It’s been many months since I posted a blog here, simply because I’ve been working flat out getting my new book (actually a pair of volumes), Taiwan 101: unmissable places, sights and experiences on Isla Formosa (working title!) researched and drafted. It’s finally getting there! Here’s a draft of one of the 101 sections (slightly abridged: the book will have GPS coordinates for each statue, and some more info) that will be in the book as a taster. Kinmen is a must-see stop in any tour of the ROC (I know – it’s NOT part of Taiwan, so no angry messages please!), and the island’s fengshiye (wind lion gods) are one of its quirkiest and most fascinating sights [my total of statues found and photographed to date is 78 of the 81 statues – wind lion god statue hunting can become an obsession!), so they deserve a chapter all to themselves. The pair of books will be out in May 2016.
Lions and tigers are held in high esteem by the Chinese, although thankfully not only for the perceived benefits of their various body parts in dodgy Chinese medicine prescriptions. The power symbolized by both animals is perceived to protect, and to have a calming effect on negative forces. Just as the Tiger Tablet on the Caoling Trail on the New Taipei City-Yilan County Border in northeastern Taiwan was carved 150 years ago in an attempt to quell the gales that regularly buffeted travelers crossing a high pass near Taiwan’s northeastern point, the residents of windy Kinmen island turned to the lion in an attempt to improve the feng shui in its villages and to save them from a sand blasting whenever the wind picked up.
Kinmen wasn’t always a treeless expanse at the mercy of a capricious Mother Nature, however. Blame for reducing the once wooded island to a treeless, dusty expanse rests squarely on the broad shoulders of Chen Chenggong (Koxinga), who, during his attempt to defeat the Manchu government and restore the recently toppled Ming dynasty in the mid-1600s, landed on Kinmen and proceeded to chop down all its trees for timber to build a fleet of warships for the impending battle.
Koxinga was unsuccessful of course, and Kinmen was left largely bare of trees until another exiled leader, Chiang Kai-shek visited the island three centuries later, similarly bent on retaking China from the enemy. As the long war with Communist China started to drag on, he ordered the Nationalist army to begin a program of reforestation on the island.
However, long before the island’s earth-binding forests were restored, locals believed they’d found another way to protect themselves from the misery of the annual northeast monsoon winds that buffeted the island each winter. They erected guardian fengshiye (風獅爺; ‘wind lion gods’) along the borders of villages, at the mouths of rivers, and in other exposed spots around the island. In addition to commanding the winds, the statues were also considered to be village guardians, repelling evil spirits and misfortune.
About 80 of these unique statues (plus another hundred or so smaller statues, mounted on rooftops) can be found on Kinmen. Over half are to be found in Jinsha township, which bears the full brunt of the relentless northeast monsoon winds each winter. Most of the statues (the oldest of which are thought to date back to the late seventeenth century) are made of white granite quarried at Quanzhou on the mainland. The lions come in a variety of shapes, sizes and poses, and although they generally stand upright, some are crouching, laying, sitting down, or even look set to pounce. The majority of wind lion gods are unpainted, but others have been decorated, almost always in bright, exuberant colors. They all have wide, long mouths, intended to symbolically “swallow” the wind. The statues can be male (which are easily distinguished by their large, anatomically rather exaggerated hulu (葫蘆) or female. By the way locals believe that touching the hulu of a male wind lion god statue help expectants mothers give birth to a male heir. Lesser Kinmen (Lieyu), which has just one wind lion god, instead has as its village guardian of choice the curious wind rooster (風雞), of which six can be found on the island.
No visit to Kinmen is complete without seeking out a few wind lion gods, and searching for some of them is one of the best ways to explore the island and get into some really out-of-the-way places. The free island maps handed out by tourist information centers on the island mark almost all of them, but even with map in hand a few are very tricky to find.
The first wind lion god most visitors to Kinmen see is a brand new one that stands right outside the entrance to the terminal building at Shangyi Airport. Another new statue, 12 meters high, towers over Shangyi Environmental Park (尚義環保公園) on the main road a kilometer east of the terminal. A visit to the park makes a great introduction to the statues; an island in the park’s artificial lake is a miniature likeness of Kinmen, on which are stone replicas of 64 of the statues.
