Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Jinshi of Lugang

In the Taiwan of yore, having a bian (匾, inscribed board) bearing the same two characters as the one above added immense prestige to any household where it was displayed. The two words, read from right to left, are pronounced jinshi and mean something like "presented scholar." They indicate that someone in the family had passed the highest level of China's imperial civil-service examinations.

According to a chart in the Heritage and Culture Education Center of Taipei (臺北市鄉土教育中心), between 1823 and 1894, only 29 Taiwanese passed the highest-level exams to become jinshi; the first was Zheng Yong-xi (鄭用錫, 1788-1868), builder of Hsinchu's Jinshi Mansion. After 1894, Taiwan residents could no longer sit the exams because the island had become part of the Japanese Empire. During the 18th and 19th century, some 251 Taiwan residents attained juren, the second-highest status in the examination system.

Both of the boards shown here are in Changhua County's Lugang Township (some official sources now spell this toponym Lukang). The top one is in the Ding Mansion; the lower board is in an old residence on Putuo Street which now functions as a souvenir shop. In China's traditional society, business was looked down upon, while literacy, classical education and official appointments were revered. Inevitably, successful merchants - like those who dominated life in Lugang - hired renowned tutors in the hope their sons would achieve academic success, attain high office and bring glory to the family.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pandas in temples

Inside Taiwan's temples, you're likely to find carved, etched or painted depictions of various animals, especially dragons, lions and elephants, but also owls, pangolins, fish, crabs and other crustaceans.

Returning to Shunsian Temple (順賢宮) for the first time in almost three years, I noticed something I'd missed on previous visits: Etchings of pandas in a mountainous landscape. As I've never before noticed pandas inside temples, I'm wondering if their presence here reflects the temple's newness. The shrine was inaugurated in 2008 - the year panda-fever broke out in Taiwan when China presented a pair of pandas to Taipei Zoo.