Gazing toward the Mountains

Gazing toward the Mountains

Gazing toward the Mountains, an outdoor art
exhibition, features 18 paintings by Taiwanese artistic luminary Chen Cheng-po (1895-1947). Digitally rendered, these works of art showcase the unique charm of Chiayi and the nearby mountains. This exhibition has been designed with the belief that all individuals enjoy a universal right to access culture.
Visitors are invited to view Chen’s paintings up close and to experience Chiayi and its environs through the artist’s painterly eye, as he did during his lifetime. They will catch glimpses of the local lumber industry of that era and the transformation of Chiayi into a modern municipality. Visitors will also gain a greater appreciation for a variety of cultural and religious facets of local daily life.

Self Portrait (2)
1930, oil on canvas, 41×31.5cm

Chen Cheng-po beams with self-confidence; behind him, Chinese hibiscus flowers bloom in brilliant summer colors. Within the world of oil painting, the 35-year-old artist had found an ideal mode of self-expression.

When Chen moved from Japan to Shanghai, his artistic career entered a new stage. In Shanghai, he found new subject matter for landscape paintings and absorbed the fundamental concepts and techniques of traditional Chinese painting. The confidence and anticipation he then felt for the future is perhaps visible in this self-portrait.

1. Self-portrait
Self-portraits constitute an important tradition in Western art and are often used to communicate an artist’s personality and outlook on life. By the end of the 19th century, Japanese artists who had studied in Europe and specialized in Western-style painting brought this tradition to the Tokyo Fine Arts School, setting off a self-portrait trend. As a result, most of the school’s Taiwanese graduates left behind such works.

2. The look in his eyes
While in Shanghai, Chen had discovered a completely new way of contemplating art and a new artistic path to pursue. This perhaps explains why his expression in this work appears much more affable and relaxed than in his 1928 self-portrait; his gaze is also much clearer and more luminous. As he looks calmly to his right, the viewer can’t help but wonder what has captured his attention.

3. Coat and woolen hat
Chen’s winter coat, trimmed with a white fur-lined collar, and his dark woolen hat suggest that this painting was completed during a cold Shanghai winter. In a 1931 photo, Chen and his family are seen dressed in thick winter clothes with warm woolen hats similar to the one worn by Chen in his 1930 self-portrait.

4. Chinese hibiscus blossoms
Although Chen appears dressed for winter, the Chinese hibiscus flowers in the background give the painting a southern touch. The colorful blossoms allude to the artist’s southern roots and enhance the painting’s overall feeling of vitality. In both surviving self-portraits, Chen embellished the background with patterns rich in tropical imagery, offering the viewer an intriguing detail to ponder.

5. Postcard collection
Within Chen’s painting style, a strong Post-Impressionist influence can be felt. He probably even studied the self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne when creating his own. Indeed, an image of one of Cézanne’s self-portraits was found among Chen’s collection of postcards. Can’t you see a striking similarity, especially in the expression, between Cézanne’s self-portrait and Chen’s?

6. Thick lips
Taking note of his plump, rosy-red lips, Chen portrayed this distinctive feature with bright, eye-catching hues. In a self-portrait a few years earlier, fellow painter and friend Liao Chi-chun had deliberately accentuated the fullness of his own scarlet lips. Perhaps when these two pioneers of Taiwanese art studied their reflections, it was to their lips that they paid the most attention!

Picture 3: In his 1928 self-portrait, Chen’s demeanor is visibly despondent; the color palate of the painting also feels relatively dark and melancholic.
Self Portrait (1), 1928, oil on canvas, 41 x 31.5 cm

Picture 4:Liao Chi-chun, Self-portrait, 1926, oil on wood, 32 x 24 cm

Early Autumn
1942, oil on canvas, 91×116.5cm

Geometric contours intersect and overlap in this picturesque corner of town. An assortment of architectural structures— neighborhood temples with upswept roofs, wooden homes with pitched roofs, and quaint cottages with Western allure—complement one another, creating a pleasing cadence that flows throughout this peaceful tableau. The branches of a broad-leaved tree stretch powerfully upwards and outwards, encircling the rooftops with lush green vegetation. Although autumn has already begun to set in, this southern Taiwanese scene is still bursting with vitality. Gazing out past the balustrade—past the clothes hung out to dry on the wooden rack—can’t you feel the soothing tranquility of this little world?

1. The artist’s vantage point
According to his descendants, Chen Cheng-po painted this work looking southward from the balcony of his old home on Lanjing Street. To the left, the pagoda gracing the ridge of a roof likely belongs to the Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess, as seen from behind. The branches and leaves shooting forth from the right are those of a longan (dragon-eye) tree planted in the back alley. Over time, Chen’s old home underwent significant changes, including the removal of the balcony and its balustrade which is depicted in this painting.

