1981 / 4月
"On a winter's day we look for the sunlight, yet see ever more shadows of mansions.
On a summer's day we seek vainly the intoxicating southern breeze and still hear only the rattle of air conditioners.
We often remember the ancient buildings or the drying yard in front of the temple..."
At Chi Shan, a farm village in the mountains of Kaohsiung County, there is a place which could inspire such musings. Walking amid the hubbub of Chi Shan's streets, one can yet feel the purity of the countryside and its easy-going ways. The old buildings can't escape the effects of progress, however. One by one, they are being torn down.
Hung Tso Hsiang is hidden behind two huge iron gates on the busy Yen Ping Road. After entering the district, one walks along a narrow path. Two ancient structures, facing east, come into view on the right. The colors of antique hexagonal tiles and porcelain murals, and the paint on the gate and pillars have already faded. We felt this old shrine was telling us its story.
Our tour guide was an elderly Mrs. Hung, wife of the architect's grandson. She outlined the structure's history to us:
The Hungs were once farmers. Until the early years of the Republic, Hung Chien-wan also managed a brick kiln. At that time Taiwan was under Japanese occupation. Hung Chien-wan saw Japanese-style buildings being erected while traditional Chinese ones were demolished. This prompted him to build a Chinese-style house and garden.
In 1927 he invited a Tangshan geomancer to survey a construction site near Chiwei Mountain. Though he had no formal education, Hung Chien-wan had, through his management of the kiln, acquired a knowledge of architecture. He designed the house himself, then spent a large sum hiring workers from the mainland and buying stone pillars from Tangshan, wood en beams from Fukien, as well as baking opaque tiles in his own kiln. He personally supervised the work, demanding it be as close as possible to perfection down to the smallest detail. By 1932 the work was complete. Unfortunately, the task had so exhausted him that he died the following year at the age of 58.
On the ancestors' memorial at the rear are six one-foot-high statues of Hung Chien-wan, his parents, his brother and his two wives. A famous sculptor carved each figure to exact proportions and captured facial expressions precisely, causing the older people to marvel at their authenticity.
In front of the statue is an open, palace-style box containing the Hung ancestors' sacred tablets. Smoke pouring from one end of the censer gives one the feeling that this shrine emits a life-spirit, and that the thread of the Chinese nation is unbroken by virtue of these age-old rites.
Directly above the gate hangs a plaque inscribed "Tunhuang Temple." The Hungs left no record of their genealogy, but research reveals that a clan of their ancestors migrated from Tunhuang in Kansu province on the mainland.
The big hall at the front was used for sacrifices. From the ceiling hangs a palace lantern, already turned brown-black by the incense burned in it. When we stepped out of the hall at about 10 a.m., the winter sunlight enveloped the shrine like a golden cloth. There were rooms on each side used as storage areas, containing old beds, chairs, farm implements, and so on. Mrs. Hung said: "I have to have some body sweep out periodically; I mustn't let these things decay."
Sunlight was reflected from the elegantly-carved beams in a dazzling mixture of red, gold and yellow. Mrs. Hung exclaimed: "These beams were well-varnished; after so many years, they still retain their color!"
In front of the shrine were two large courtyards, Mrs. Hung remembered how things were when she had just married into the family: "Even though the Hungs were already the wealthiest family in Chi Shan, they were still farmers. Here we dried seeds and sweet potatoes. We were often busy from early morning until after sunset."
In front of the drying yard was a garden with a large pond. Off to one side were a small artificial hill, a rest shed pavilion and a fountain. On the other side were several potted plants. The third eldest of the family said that the garden had been laid waste by typhoons and then replanted a number of times, so it no longer has its original appearance. The stone table and chairs in the shed pavilion have been pushed into a corner to make way for marble furniture.
At dusk the children came home from school and played cops and robbers in the drying yard, while their mothers cooked and compared notes on bringing up children and helping them with their homework.
Mrs. Hung's daughter, now married, said, "Anyone growing up here is bound to have a happy childhood."
1. The elegantly-carved beams of Hung Tso Hsiang still retain their original brilliance after half a century. 2. The residential hall facing the huge banana orchard and Chiwei Mountain. 3. Front view of the building. 4. Drying yard provides a playground for children.
1.2. Beams, lantern and chairs. 3.4. Two views of the shrine. 5. A Tangshan sculptor has carved the six statues of Hung Chien-wan, his parents, his brother and his two wives.