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Taikang Inner Sea and Its Villages

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The earliest written record of the name Taikang can be found in the book Expedition to the East (1722) by Lan Ding-yuan (藍鼎元). This book is a collection of Lan’s account of the expedition in which he accompanied his cousin Lan Ting-jhen (藍廷珍) to “conquer” the island of Formosa. In his writings, the inner sea which had been called Dawan or Taiwan was named “Taikang” instead.

Taikang was an area with lagoons and ports. The aquatic resources sustained the life of the poor. The ports were mostly located in estuaries. In the shallow estuaries, residents dried salt and cultured clams. In the deep estuaries, ports were built to harbor trading and fishing vessels. Ferries could be seen everywhere on the inner sea, and transportation was very convenient, which in turn boosted the development of the Taikang villages and their population. The hydrology section of the 1738 Taiwan Prefecture Short Gazetteer states that “the fishery sites include oyster farms, ponds, ports, and fish farms.” Oyster farms are the tidal lands that yield oysters and clams. Fishermen usually ride boats and rake oysters and clams from the soft sand in the bottom. Ponds are usually artificial structures which enclose fish and prawns. Ports are located at where the rivers go into the sea. Fish farms are the enclosed tidal lands which culture fish. Ports, fish farms, and tidal lands were certainly the foundation of Taikang’s early economy and the everyday scenery by the sea.

According to the water tax section of Revised Taiwan Prefecture Gazetteer, “Ports are where the estuaries are, and fish farms are tidal lands enclosed for the purpose of keeping fish.” The tax section of the 1752 Revised Taiwan County Gazetteer made it even clearer by stating that “Fish farms are the tidal lands with artificial banks; when the tide comes the banks are submerged and when the tide goes the water is shallow again, keeping the fish inside the enclosed areas. In Mainland China, people usually culture razor shells or clams, or raise sea spiders (and grind them into powder for medical use), but in Taikang people keep fish instead.” Taikang’s fish farming history can be traced back to the Kingdom of Tungning era, when the government already started imposing fish farm taxes. The tax section of Tirosen County Gazetteer, however, commented that “The imposing of water taxes and other forms of taxation were the tyrannical rule of the Tungning regime.” According to Taiwan Prefecture Gazetteer and Tirosen County Gazetteer, the ports of Jhuojiagang, Hansigang, Sigangzihgang, Wangang, Singangsi, and Jhouzihweigang (gang means “port” in Mandarin) all had numerous fish farms around them.

With its advantageous location, the pisciculture industry in Taikang was booming as early as in the late 17th century. The fish farmers mounded lumps on the edges with the earth they had dug from the tidal lands. The lumps would retain the water inside (usually 50 centimeters deep) and thus form shallow fish farms. The technique is still used nowadays; shallow fish farms usually culture milkfish. A fish farm is usually around a hectare in size. In the hydrology section of the 1694 Taiwan Prefecture Gazetteer, it is recorded that in the south of Singang and Wangang, a stretch of fish farms were connected and abounded in fish, prawns, and crabs. In Anding Li, there were the five fish farms in Caowun that yielded great-quality milkfish in the summer and autumn. According to Taiwan Prefecture Gazetteer, milkfish was raised in saltwater fish farms. The taste is light yet a bit sour. Milkfish was the delicacy that Zheng Jing (the son of Koxinga, Zheng Chenggong) couldn’t resist. As it goes in Tirosen County Gazetteer, “Zheng Jing loved eating milkfish; thus milkfish is also called ‘the emperor fish’ by Taiwanese people.” The taste of milkfish is the best during summer. In autumn and winter, the texture of the fish is drier. The local product section of the 1740 Revised Fukien and Taiwan Prefecture Gazetteer, on the other hand, describes milkfish as “an expensive local product from Taiwan’s fish farms with great yield in the summer and autumn, looking like a flathead grey mullet with thin scales.” For royals and civilians alike, milkfish has always been the taste that Tainan people can’t forget. Its head and internal organs can all be cooked into dishes. For breakfast, Tainan people like to have milkfish porridge. For lunch, pan-fried milkfish maw or milkfish soup with ginger shreds is often served. Its mild, sour-sweet taste is captivating. As an exclusive ingredient in daily Taiwanese cuisine, milkfish has great economic value. Thus, a lot of rich families in Hú-siâⁿ (i.e. Tainan, literally “the capital city”) invested in the pisciculture business in Taikang for its excellent location and environment.

