Hsinpu’s Fangliao Yimin Temple and Yimin beliefs and activities
（Teacher, General Education Department, Minghsin Institute of Technology）
The main gate of the Fangliao Yimin Temple.
Yimin temples carry the weight of the spiritual history of the Hakka people, and the essence of their everyday culture, they are the very hub of Hakka Yimin beliefs. Taking them as our starting point, we can begin to understand the major role that Yimin has played in the history of Taiwan. It’s not simply that the facilities and installations of temples convey the beauty of traditional Hakka architecture, their sacrificial ceremonies also preserve many of the folk customs of the Hakka people. The 20th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is the Hakka Yimin festival, and this week’s “Window on Taiwan” has been written by Fan Ming-hwang, a teacher in Minghsin Institute of Technology’s General Education Department. Taking the Fangliao Yimin Temple at Hsinpu, the most famous in Taiwan, as his starting point, he describes the Yimin beliefs of the Hakka people and the development of their historical significance.
The most famous Yimin temple in the whole of Taiwan
The Hakka Yimin festival which falls on the 20th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar follows soon after the Chungyuan festival. The Yimin temples are the very hub of Yimin beliefs, and the obvious starting point for any discussion of the Yimin beliefs of the Hakka people.
Although Taiwan has several Yimin temples, when people talk about them, they generally all point to the most famous Yimin temple in all Taiwan, situated in Hsialiao Li, Hsinpu Township. This temple is not only the sacrificial center for 15 villages, it also attracts followers from all over Taiwan and overseas, and has evolved into a center of Hakka religious belief.
Foreground of the Fangliao Yimin Temple.
The temple’s installation and restoration
The origins of the Fangliao Yimin Temple can be traced back to the Lin Shuang-wen incident during the 51st year of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign (1786). Lin Shuang-wen started a revolt in Taliyi, Changhua (present day Tali City in Taichung County) against the Qing dynasty, in favor of restoring the Ming. He was accompanied in his task by many loutish followers who burnt, killed and looted. Lin’s army marched north and captured Chuchien Town and Tamshui, where an official, Cheng Chun, killed himself rather than surrender. Lin’s army attacked the Hakka villages of Liuchangli and Yuanshantsai in order to seize their granaries, and the Hakka settlers rose up to defend their homes, and formed an “Yimin army” [lit.: an army to uphold good faith and honesty] of over 1,300 volunteers to fight back. Not only did they manage to defeat the opposing army, they were also retook Chuchien at the request of the the Quanzhou settlers of Chuchien Town, through a concerted attack from within and without, traveling south along with settlers from Quanzhou and Pingpu Tribe people, to help officials and soldiers quell the revolt, in a spirit of good faith. More than 200 of the Yimin army lost their lives, and leaders including Lin Hsien-kun, Liu Chao-chen and Wang Yen-chang gathered up the remains of these loyal fighters, and transported them back home by ox-cart, so that they might be buried in their hometown of Tawokou (present day Hukou Village). On the way to Tawokou, the carts reached what is now Fangliao, and the oxen stopped and would not go any further. After offering prayers and burning incense, the men cast bamboo divination chips to seek instruction from the Yimin spirits, who let it be known that they wanted their bodies to be buried at this spot, and in the 53rd year of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign (1788), an Yimin tomb was constructed from charitable donations, at the site of the cave where the bulls stopped on Fangliao Hill. The next year, construction of the Yimin Temple begun, in front of the tomb, and it was completed in the 55th year of the Qianlong reign (1790). After work on this temple was finished (according to records kept at the Yimin Temple) the Emperor Qianlong bestowed the name of “Bao Chung” [lit.: “commended for their loyalty”] on the temple, and the old Yimin Temple also had the name of “Bao Chung Pavilion. In the third month of the first year of the reign of the Tongzhi Emperor (1862), the Tai Chao-chun incident broke out in Changhua, and the Yimin army went to war for the second time to help officials suppress the uprising. Over 100 men lost their lives, and were buried to the left of the main tomb, as an annex.
