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Chiayi Countryside



1935, 畫布油彩, 49×64cm

oil on canvas





    Infused with a quiet pastoral ambiance, this peaceful tableau in fact bustles with scenic details and bucolic vignettes. A woman in a farmyard, back turned to the viewer, serves as the focal point for the entire work. Surrounded by chickens, children, and clothing racks, she works diligently to complete her daily tasks. Beyond her rustic farmhouse stands a modernized cattle ranch and pasture for grazing. Triangular rooftops point upwards towards rolling hills and distant mountains, creating a sense of perpetual undulating movement. Towering above all, the magnificent Mount Jade rises prominently into view. What did this mountain, which appeared over and over again in Chen Cheng-po’s works, symbolize for the artist?






Vantage point





    According to Chen’s descendants, this work was painted at the Chiayi Countryside Dairy Farm, which was located on old maps to the southwest of the city. This can be confirmed by the relative positions of the mountain ranges portrayed in the painting. Looking eastward from the farm, as compared to the view from Chiayi proper, the nearby Dawu Range would appear to have shifted left, affording a better view of the more distant Yushan (Mount Jade) Range.





Rooftop ventilation windows





    The gable roof of the large, olive-green building features peculiar temple-like structures protruding from its ridge. Commonly known as “crown prince temples,” these windows provide ventilation for the building. This architectural design is often used in tobacco barns, granaries, and other facilities requiring sustained ventilation and low humidity. Since Chen painted Chiayi Countryside at a dairy farm, this building was perhaps a cowshed.






    A Japanese-era cowshed fitted with “crown prince temples” (rooftop ventilation windows). Taiwan Livestock Corporation Tenth-Anniversary Report, Taipei: Taiwan Livestock Corporation, 1930, pp. iii.





Pasture fencing





    The road on the right side of the canvas is lined by fencing made of rope and wooden posts. This fencing was most likely put in place to prevent cows from wandering off the property. Soon after Japanese businesses introduced milking equipment and techniques to Taiwan, dairy farms sprung into operation in the outskirts of big cities across the island, and the practice of drinking milk gradually gained in popularity.






A fence encloses a pasture owned by the Taiwan Livestock Corporation. Taiwan Livestock Corporation Tenth-Anniversary Report, Taipei: Taiwan Livestock Corporation, 1930, pp. iv.





Bamboo homes





    Thatched with cogon grass, the farmhouse roof rests above a gable wall composed of interlaced horizontal and vertical bamboo slats. In the past, such homes were a common sight throughout the Taiwanese countryside. Thicker, stronger stalks of bamboo were used as posts and beams to frame the house, while thinner stalks were woven together and coated with plaster to form supporting walls. Though simple in design, these bamboo homes evoke powerful collective memories among Taiwan’s older generation.





Stone mortars and pestles or millstones





    Slightly wider at the top than bottom and appearing rather unwieldy, the large agricultural implement in the center of the painting is possibly a stone mortar and pestle or a millstone. Whereas mortars and pestles were used to produce rice milk and flour, millstones were used to husk and refine rice. Since rice has long served as a staple of the Taiwanese diet, such rice-processing tools are a distinctive element of traditional farm village scenery.





The role of women





    Wearing simple clothing and with her hair tied up, a woman crouches next to a millstone and quietly labors away. In traditional Taiwanese society, the contributions of women were crucial for the smooth functioning of households. As this painting suggests, women were responsible for attending to all domestic matters, such as feeding chickens, washing clothes, pounding rice, and taking care of children. Almost without exception, this entire laundry list of tasks was completed exclusively by the women of the household.





Feeding chickens





    In the past, Taiwanese farmers often operated secondary businesses alongside their mainstay of crop cultivation. Many chose to raise poultry, similar to the practice of indigenous peoples living in lowland regions who had long raised chickens. Dating back to the early 18th century, this amusing drawing from The Gazetteer of Zhulou County shows a chicken pecking at grains of rice spilling forth from a large mortar and pestle.






Indigenous Life from The Gazetteer of Zhuluo County