Kinmen’s wind lion gods start to look rather alike after finding twenty or thirty, and several are such a challenge to find that they’ll drive you mad with frustration, so below is a recommended selection of the most interesting, most beautiful, unusual, or most attractively situated, listed under the name of the village in (or near) which they stand. Much of the pleasure of wind-lion-god-searching is that it takes you to some of the most traditional and rustic corners of the island, so although most of the statues listed below are easy to find, even if you don’t get to see the statue, the nearby area is still well worth exploring!
Xiabie (夏墅): The closest fengshiye to Jincheng town, this stylized, almost cartoonish, bright blue lion stands beside the road to Jiangong Island and Koxinga Shrine, in the tiny front yard of a newish house.
Guanlubian (官路邊): Sitting under a huge banyan tree across a grassy field from the tiny settlement of Guanlubian, and staring out over pastoral farmland, this unpainted statue has one of the most peaceful positions of any on the island.
Guanli (官裡): Painted bright blue, with a bulbous red nose, bulging eyes and very prominent hulu. Beside Huandao South Road.
Oucuo (歐厝): Kinmen’s remotest wind lion god has finally been tamed. Once tricky to find, a path has recently been laid to it from the nearest road, and the lower half of the statue is now hidden in a rather plain marble plinth. Not as atmospheric as it was, but still worth seeing.
Sihu (泗湖): Large, yellow-painted statue, highly stylized. In the center of the village.
Houhu (后湖): Beside the road leading down to the beautiful, extremely long beach at Houhu, this unpainted stone lion has claws held up in almost comical ‘attack’ mode, and an unusual, fanned tail.
Huxia (湖下): Delightful statue, painted in attractive ochre and brown, beside the road behind the village elementary school.
Xiguoshan (昔果山) A lovingly painted, bright blue lion right beside the perimeter wall of Shangyi Airport, on the edge of a small village which features some lovely saddleback houses.
Anqi (安岐): The tallest old wind lion god statue in Kinmen (3.8 meters tall), now sporting a gaudy new coat of bright colors, standing in a small park on the outskirts of the village.
Qionglin (瓊林): Probably the best-known (and most photographed) wind lion god on Kinmen, this is a fairly large one (almost 2 meters), standing conspicuously beside busy Huandao North Road (還島北路), next to the exit of the town’s wartime tunnels (which are open to the public).
Zhonglan (中蘭): Beside the south side of the busy Qionglin to Shamei Road, this small statue is painted bright blue, with a striped red-and-yellow chest, perched on an old army pillbox.
Chenggong (成功): Small and unpainted but rather fine statue on a marble plinth, with a fine back of furry curls. Check out the wartime Chenggong Tunnels nearby and the Chen Jing-lan Western-style House (one of the finest on Kinmen) with its outrageous winged Statue of Liberty, just behind the lion.
Tahou (Shanwai) (塔后): Not even wind lion gods are sacred anymore, as this one, just south of Kinmen’s second largest town, was recently moved a hundred meters from its original position, to make room for new housing development. The new setting is an improvement however, and the painted orange statue with its rather cute expression, is one of the most photographed on the island.
Huqian (Shanwai) (湖前): Painted in faded orange and blue, this statue, unusually, leans forward, as if about to pounce. At road junction in middle of village.
Tianpu (田埔): Near the easternmost tip of the island, this fine, skillfully carved statue right beside the road has an unusually friendly expression.
Yangzhai (陽宅): This village has four wind lion gods, all worth visiting, and a few other interesting sights, such as the Chen Jian Tomb. The two most interesting statues lie either side of Huishan Temple on the eastern edge of the village. The statue in front of the temple is old and eroded, while the larger one a hundred meters away is brightly painted, with a large red nose.
Bishan (碧山): This fine old village, which boasts a couple of very fine old Fujian and Western-style buildings from the early twentieth century, has two statues, both slightly tricky to find. One lies in vegetation behind one of the Western houses, and the second, finer one (GPS coordinates below) is at the end of a short lane on the northern edge of the village. It’s tall, thin, and intricately carved both back and front.
Shamei (沙美): There are no less than seven statues around the largest village in northeast Kinmen, although the little one just south of the main road to Jincheng, beside a small lake, is perhaps the most interesting. The tiny statue, painted deep blue, is shaded by a pair of small banyan trees.
Yangshan (洋山): This lovely village beside the ocean towards the northern tip of the island is studded with attractive fish ponds, beside the largest of which lies a tiny unpainted stone statue, unusual in that it’s lying down, looking out over the water. A bit tricky to find in the maze of narrow alleyways, the village has a second lion, also a bit of a challenge to find.