In the 21st year of the Guangxu Emperor (1895), the Japanese army attacked Taiwan, and the island became one huge battlefield, and the Yimin Temple was razed to the ground as a result of fires caused by soldiers. It was rebuilt through donations gathered by the local gentry from believers in 14 large villages, starting in the 25th year of the Guangxu reign (1899). The steps in front of the temple, stone pillars, stone lions, stone walls, stone windows, the dado and stone pillows before the door are all rather spectacular, and the wooden carvings are also exquisite. All the temple’s ancient pre-Qing tablets were destroyed in the flames of war, and the old wooden tablets still extant date from the Japanese occupation. During this period, the Japanese wanted to get rid of the temple, but this did not happen, and in the 16th year of the Showa era [reign of Japanese Emperor Hirohito], 1941, in order to placate Taiwanese feelings, the Japanese colonial official Daijin, Akita Kioshi, presented a tablet that reads “loyal souls are eternal”, and the Taiwan Governor of the time, Naval Daijin Kiyoshi Hasegawa presented one reading “devote oneself to one’s country.”
Shrine at the Fangliao Yimin Temple.
The 20th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is the day of the sacrificial ceremonies at the Yimin temple – the Yimin Festival when the 15 big villages take it in turns to hold the ceremonies and competitions, put out water lanterns and erect lantern poles, and have a very lively time. Apart from the Fangliao temple, there are also Yimin temples at Chinshan (Kuanhsi Township), at Shitan and Sanwan in Miaoli, and at Chungliao, Kuohsing and Shuili in Nantou, and the style of the ceremonies and temples are all slightly different. In Hakka regions which have no Yimin temple, to take Hsinchu County as an example, and at major temples in big cities like the Sankuan Tati Temple, or the Sanshan Kuowang Temple, ceremonies to honor the Yimin spirits are still carried out.
The duties of the Yimin spirits change with the times
Originally, the Yimin spirits were worshipped as spirits who would protect the local area, but as the Hakka people developed and exploited land in the mountains, the Yimin spirits were asked to come to the mountains to prevent the Aboriginal headhunters from hurting the settlers, and consequently the Yimin spirits developed an “anti-Aboriginal” function. In the days when medical treatment was not very advanced, many people prayed to the Yimin spirits to protect them from epidemics, and so they become the medicine gods of the Hakka people. As transport and communications improved and people began to use motor cars, traffic accidents became commonplace, and so many believers turned to the Yimin temples, and began to wear safety amulets to gain protection on the roads for themselves and their beloved cars from the Yimin spirits. In addition to this, when a young man entered the army, his parents would take him to the Yimin temple to pray for a peaceful term of service.
According to the tales of the older generation, this custom of pious sacrifice before entering the army started at the time of the Second World War, when the Japanese colonial government drafted young Taiwanese men into their army, and this was the first step of the long journey made by young Hakka men forced to become Japanese soldiers. They would pray for a safe return, and this became a common practice. To this day, although we are not at war, young Hakka men off to do their military service will go to pray at an Yimin temple before they enter the army, and so the Yimin spirits play the role of protectors of the troops. The roles of the Yimin spirits have changed and augmented with the times.
Offering food and burning incense
In Hsinchu County, a special “food offering” custom has arisen in the ceremonies for the Yimin spirits. No matter whether it’s a large town like Chudong or a small one like Hengshan or Omei, or even the remote Tashanpei, this custom has been preserved to the present day. The “food offering” custom alternates between neighbors or villages, and everyday, several households prepare cooked dishes and carry them to the sacrificial ceremony honoring the Yimin spirits at the temple, and this goes round in a cycle, uninterrupted throughout the entire year, with several households coming each day to make the sacrifice. The most special thing about this is that the sacrificial food is minced chicken and duck, not whole chickens or ducks, and the pork used is cut into slices. It’s rather like the custom of “welcoming the emperor’s army with food.” In this way, each little village and each household can take part in the sacrificial ceremony close to home, and in the past, when food was harder to come by, this was a way for everybody to have the chance to reward themselves and have a rare good meal, and even more than this, a chance to have a good time with one’s family, friends and neighbors, a big event eagerly awaited by both adults and children.
Apart from the “food offering,” the Yimin festival on the 20th day of the seventh month is also the day when Hakka women return to their parental home to burn incense. Believers in their thousands converge on the central Yimin temple at Fangiao with black incense flags used in ceremonies in the home, which they burn and exchange for new ones that they carry home again, and this is done on a yearly basis. There are believers as far away as Singapore, Hong Kong and Kowloon, and well as those from more local areas, and Yimin beliefs have followed the Hakka in their development abroad, there is no place where they have not reached.
Edited by Tina Lee/ translated by Elizabeth Hoile