Fri, Jun 28, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways & Byways: Chen Yung-hua: The man, a temple and his grave

Traces of the ‘prime minister’ of the Kingdom of Tungning can be found in downtown Tainan City as well as its outskirts

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

The bulletin board outside Yonghua Temple announces official visits by delegations representing affiliated temples.

Photo: Steven Crook

Few people loom larger in Taiwan’s history than Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功, or Koxinga), the military leader who evicted the Dutch from their colony at Tainan as part of his ultimately futile campaign to defeat the Qing Dynasty and restore the Ming Dynasty.

Koxinga died mere months after the Dutch surrender in 1662. Later that year, after a succession dispute, leadership of the mini-state Koxinga had established, the Kingdom of Tungning (東寧王國), passed to Koxinga’s son, Cheng Ching (鄭經, 1642—1681). Cheng Ching was young but experienced; before he turned 20, his father had put him in charge of Ming loyalist forces in Xiamen (廈門) and Kinmen (金門).

For much of the next 18 years, Cheng Ching focused on gaining and defending territory in China. For the day-to-day administration of the Kingdom of Tungning — which never extended beyond southwestern Taiwan — he relied on a trusted aide, Chen Yung-hua (陳永華).

Chen was born in 1634 in Tongan County (同安), Fujian Province. At an early age, he showed an aptitude for scholarship. After Qing forces invaded Tongan County in 1648, his father committed suicide. Chen then threw in his lot with Koxinga, who hired him as Cheng Ching’s personal tutor.

During the political struggle that followed Koxinga’s death, Chen backed his former student. He was rewarded with rapid promotion, and initiated policies that boosted food, salt and brick production. When the Qing blockade caused cloth and other imports to become very expensive, Chen advised Cheng Ching to bribe the Qing commanders enforcing the embargo; this was done, and goods once again flowed into the island. Chen’s role in the Kingdom of Tungning has been likened to that of a modern prime minister.

Chen is said to be the inspiration behind the character Chen Jinnan (陳近南) in the martial arts novels of Louis Cha (查良鏞), the Hong Kong writer better known by his pseudonym Jin Yong (金庸). Cha wasn’t the first to apply this name to stories based on the life of Chen Yung-hua. Long before he wrote his books, there were rumors that Chen had engaged in espionage against the Qing Empire, and that from Taiwan he communicated with spies and saboteurs working for him in China under the alias Chen Jinnan.

A major thoroughfare in central Tainan, Tungning’s capital city, is named for Chen Yung-hua, as is a longish road in Tainan’s Yongkang District (永康).

Recognizing the need for trained administrators, Chen set up Taiwan’s first Confucian school and, on the same site, its first Confucian temple. Fittingly, the neighborhood which includes not only Tainan Confucius Temple (台南孔廟), but other major landmarks such as the National Museum of Taiwan Literature (國立臺灣文學館), is now known as Yonghua Borough (永華里).

Less than 100m from the Confucius Temple, just off tourist-jammed Fuzhong Street (府中街), there’s a small shrine that bears Chen’s name. The official address of Yonghua Temple (永華宮) is 20, Lane 196, Fuqian Road Section 1 (府前路一段196巷20號).

The first hall of worship on this site was founded in 1662 and dedicated to King Guangze (廣澤尊王, or Guangze Zunwang). It’s said the human who was later deified as King Guangze was a shepherd who lived in 10th-century Fujian. He was filial and virtuous, but died at the age of 16.

The temple was rebuilt in 1750 after King Guangze was credited with ridding the neighborhood of troublesome ghosts. At the same time, it was renamed in honor of Chen. There’s a small statue of Chen inside, but King Guangze remains the focal point of the prayers offered and rituals conducted here.

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