Xiyuan (西園): A large unpainted male lion stands guard in front of the salt field office in this village near the island’s northern tip. A second similar statue (its mate) stands fifty meters away, behind the temple.
Mashan (馬山): Near the famous observation post at the northern tip of the island are three interesting statues. A small one, looking out over rough grassland, stands to the right of the road shortly before arriving at the entrance to Mashan. A much larger one with a proud grin and prominent, goat-like legs is less than a hundred meters away, beside the new road along the sea dyke to Guanao village. The third, of similar size, is 500 meters further south, just off the old road south from Mashan to Guanao. Turn left at the pink tiled house.
Very interesting to read. Looking forward to your new book. Best regards, mirjam
Sounds great. I am looking forward to your new books! I mentioned you in a recent blog post of mine http://www.dokuya.com/2015/05/04/lu-tao-green-island/
Ah, that’s your blog John! Thanks for the mention, and hope you enjoyed Green Island! …and what is it about people who like trolling perfectly reasonable blog entries – I thought your reply was great!
Wow, so detailed! I traveled to Kinmen this past January and only found a few of these statues, most notably the one by the wetland park in the north of the island. I think the free map I had just had a handful of these statutes on it, so maybe I need to seek out a different map.
Thanks Luke! The best map is the a free one (in Chineseonly) which shows vertually all 80 of the statues. The problem is some are really, really hard to find, even with the map, which is quite detailed, and you have to ask the villagers to find them. Makes for a good day’s exploring though!
I have been to Taiwan 4 times so far and I am thinking about coming back, but I was thinking about walking across the island. I know you can cycle the island and I have seen some reports of people walking across in different directions, but I can not seem to find one source (other than yours :p) that gives if it is possible and which side of the island would be best. Do you know of any resources that you could point me to? I was also thinking about contacting the Taiwan tourism board to see if they would have some information. do you think they might provide some insight?
Actually I’ve long wanted to walk across Taiwan myself, and started making route plans quite a few years ago, although it never got very far because it would mean taking several weeks off work! The people I’ve heard that walked across or around the island all used the roads. It’s theoretically possible to cross the island on mostly trails (a university group famously did just that, walking along the whole length of the Central Mountain Range – it took about 2 months if I remember correctly), but with the highly restrictive permit regulations in Taiwan that would be essentially impossible to arrange legally. There are various lower-lying trails that cross stretches of the island and need no permit, or an easier to get police permit which would shorten the road walk, but some of those are often out of action because of typhoons.
A better bet, which I was considering, might be bike paths, which now cross the whole island (although many use quiet roads). I remember hearing somewhere that a new one is going to open along the patches of the original road between Suao and Hualien on the east coast, which, if true, would solve the biggest problem of any North-South route. Using cycle paths might be your best bet in the end. There are lots of resources on the Net – one of the best places to start is Taiwan In Cycles blog, which is very comprehensive.
I haven’t come across blogs by people who’ve walked across the island, although I’m sure there are in Chinese; the Tourist Authority in my experience is woefully inadequate for helping with planning for anything other than the most obvious places, although if you get a plan together and publicize it they may get on board to sponsor you. Best of luck with the plan – it sounds amazing – I’m envious!
Do be envious yet, we haven’t walked it yet :P. I did go ahead and contact the Taiwan tourism board to see if they have any information. I did find a couple that recently walked across in a news article, but I can not find anyway to contact them to find out more information.
I will let you know if the tourism board replies back to me.
I have been looking at cycling blogs to get route information, but do you know of any websites that might give me more information?
The Korean/Japanese couple seem to have used roads all the way, which should be pretty easy to research. It’s often not hard to find places to camp either – a few blogs show camping sites and free rough camping places all over the island. For cycle path info, a good contact might be Mark Roche (on Facebook), who’s an amazing cyclist and walker who knows good cycle routes all over the island. I’m sure there’s an official Taiwan cycling resource published somewhere on the Net – maybe Mark can help you locate that. One other thing that comes to mid is whether you want to walk one way north to south or all around the island. The west coast is far less scenic than the east, and walking long stretches of it could be pretty monotonous. Alternatively there are various minor routes back up north through the eastern foothills of the central mountains that would make for a more interesting return if you want to walk both ways. Hope the Tourist Office writes back with something interesting, but don’t hold your breath on that…