Cultural Festival of Taijiang

The Annan District of Tainan City was called Taikang in the past. It was where the settlers in the 17th century established their new home. The Taikang area was the most beautiful inner sea in the shape of a waxing moon with ports and rich fishery resources. The settlers also had frequent contact with the Taiwanese plains aborigines living around them. However, after a century or so, a devastating flood struck Taikang and flushed a great volume of sand down the Zengwun River into the Taikang Inner Sea, turning it into a tidal land.

The 17th-century Ming historian Gu Yanwu once said, “the Min people farm on the sea and waves of Southern Min people crossed the Taiwan Strait and settled in Taikang.” Since then, the magnificent history of Taikang settlements had been greatly influenced by the changes in the Taikang Inner Sea and its tidal lands.

In 1829, the Qing officer Yao Ying wrote about this dramatic change, stating that “Last July the rain brought about flooding and there was a lot of silting sand in the sea; in the beginning, I only saw siltation around the ordnance factory area, blocking the course of the warships, but after October, a vast area was silted into tidal lands.” He continues, “From Chiayi’s Zengwun in the north to the area outside the city’s Minor North Gate (by 40-ish kilometers) in the south, from the coast of Jhouzihwei in the east to the area inside Luermen (a stretch of land which is 15-16 kilometers long) in the west, this vast area was silted and people started to build shacks and sell fish on the tidal lands.” From this quote, we can get a glimpse of the earliest form of fish farming by the Taikang settlers. They caught, cultured, and sold fish for a living and they built shacks and developed communities as an entity.

According to records, the Jianzihpu settlement area in Taikang was formed around 1820-1840. By 1866, at least 12 villages (out of the “16 Villages of Taikang”) were established by the hard-working pioneers. According to a map of Waiwuding Li in 1895, new villages had been formed, including Wukuailiao, New Heshun, Dingsia Anshun, and Sidingliao. The “16 Villages of Taikang,” about 14 kilometers wide east to west and 10 kilometers long north to south, were thus completely developed. The seniors from these villages often call themselves Shihliouliaonei, which literally means “those who live in the 16 villages.” From this name, it is not difficult to see that these 16 villages are very closely connected.

Today, the “16 Villages of Taikang” is more of a cultural movement than simply a geographic term. NGOs in Taikang dedicate themselves to local cultural developments. In the east, there are Waiwunzihliao, Jhongjhouliao, Heshunliao, and Budaizueiliao. In the west, there are Haiweiliao and Benyuanliao. In the north, there are Shih-erdian, Sisinliao, and Sinliao. In central Taikang, there are Shihsandian and Zongtouliao. In the south, there is Sizihcianliao. This name may refer the Sizihcian area in Haiweiliao, or it might be the alias of Sidingliao. The list above actually comes from the mouth of a senior citizen from Old Heshun, Mr. Ciou Ding-die. In Sihcao Village, however, a folk song about the “16 Villages of Taikang” is sung by the senior people, and the two lists of the 16 villages are slightly different. In the Sihcao version, the two villages, Waiwunzih and New Heshun, are replaced by Syuejialiao and Sinanliao. It also sounds a bit more polished, very likely a work by a teacher who taught the Chinese language at one of those local private schools in the past. It goes…

Our ancestors founded the simple shacks. There are a total of 16 shacks.

Jhongjhou, Wukuai, and Gongcinliao; Heshun, Nanlu, and Chencingliao.

Local officers from the Hsu family are from Sidingliao.

Caohu, Budaizuei, and Sinliao. The military officer resides in Zongtouliao.

Syuejia, Sisin, and Sinanliao. In Yantian there is Benyuanliao.

Last but not least, Dadaogong’s temple is at Haiweiliao.

