1932, 畫布油彩, 117×91cm

oil on canvas 





    In the shade cast by a grand leafy tree, pedestrians stroll past peddlers’ carts loaded with fruits and frozen treats, enticing them to enjoy some refreshment from the scorching heat of this tropical island. Three women wearing different kinds of cultural dress—kimono, cheongsam, and Western—walk quietly past one another in the city street. The most familiar silhouette in this locale, however, is that of the humble laborer, slightly stooped under the weight of his shoulder pole. Within this scene of a tranquil afternoon in front of Xihuifang lie hidden clues which reveal small tidbits about life at the time.










    In those days, the names of alcohol-serving restaurants often included huifang, which designates a place filled with a pleasant aroma. Such restaurants were frequented by the upper crust of society—diners with power, wealth, and glamour. Nowadays, Taiwanese cuisine is celebrated for its diversity of cooking styles and fusion of flavors emanating from different regions. Many of Taiwan’s most notable dishes can trace their roots back to the period of Japanese rule and the culinary testing grounds of these huifang kitchens. 






    Sometime during the latter half of WWII, a group of young Taiwanese men about to enter the military enjoy a farewell dinner at Chiayi’s Beauty Restaurant. This photograph provides a rough idea of the atmosphere in Japanese-era shuka or bistros. Source: Photography about Chia-yi City, vol. 5. Edited by Tsai Rong-shun, Cultural Affairs Bureau of Chiayi City, 2013, pp. 115.





2. 日治時代的西門町

Chiayi’s very own Ximending during the Japanese era





    By checking the recorded address for Xihuifang against maps from that period, we can pinpoint both the street corner depicted in the painting and the perspective from which it was painted. Xihuifang was located in Chiayi’s Ximending neighborhood, which was home to a throng of bars and restaurants as well as a red-light district. The local hospitality industry flourished as Chiayi’s lumber industry prospered.







    During the period of Japanese rule, Xihuifang restaurant was registered as being located at Plot 101, District 3, Ximen Ward (Ximending), Chiayi City. By cross-referencing the 1931 Chiayi Street Survey Map against the current city map, it can be established that the restaurant was located at the southeastern corner of the present intersection of Guangcai Street and Minsheng North Road. Chen Cheng-po was positioned at a vantage point somewhat to the west along Guangcai Street. This is the only spot from which he could have viewed both Xihuifang on his left and the Chiayi Lumber Chamber of Commerce just opposite.

Chiayi Street Survey Map (1931), taken from Taiwan’s 100 Years of History in Maps, published by the Center for GIS at Academia Sinica. 





3. 地圖會說「畫」

Maps that can “paint a picture”





    Maps can provide more details about Chen’s painting. A 1936 Japanese Imperial Map of Business Establishments marks the location of the Chiayi Lumber Chamber of Commerce, which is the storefront advertised by the green signboard in the painting’s middle ground. Since the shadow cast by the large tree in the painting stretches eastward out in front of the storefront, Chen most likely painted this canvas in the afternoon.





Japanese Imperial Map of Business Establishments (1936), taken from Taiwan’s 100 Years of History in Maps, published by the Center for GIS at Academia Sinica.



4. 「氷旗」

Frozen treats banner





    This painting reveals subtle traces of the cultural mixing taking place at the time in everyday Taiwanese life. For example, the Japanese banner for frozen treats hangs from two traditional Taiwanese vendors’ carts, its white background emblazoned in red with the Japanese character for “ice” floating above rolling blue waves. It wasn’t until the period of Japanese rule that frozen treats, formerly foreign to Taiwanese food culture, became popular refreshments; after the construction of modern ice factories, peddlers began to sell frozen desserts from their carts throughout the streets of Chiayi.




5. 廣告看板

Advertisement boards





    Framed by the branches of the tree, multiple colorful advertisements are posted prominently, side-by-side, on what is perhaps a communal signboard. In the middle two panels, the characters for “hospital” are clearly legible. One advertisement might refer to Yisheng Hospital, once located on Zongye Street. The panel on the far left might be an advertisement for Changchun Hospital, established by Chiayi’s esteemed physician Dr. Lin Qi-zhang.  






    Taken in 1937, this old photograph depicts a shared signboard, similar to the one in the painting, with the heading “Chiayi Business Information.”

Source: Photography about Chia-yi City. Edited by Fang Jing-ru, Cultural Affairs Bureau of Chiayi City, 2000, pp. 87.





 6. 鉛筆素描稿

Pencil sketch




    In Chen’s sketchbook, we can find several sketches for oil paintings in existence today. By studying his sketches, we can see how he mentally organized the scene to be painted. In terms of scenic construction, Chen made certain visible adaptations to the painting as compared with his original sketch. For example, the height of the building on the left was deliberately exaggerated so as to create more intriguing proportions.




風景速寫(14)-SB09:32.7.27  1932   紙本鉛筆   18.2×24cm

Landscape Sketch (14)-SB09: 32.7.27  1932    Pencil on paper   18.2×24cm

風景のスケッチ(14)-SB09:32.7.27  1932 紙、鉛筆 12×18.2cm








    The woman whose silhouette appears in the window is possibly an entertainer-courtesan hired by the restaurant to attend to guests and perform musical numbers. Although these women didn’t enjoy high social status, quite a few cultivated great knowledge and sophistication, such as Rosy Clouds (Caiyun), the famous Chiayi woman who worked at Xihuifang during the Japanese era. Adept at composing poetry and prose, she sang of the beauty of Jade Mountain and artfully exchanged poetic verse with men of letters, eventually earning a considerable reputation among literary circles.