Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hakka Cultural Artifacts Exhibition Hall

Several small museums around Taiwan celebrate the culture of the island's Hakka minority, and the one in Pingtung County's Xishi isn't bad, even though there's very little English labelling.

For me, the most interesting sections are those displaying traditional clothing and dealing with a custom that existed throughout the Chinese world, but which used to be especially strong in Hakka villages - that of scouring the streets for scraps of paper on which words were written or printed, picking them up and then taking them to a special furnace for burning. This tradition is said to reflect a deep reverence for learning and literacy.

According to Francis L. K. Hsu's often stupendously dull but occasionally fascinating book Americans & Chinese: Passage to Differences, traditional Chinese communities lacked the broad range of voluntary non-kinship groups we find in affluent societies including 21st-century Taiwan. Hsu says there were three exceptions: Associations that provided free coffins to the indigent, teetotalers' groups, and associations that, "hired men to roam the streets with bags on their backs and pointed sticks in their hands. They collected any piece of waste bearing written characters in the gutter or on the ground and burned what they collected at the end of the day in the specially provided urn in the local Confucian temple."

The museum includes a pair of dedicated baskets once used for collecting written-on paper (pictured above left).

I'm pretty certain the custom has died out. Would modern-day practitioners collect every single item bearing Chinese characters - cigarette packets, candy wrappers and the like?

The Hakka Cultural Artifacts Exhibition Hall (六堆客家文化園) is in the heart of Zhutian Township's Xishi Village (竹田鄉西勢村) and it's open Tuesday to Sunday, 09.00-17.30. If you read Chinese, you'll notice the Chinese name is actually "Liudui Hakka Culture Zone." The term Liudui doesn't refer to specific place, but rather to the six clusters of Hakka settlements in Pingtung and Kaohsiung who raised a militia to protect themselves during the Zhu Yi-gui (朱一貴) uprising of 1721.

The zone's other feature is an Yimin Temple
(忠義祠). Similar temples throughout Taiwan celebrate the sacrifices made by militiamen during various rebellions. The exhibition hall and the temple side by side, about 500m from Xishi TRA Station.

1 comment:

  1. I just came across your blog after a search for Mazu Festival photos and saw that you worked with Rich Matheson. I'll have to come back to check this out and see your guide - fascinating stuff!

    We have a cultural center much like this here in Jhubei City, Hsinchu County - it stands out heavily in contrast to the rising city as it's devoted to the peoples' agricultural lifestyle.