flames, and about 500,000 catties of sulfur nitrate gunpowder were burned to the ground. In the spring of 1697, Yu Yong-he was dispatched to Taiwan to harvest sulfur around Tamsui and Keelung. In his travel account the “Travel Via A Small Sea” (Sulfur Mining Diary), Yu Yong-he described in detail the necessary equipment and facilities for sulfur mining, how he traded with the indigenous people with cloth fabric for sulfur ore, how he visited the sulfur deposits under guidance of local guides, and how sulfur was refine through the solvent extraction method.
Because of the importance of sulfur for the military application, sulfur deposits attracted outlaws and criminals to sneak into the mountain and conduct unauthorized sulfur mining to make gunpowder. Fearing that these activities would incite further civil unrest, the Qing Court banned the mining of sulfur after the Lin Shuang-wen Rebellion in 1788. The government stationed Plains people to guard the deposits, and regularly dispatched troops to burn the mountains in February, May, August, and November of each year, incurring heavy punishments on illegal sulfur mining. However, even when the Qing Court imposed such strict control measures, illegal mining was still rampant amongst the public. The situation did not improve until the Year of Guangxu, where the Qing official Shen Bao-zhen petitioned the Qing Court to lift the ban, and to have the government supervise the hiring of workers for sulfur mining and refinement. In 1886, Liu Ming-chuan, a Qing official, formally requested the government sanction of sulfur mining. A Sulfur Commission was established in Taiwan which oversaw the mining and trading of sulfur. This was when the ban on sulfur mining was truly lifted. The Sulfur Commission further established branches in Beitou and Jinbaoli, each stationed by a Director of Mining. The directors set a price of 1 Yuan 50 Qian to the sulfur diggers for each load of sulfur, but 10 Qian were charged as a processing fee. The sulfur was then sold to the government at a price of 1 Yuan 50 Qian, which was again resold by the government at a price of 3 Yuan 50 Qian to 4 Yuan 80 Qian per load; an annual sale of 60 to 70,000 catties of sulfur would net an income about 3 to 4,000 taels of Silver Yuan.
At the beginning of the Japanese Occupation, the sulfur industry became a managed enterprise. In 1897, the Japanese merchant Baba invested a significant amount in scale production of sulfur, and rented ships to decrease the shipping costs. However, due to lack of support from the shipping industry and the dropping of profits from the sale of sulfur for maintaining the shipping routes, the Japanese merchant’s enterprise endeavors ended in failure. In 1901, the areas in Zhi Lan Er Bao, Jinbaoli Bao and Zhuzihu had government-permitted areas for sulfur mining by Japanese merchants. The harvested sulfur was mostly shipped back to Japan.
After the Second World War, both the United States and Japan were able to export sulfur in sufficient quantities, high quality and competitive pricing; in comparison, sulfur exported from Taiwan was of lesser quality and could not compete with other nations, forcing the sulfur mining industry to almost cease its operations entirely. However, by the time of the Korean War, the domestic sulfur industry was resuscitated due to the banning of imported sulfur. Under the government’s policies of unified purchasing and sale, the sulfur industry in Taiwan experienced a short boom period. At the time, the following mines were engaged in major sulfur production: Lengshuikeng, Huangpin, Macao, Dayoukeng, Sanchong Bridge, Shihuangping, and Dahuangzui. However, as the importation of foreign sulfurs became permitted again in 1957, the sulfur industries in Taiwan began to decline. By 1971, the sulfur industries in Taiwan all but ceased to operate, due to the excessive costs of production and inability to compete with imported sulfur.
Types of sulfur mineral deposits
The sulfur deposits of the Datun Volcano Group can be categorized to the following based on its mode of occurrence: sublimated, disseminated and sedimentary sulfur deposits.
- Sublimated sulfur deposits: the most common form of sulfur mineral deposits. Most volcanic craters contain these types of deposits. Sulfur-containing gases or sulfuric gases adhered to fumaroles or surfaces of nearby rocks and gravels, forming sulfur deposits. The deposits at Dayoukeng are the largest in scale.
- Disseminated sulfur deposits: sulfuric gases or sulfuric hot springs from deep underground permeated rock layers, which then breaks down the rocks and substituted the compositions with sulfur minerals. The deposits at Shihuangziping and Dahuangzui have the largest scale of this kind of deposit.
- Sedimentary sulfur deposits: sulfuric gases were vented from crater lake, forming sulfuric granules or powders in the water, which then mix with mud and sand and deposited in low-lying marshes, forming mineral layers. This type of deposit is only distributed around the area of Lengshuikeng.