Wed, Jul 30, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Tainan historian publishes new illustrated history of Taiwan’s deity statues

Historian Hsieh Chi-feng holds his new book “An illustrated history of Taiwan’s deities” next to a statue of a sea turtle deity in Greater Tainan on July 24.

Photo: Huang Wen-huang, Liberty Times

Tainan, the original capital of Taiwan when it was first settled by the Han Chinese, has more temples than any other city in the country and has developed a rich temple culture. Having grown up living next to a temple, Hsieh Chi-feng was always mesmerized by the artistry that goes into making deity statues. A decade ago he started keeping detailed records of all the different styles and designs of the statues he encounters. Some of the more than 100 such statues recorded date as far back as the Ming Dynasty. After spending two years compiling his data, Hsieh has finally released a new book in Chinese, titled “An illustrated history of Taiwan’s deities.” The book is a useful reference tool for people interested in the religions of Taiwan, and it also provides a diagram explaining the origins and connections between the different deities, bringing humanity a little closer to religious belief.

Hsieh grew up in the old “five ports area” of Greater Tainan’s Central West District. His family’s house was surrounded by temples, so he constantly heard gongs, drums and firecrackers as a child, which fueled his curiosity for temples and religions. Although he majored in engineering at university, Hsieh has always enjoyed recording anything to do with temples. In 1988, when the Chihkan Culture and History Workshop opened along Greater Tainan’s Shennong St, it awakened a passion for local culture inside of Hsieh. Conducting fieldwork, Hsieh began documenting the history of cultural relics at temples and eventually started writing his own blog. Pragmatic, reliable and filled with an abundance of information, the blog has attracted over a million visits.


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A decade ago, Hsieh started trying to mimic the writing style of Taiwanese academic Hsu Ping-ting’s “Little gods,” a book that uses vernacular stories to tell anecdotes about deities. Hsieh has managed to make an even more detailed and accurate record of individual deity statues.

Worshippers typically place embroidered holy garments on the statues out of respect, which Hsieh says makes it hard to photograph how the statue actually looks underneath. It is regrettable that the average person is not allowed to the see the entirety of these works because the original artisans who made the statues were very meticulous about many of the details found on them, Hsieh says. Whenever a statue is being renovated or having its clothes changed, Hsieh always tries to procure a picture in order to capture those rawest aspects of each individual statue.

(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)






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