The Alishan National Scenic Area is a mountain resort and natural preserve located in the mountains of Chiayi County in Taiwan. It is 415 km in area. It includes, among other things, mountain wilderness, four villages, waterfalls, high altitude tea plantations, the Alishan Forest Railway and several hiking trails. The area is popular among tourists and mountain climbers, and Alishan or Mount Ali itself has become one of the major landmarks associated with Taiwan. The area is also famous for its production of high mountain tea and wasabi.
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The Alishan area was originally settled by the Tsou tribe of the Taiwanese aborigines; the name derives from the aboriginal word Jarissang. Ethnic Chinese settlers first settled on the plains near modern day Chiayi as early as the late Ming Dynasty (around the mid 17th century),
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but did not move into the mountains until the late 18th century, establishing the towns of Rueili (瑞里), Rueifong (瑞峰), Siding (隙頂), and Fencihu (奮起湖). The resulting armed clashes between the settlers and the aborigines pushed the aborigines even further into the mountains.
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Following the cession of Taiwan to Japan at the end of the First Sino-Japanese War, Japanese expeditions to the area found large quantities of cypress (檜木, or hinoki in Japanese). This led to the development of the logging industry in the area and the export of local cypress and Taiwania wood.
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A series of narrow-gauge railways were built in the area during this time to facilitate the transportation of lumber from the mountains to the plains below, part of which continues to operate as the Alishan Forest Railway. Several new villages also began to sprout up along the railway lines.
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It was also during this time that the first tourists began to visit the area. Plans were even drawn up to incorporate the area into a new national park (新高阿里山國立公園).
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With the exhaustion of forest resources by the 1970s, domestic and international tourism overtook logging to become the primary economic activity in the area. =
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The tourism industry continued to expand with the completion of the Alisan highway in the 1980s, displacing the railroad as the primary mode of transportation up the mountain.
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To combat the problems associated with the growing crowds of tourists, expanding tea and wasabi plantations the area was declared a national scenic area in 2001.
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