Among these villages, Jhongjhouliao was named this way as a tribute to the earliest settlers who came from the Jhongjhou area (a part of where the Syuejia District currently lies). Chencingliao was named after the settlement leader Chen Cing, and “Dadaogong’s temple, Haiweiliao” got its alias because it is where the famous Chao Huang Temple (whose main deity is Dadaogong) is located. Thus we can see that the names are actually an epitome of the early pioneers’ stories. How different names are told in the same line also entails how these villages are bonded. For example, “Heshun, Nanlu, and Chencingliao” are grouped together because they took turns housing the deity Sanjhuangtougong (meaning “Three Village Lord”). The lines “Caohu, Budaizuei, and Sinliao[; t]he military officer resides in Zongtouliao” refer to the settlements of the Hsiao and Lin-Hong families. “Syuejia, Sisin, and Sinanliao” are the villages whose fate was intertwined with the flooding of the Zengwun River. “In Yantian there is Benyuanliao” tells how Huang Ben-yuan first started developing Benyuanliao. “Local officers from the Hsu family are from Sidingliao” tells the story of the two generations of the Hsu family – Hsu Tong, Hsu Shih-ze, and Hsu Shou-yi. They served as the local officer of either Jianzihpu or the Anshun Village. The lines of the song are essentially the history from the mouth of local residents, telling us how the Taikang villages used to interact with one another.

Taijiang map

As mentioned earlier, the Jianzihpu area in Taikang was flooded in 1823, which brought about the formation of vast tidal lands. In 1827, the government started imposing taxes on the residents of Jianzihpu, and the administrative districts were separated by the boundary of the “Singang Estuary – Waiwun – Sinliao – Shih-erdian – Gongwun – Luersi” line. The area in the north of the line became parts of Sigangzih Po and Anding Lidong Po of the Chiayi County. The area in the south became parts of Wuding Li of Anping County. This boundary roughly overlaps with the northern boundary of Tainan City’s Annan District nowadays. It is also interesting to see how the same place is called differently on different occasions. Wuding Li literally means the place conquered through military force. This official name, even till now, has been accompanied by the local alias Jianzihpu.

In the mid-19th century, a map of the Taiwanese counties was compiled, which provides further details about the settlements on the tidal lands in Taikang (where the Taikang Inner Sea once was). It says, “Wuding Li has 20 villages, starting from three kilometers north to the city, including Chaitougang (3 kilometers north to the city), Tazihjhuang (5K), Jhouzihwei (7K), Yansingjhuang (7K), Duchuantou (7K), Niaosongjhuang (10K), Beiguanjhuang (8K), Sankandian (10K), Cianpu Waiwunzihliao (10K), Jhongjhouliao (10K), Heshunliao (5K), Sinliaozih (10K), Benyuanli (8K), Haiweiliao (6K), Zongtouliao (8K), Sizihcianliao (6K), Budaizueiliao (10K), Shih-erdian (10K), Sisinzihliao (8K), and Shihsandian (7K).” Among these villages, Chaitougang, Tazihjhuang, Jhouzihwei, Yansingjhuang, Beiguanjhuang, and Sankandian were originally located near the southeastern coast of the Taikang Inner Sea (to the north of Tainan, the capital city then) before the 1823 flood. On the other hand, Jhongjhouliao, Heshunliao, and Haiweiliao should be the newly-formed settlement villages after Taikang Inner Sea was silted into a stretch of tidal lands. In these newer villages, the residents were mostly relatives who chose to move south from the northern bank of the Zengwun River. They courageously formed settlement groups and wrote the history of the second wave of Taikang settlements.

From Taikang to the north of Hú-siâⁿ, clusters of new villages formed from the late 19th to the 20th century. These villages include Sianwundi, Hueiyao, Shueipingwun, Chaitougang, Huayuan, Tianluojhuang, Tuzihliao, Jhuanzihyao, Macheliao, Nioucheliao, etc. These new villages were actually groups of settlers of different professions (which can be inferred from their names). From Sidingliao, the early settlers gradually moved south to places like (via the eastern route) Siaobeimen (the Minor North Gate), where Mingde Junior High School currently lies, or (via the central route) Liaonei, which is next to the Jhongshan Park. The eastern route passed Chaitougang, Baguayao, Gupomiao, Siaociao, among other places. If you look to the west from the paths in Chaitougang, you can see the fish farms in Jhengzihliao.

The history of Taikang settlements is rarely included in official history. Passed down orally from one generation to another, these stories perfectly show how the early Taikang people survived such hardships. From farming to raising rabbits, from making bricks to conducting trades, they pioneered on the land of nothing and carved out a unique way of life.

*source: Wu, Mao-cheng. Taikang Inner Sea and Its Villages. Tainan: Cultural Affairs Bureau, Tainan City Government, 2013. 70, 150, 183-187, 379, 383, 507-509. Print.

*photos provided by Taikang Campus, Tainan Community University and Annan District Office, Tainan City Government.