Sunday, October 7, 2012

Big East Gate etc./大東門など

The other day I travelled around to some historical spots near campus.  The first one I went to was "Big East Gate".  As I'm sure you all remember because you commit my every blog post to memory because they are so fascinating, on Cheng Da's campus is the "Small West Gate" in the location where the "Small East Gate" originally was.  The Small East Gate (deceased) and Big East Gate are only about 10 minutes apart.  I rode my bike straight south from campus and found myself at this impressive gate, surrounded by a traffic circle.  They love traffic circles in Tainan, so there are lots of them.  It turns out too, that historic, Qing period gates look really good inside traffic circles.

I couldn't decide which of these shots ^v I liked better, so I put them both in.  Totally unnecessary, I know.  Please forgive me.
Here we have four plaques commemorating the four seasons.  The four "Big" gates back in the day were named after the four compass directions, and in Chinese Feng Shui cosmology thinking, those four directions are associated with different attributes.  That's what we're seeing here.  The seasons are presented here in order from spring to winter.  And the animals at the top of each plaque are the following: dragon, magical bird thing that is usually translated as "phoenix", tiger, and turtle.

If you don't know any Chinese the above two pictures don't mean much, but basically one says "East Safe Gate" and one says "Welcome Spring Gate".  As you remember, the "Small West Gate" also had an alternate name, "Clean Wave Gate".  In the case of the four "Big" Gates, they were given alternative names based on which compass direction they were, and which season that direction was associated with based on Chinese cosmology.  East is associated with Spring, so this gate is the "Welcome Spring Gate".
It's all explained below, so just go ahead and read it!

...or you could read my crappy translation instead.

"In 1725 the Big East Gate was built on the eastern border of Tainan.  It was a major project.  In 1736 it was converted from wood to stone construction.  [And I think they made it taller with more floors and did something to the base in 1788.]  According to Yin Yang 5 Elemental theory, East is associated with the element wood, and the season spring.  During the Qing period there was some festival to welcome spring done on the day before the first day of spring (the first day of spring according to the solar cycle that is, so the day directly between winter solstice and spring equinox, not spring equinox) and it involved cows somehow?  Because welcoming spring is very important for farmers, this was a major festival.  [And I might be reading this wrong, but I think they may have painted it different colors according to where in the 5 element cycle they were.]  [Something about the rains falling properly, etc.  Farmer stuff.]"


I set out in the morning not knowing of any historical sites in the area aside from Big East Gate, but at the gate was a sign/map for tourists which showed a fort nearby, so I decided to go and see that as well.
"Taiwan (old word for) City Syun Fang Cannon Platform"
At first, from the street side, this is al I saw, and I thought, oh, is that it?
I almost left without properly seeing this fort since it looks like nothing from the street side.  It's now on the grounds of some big Buddhist building, so you have to walk into what appears to be a private driveway to get to the other, more interesting side.  You can climb up on top and have a sit in the broiling hot sun too if you wish.


When I got to the other side of the fort, probably because I was standing around with my mouth hanging open, this middle-aged guy came up to me and started telling me about the fort.  It was all in Chinese, but he spoke so that I could understand.  You can see his legs in the photo above.  The fort was a gun fort, and at the time it was on the eastern end of Tainan City.  It was built not only to protect the city from outside attack from the non-Han, aboriginal people of Taiwan, but also to help the authorities control the unruly, Han population of Taiwan.  Han people living in Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty had a lot of grievances, and they revolted on a fairly regular basis.
Because the fort is now on the property of this Buddhist place, they've added this plaque about like "Purifying your heart" to the fort.  Very weird on a building that was built for the express purpose of killing people more efficiently.

The plaque above is older than the others, and probably predates the Buddhist Temple.  It's just the name of the fort, and it's so worn it's hard to read.  The other clearer plaques have also been added by the temple, and one has the name of the temple, one says "Old Fort/Building" and one says something about guns since this was a gun fort.

They (who?  I don't know.  The temple?) put some paint over the old stone on the inside.  Where it's chipped away you can see the stone.
Old-school door hinge
One of the gun rooms for shooting out of.  I guarantee you the holes would not actually have been this small since the guns of the time were probably too big to use a hole this size.

This is that hole from the outside.  My guess is originally the gun/cannon would have been shot out of this square window.

Last stop of the day was the Old Tainan County Magistrate Residence.  This is another place I didn't know about but found out about from the tourist plaques at the other sites.  It's an art center now.  It was built in the Japanese period, hence the European-inspired colonial architecture.

These murals were on the house right behind the building.  Some guy's weekend project, I guess.

And the photo I took so I wouldn't forget the name of the place.

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