Friday, October 12, 2007

Wu Feng Temple and Park in Jhongpu, Chiayi County

In modern day Taiwan, Wu Feng is a controversial figure, many say that his life story has been exaggerated and manipulated, and others believe that he never even existed. In Jhongpu however, (a quiet little town just a few minutes outside Chiayi on the No. 18 road) you will still find a couple of interesting sites built in his commemoration.

The story runs that Wu Feng was born in China in 1699, and settled in Chu-lo Hsien, the site of present day Chiayi City. An intelligent and kind young man, he learned the aboriginal languages and set about resolving disputes between them and the Chinese plainsmen. He proved himself to be both fair and incorruptible, and won the respect and affection of the two rival groups of people. During his time as a government official, he stood up for the aborigines against the plainsmen who tried to cheat and bully them out of land and money. He also vowed to abolish the aboriginal custom of human sacrifice, a feat he eventually achieved, but only at the expense of his own life.
To appease their gods and stop the spread of an infectious disease that was killing many of their people, the aborigines vowed to sacrifice the plainsmen. Wu Feng told them he would let them kill one plainsman, a man dressed all in red who would come to them at noon. When the man came, they immediately set upon and killed him. After striking him down, they realized that the man was none other than Wu Feng. So appalled were they by what they had done, that they vowed to end their practice of human sacrifice.
When the Kuomintang's ruled Taiwan by martial law, this story was required reading for all Taiwanese schoolchildren. When martial law was lifted in 1987 however, aborigines protested at the way they were portrayed in the story. It was also felt that the whole saga was fabricated by the KMT to give the impression that the Chinese in Taiwan were necessary, civilising influences.
Wu Feng Temple is a 3rd class historical site, and houses a permanent exhibition which honors the traditional legend. Apart from retelling the old story, the modest exhibition also contains statues, paintings, documents and artifacts. It represents a small but interesting window on Taiwanese history; and wherever you stand on the issue, the very nature of this controversy should be a lesson on Taiwan's turbulent past.

The gate to Wu Feng Temple

The front and rear shrines at Wu Feng Temple

About 15 minutes down the road from the Wu Feng Temple, is Wu Feng Park. The less imposing of the two places, Wu Feng Park is also my favorite. Its low, red-clay walls that enclose and divide the site have huge character. One of the best things about them is that, while they separate the different areas of the park, they don’t close anything off. Their many octagonal, circular, and jar-shaped openings, windows, and doorways see to that, and also provide many intriguing multi-layered views through several of the parks’ enclosures. Walking round the outside of the park, you really feel that you’re stepping back through time into 18th century Taiwan.

Wu Feng Park is the now the headquarters of the Alishan National Scenic Area. In keeping with this, the central courtyard is devoted to an exhibition which shows Alishan’s past, present, and its proposed future developments. Fittingly, there is a large display showing off the history and modern crafts of the region’s Tsou aboriginal tribe.

A large wooden penis, um..?

Both the Temple and the Park have peaceful and relaxing grounds where you can easily wile away an hour or two with a good book or newspaper. So if you’re in the area, or just passing by,
why not stop off and have a look around.


Andy said...

Is that first picture of Santa Claus?

Kaminoge said...

You do know that the whole Wu Feng story is basically a myth, don't you? It was invented by the Japanese during the period when Taiwan was under their control (there was even a movie made about it, with an all-Japanese cast), and then later embellished by the KMT when they took over. The purpose of the story was to convince the "barbaric" aborigines that the Chinese were bringing "civilizing" influences to the native peoples of Taiwan. During the martial law era, the Wu Feng legend was a required part of the school curriculum, so many older Taiwanese still accept the story as being fact. It was dropped after Taiwan became a democracy, when aboriginal groups became free to protest against what they felt were unfair and inaccurate portrayals of their peoples.

Andrew Crosthwaite said...

Thanks for the comment, interesting stuff. The way that the story is told in the temple, makes the Chinese out to be very bad, that they were wicked people who would cheat the aboriginal people out of land and possessions.

Thanks again though, I'll check up on what you've said and possibly remove the story. I wouldn't want something on here that's going to offend people.

Kaminoge said...

Please keep the post up. It's still an interesting story, and the photos are nice.

Andrew Crosthwaite said...

Thanks for your comments on this kaminoge. I have now finally revised the entry to present a more balanced account of the story.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!

Jeanne-ming Brantingham said...

I grew up near this memorial. Loely post.