Dragon trees and ghost armies - Taipei Times
Mon, May 07, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Dragon trees and ghost armies

Legends abound in the history-rich but remote village of Guoyihou in northern Tainan, and collecting and disseminating these stories is a major project for the Shennong Community Development Association

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A map of community resources put together by the Shennong Community Development Association.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

Farmer Chang (張) was shocked when he woke up in a field to see a massive army doing military drills. He trembled in fear as a towering, stately man approached him on a magnificent steed and told him to never reveal to anyone what he had just witnessed.

Retired teacher and amateur historian Chang Chia-cheng (張嘉成) says it was likely that the farmer had seen the ghost of Chen Yung-hua (陳永華), the famed military adviser who helped Ming-dynasty warlord and pirate chieftain Koxinga (Cheng Cheng-kung, 鄭成功) expel the Dutch from Taiwan in 1662, as his gravesite was located near Chang’s farmstead.

The farmer’s wife, Chang Chia-cheng continues, became concerned as the once gregarious farmer became a brooding, melancholy man. She finally persuaded him to tell her what happened — and the next day he went blind.

Nearly a century later, farmer Chang’s grandson tells Chang Chia-cheng that his grandfather had indeed gone blind at some point in his life. The farmer’s story, and many others like it, are the kind that Chang Chia-cheng has been digging up for the past four years in an effort to generate community awareness in Shennong Borough (神農里) within in his native village of Guoyihou (果毅後) in rural northern Tainan City.

In addition to educational activities and beautification, a big part of the project is collecting legends and preserving the rich history of this remote and aging village.

“A place is memorable because of its people and their stories,” Chang Chia-cheng says. “From there, culture, customs and religion evolve as well as industries to support the various rites and rituals. This leads to religious troupes that provide entertainment or protect the village. It’s all connected.”

TRUTH IN LEGEND

Chang Chia-cheng has unearthed many legends, but one he grew up with is the Lord of the Five-Legged Pine (五腳松王公), which involves the dragon steed of the Buddhist goddess Guanyin (觀音). He had already told it once the night before with much enthusiasm, but it was worth hearing him repeat it again while driving through the pineapple fields and irrigation canals against the verdant hills where the story took place.

Chang knows how to tell a story, which takes on extra local flavor due to his Hokkien-accented (also known as Taiwanese) Mandarin. It was the early 1900s, and the dragon’s resting place at Foshan (佛山), just east of the village, was targeted by the Japanese colonizers to build a dam to support their sugarcane industry.

But no matter how much the forced laborers hacked into the earth, the next day the land would return to its original form. A rich man from a nearby village, who was jealous of the prosperity of Guoyihou, wanted the project to succeed as legend had it that damaging the dragon would lead to the village’s decline.

One day, the man he hired to investigate the matter reported that he saw a baby dragon complaining to a larger dragon that people keep hurting his leg. The mother dragon replied, “They’ll never get through, unless they use copper needles or black dog’s blood.”

The man went to gather the materials, and the next night when the two dragons appeared again, he splattered the blood on the spot where the workers had been digging.

The small dragon screamed in agony, and after causing a massive storm the mother took the baby and flew off. The next day, the villagers woke up to see that their work had been completed. That night, the spirit medium at the village’s Jhensi Temple (鎮西宮) reported that the baby dragon had been injured and needed to take refuge with the temple’s chief deity, Shennong (神農, god of agriculture), adding that it would return to Foshan 60 years later.

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