Monday, March 2, 2015

“敬天愛人” (Jingtien Airen) in Taiwan

Never thought that I would see the meticulous Chinese calligraphy tablet “Jingtien Airen” in Yilan, Taiwan, the teaching of Takamori Nanshu Saigo, often allegorized as the last Samurai. I noticed that his son Kikujiro (1861-1928) was in Yilan County during the Japanese colonial days. When I researched how he wound up in Yilan, I found he had a bizarre life, like his father. He was born in Tatsugo, Okinawa where Takamori was exiled. He was taken to Kagoshima away from his real mother when Takamori was pardoned from exile. As a teenager he was sent to the US to study for a year. Upon his return he fought the Seinan Rebellion War for his father and was wounded in his right knee with a bullet from a gun. He might have been dead without the wound. He was treated at the Government hospital in Kumamoto and Judo Saigo, Takamori’s brother, fighting against Takamori, helped nephew Kikujiro get proper care and operation. Kikujiro lost his right foot below his knee. It was Uncle Judo again who arranged Kikujiro to enter the Meiji Foreign Ministry and was sent to the US again for study and work for the consulate. Upon his return, he was sent to Taiwan, and became the first Yilan County Governor for 5 years (1897-1902).

Arrived coincidentally in Taipei were Shinpei Goto, Administrative Governor and Dr. Inazo Nitobe, in charge of Industrial and Agricultural Development, both aiming at the public stabilization and building of infrastructure. Kikujiro’s plans in Yilan were to deal with river conservation works, expansion of farm lands, road improvements, development of the camphor industry, crop increase,…, etc. so it just happened to match and fit in well.

Yilan County, located (110km) closest to Yaegakijima, Okinawa, boasts today of Suao, one of the best three fishing ports; Mt. Taipin, one (once) of the three best woodlands (shipped cypress and cryptomeria to Japan during colonial days); rich farmland because of frequent rain to produce rice; plenty of great natural scenery; and museums, including one for National traditional culture and arts.

Now back to the story of Kikujiro. One summer, rain started in the morning and gained in strength until it poured in torrents and turned into a sizable storm. One Yilan citizen ran into the County Office. He reported the Yilan River was flooding. Kikujiro opened the local map and ordered his subordinates to inspect various locations and report back immediately. A typhoon approached northern Taiwan and hit Yilan, Keelung, Taipei. The damages were heavier from the floods rather than the wind. Yilan has steep mountains (Mt. Dajiaoxi, ranges of Mt. Xue) and raging muddy runoff poured into the river and broke the Yilan lower river bank, flooding farms and villages. After the typhoon, Kikujiro toured on boat to examine the height of the river bank and concluded that there were no other remedies than to further heighten the dikes. He prioritized work to shore up a 1700m long dike and petitioned Goto with his budget for close to 40,000 yen, an improbable amount at the time of “security first” agenda under the military occupation. The construction took from April 1900 to Sept 1901. The legend has it that Kikujiro was often seen at the construction site limping around. Since he lost his right foot, he was fitted with a custom-made artificial leg from Kyoto and people seldom noticed his handicap.

The Yilan villagers called the completed works the Saigo Dike and Saigo Bridge (the wooden bridge had been replaced with the current Zhongshan Bridge). The monument to praise Kikujiro’s accomplishment was erected by village volunteers some years after Kikujiro left Yilan.

Although many of the Japanese monuments or relics had been destroyed by Kuo Ming Tang but this Saigo monument survived. My Taiwan friend wrote to me - “Why you may ask? Because the dike and the monument were used as supporting structure for shanty houses for refugees after the war and hid it's presence until 1990 when the Dike was rebuilt again. By then the political atmosphere had changed.” This monument was established more than twenty years after Saigo left Yilan. It indicates that people were truly thankful. It was not put up to flatter him while he was a Yilan district magistrate.

Yilan River flows south and meets the Dongshan River where both empty into the Pacific Ocean. Port Suao is south of this confluence.

Additional Information:

Blog page about Saigo Monument

1 comment:

Rob said...

Thanks, for a very interesting story. Brings to mind, Duff Roblin, a former premier of Manitoba, who spearheaded construction of the Red River Diversion Floodway, nicknamed Duff's Ditch. Like the dike in your story, it has helped many people over the years.