A statue of Japanese engineer Yoichi Hatta near Tainan’s Wushantou Reservoir (烏山頭水庫) was found decapitated in an apparent act of vandalism, the Taiwan Chia-Nan Irrigation Association said yesterday.
Hatta is dubbed the “father of the Chianan Irrigation System” for his contributions to the development of irrigation in the Chianan Plain (嘉南平原) in southern Taiwan by building the Wushantou Reservoir during the Japanese colonial era.
An association member exercising in the area at about 6am saw that the statue’s head was missing, association president Yang Ming-feng (楊明風) said, adding that he told workers at the reservoir to call the police.
Police arriving at the scene surveyed the damage and collected information.
“The culprits of this violent act against Hatta’s memory should be strongly condemned,” Yang said.
The Tainan City Government issued a statement condemning the decapitation, saying that Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) has instructed the city’s police department to form a task force to find the culprits.
A civil engineering graduate from then-Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo), Hatta arrived in Taiwan in 1909 to serve at the civil engineering bureau, controlled by the Taiwan governor-general’s office.
In 1919, Hatta was tasked with designing an irrigation network for the Chianan Plain.
Following about 10 years of construction, Hatta’s team completed the reservoir in May 1930.
The reservoir has a capacity of 150 million cubic meters and can irrigate 100,000 hectares of farmland through a network of canals with a total length of 16,000km running through Chiayi and Tainan.
Hatta was killed in 1942, onboard a Japanese ship that was sunk in a submarine attack during World War II. He was on his way to Manila, where the Japanese government had sent him to develop agriculture in the Philippines.
His body was found, and after cremation, a portion of his ashes was taken to Taiwan for burial in a gravesite at the reservoir.
Following Hatta’s death, his wife, Toyoki Yonemura, remained in Taiwan. Heartbroken over the sudden and tragic loss of her husband, she committed suicide on Sept. 1, 1945, by jumping into the reservoir her husband had built.
The statue of Hatta was commissioned by the engineer’s aides and created by Japanese sculptor Yuma Tsukada of Kanazawa; it was shipped to Taiwan in 1931. However, local residents hid the statue for 40 years from 1941, fearing the Japanese government and later the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government would want to melt down the statue for war materials and for political reasons.
Only when the political climate began to change in 1981 did the residents uncover the statue. It was reinstalled at the reservoir park.
On the anniversary of Hatta’s death on May 8 each year, the Chia-Nan Irrigation Association holds a memorial to honor his contribution in turning the Chianan Plain into Taiwan’s rice bowl.
Lai has asked the irrigation association to enlist professional help to repair the statue ahead of the event, the city government said.
Replacing the statue’s head should not be a problem, as the irrigation association had made a mold of the statue as a precaution, sources said.
News of the statue’s decapitation led to an outcry and speculation among local residents, with some accusing supporters of unification with China or people with anti-Japanese sentiments.