2. Two sketches
Within Chen’s extant sketchbooks, there are two pencil sketches which pertain to Early Autumn. One of these portrays a woman, likely his wife Chang Jie, holding a child in her arms, looking out over the balustrade, while the other is the preliminary sketch for this work. Upon close examination and comparison with the final painting, these sketches reveal that Chen made certain modifications with respect to the scene’s spatial configurations.

3. Title of painting
During the Japanese colonial period, Early Autumn was a common title among the works on display at government-hosted fine arts exhibitions. Artists such as Lee Tze-Fan, Liao Chi-chun, and Yang San-lang all exhibited early autumn landscapes, but each artist portrayed the season in a unique light. Studying these works, what similarities and differences catch your eye?

4. Porcelain jian nian dragons
Jian nian (“cut and paste”) is a traditional handicraft which was brought to Taiwan from southern China and is now one of the most prominent forms of ornamentation for temple roofs and walls. Its name comes from the technique by which craftsmen cut and paste pieces of porcelain to a plaster surface, creating different figurines. In this painting, Chen cleverly hid a jian nian dragon in the lush background greenery. Can you find it?

5. Protector dragons
The jian nian artwork decorating Taiwan’s temples features a wide-ranging cast of characters. Certain are more common than others, such as protector dragons which prowl temple roofs to ward off evil spirits. In this painting, two pairs of rooftop dragons guard the Seven-Story Pagoda and the Mani Jewel—both visual representations of Buddhist concepts. The green dragons are bestowed with a special protective power to summon rain in the event of fire to save the temple from destruction.

6. Japanese architecture
During the Japanese era, as more and more “mainlanders” settled in Taiwan, Japanese-style structures began to spring up in large numbers across the island. Within this painting, certain architectural elements are identifiably Japanese. For example, the building in the front-center features an onigawara (ogre-face tile) at its apex, a transom light at its gable, and clapboards covering its exterior walls. Old historic homes such as this can still be seen along the streets of Chiayi today.

7. Trees and composition
Chen often arranged his landscapes with a large tree on one side of the canvas, its branches and leaves stretching and opening up like an umbrella to obscure the sky. This green shade placed in the foreground, running along the top of the canvas, creates greater depth and expresses the natural state and local ecological scenery of early autumn.

Picture 3: Yang San-lang, Lakeside in the Early Autumn, 1940, Third Governor-General Art Exhibition.

Picture 4:Figures sketch-SB30(40.10-41.7) ca. 1940-1941 Pencil on paper 36.5×26.3cm

Outside Chiayi Street (3)
1927, oil on canvas, 52×65cm

A shallow irrigation canal leads to a street, farther along and at the edge of which the upturned arc of a temple roof punctuates the sky. A year prior to the completion of this painting, Chen Cheng-po’s masterpiece depicting the same scene was selected for the Imperial Exhibition and introduced his hometown to Japanese art aficionados. In comparison with the earlier work, this painting reflects the influence of modernization, the landscape visibly more neat and orderly. Perhaps gazing at the streets of Chiayi from a distance, Chen chose once more to paint this scene in order to leave a record of the transformations underway in his beloved city.

1. Outside Chiayi Street: the four paintings
The vista pictured in this painting is strikingly similar to that in Chen’s 1926 work of the same name, his first to be selected for the Imperial Exhibition. The only apparent difference is a slight shift backwards in vantage point. At present, there are four known works by Chen which depict this same streetscape and all are painted from roughly the same perspective. Appearing over and over in his works, this scene must have held special sentimental significance for the painter.

2. At the juncture of city and countryside
The perfectly straight roadway, irrigation canal, and electric poles—all suggest that this lane has been modernized and transformed into the urban space. Yet, during the late 1920s, this area was still well within the outwardly expanding periphery of the city. Perhaps the intended motif of this painting was just that—a landscape situated at the boundary between nature and civilization.

3. Streetscape painting
During the Meiji era, one-point perspective compositions featuring roadways as principal subjects came into vogue among Japanese art circles. In fact, Ishikawa Kinichiro, the instructor who first sparked Chen’s interest in painting, was adept at using this technique. Positioning a roadway along a painting’s central axis provides the painter with a convenient path along which to depict the unique features of the local landscape and to guide the viewer’s gaze into the painting.

4. Chen Cheng-po’s residences in Chiayi
When Chen painted this work, he was living nearby at Plot 739, Ximen Outer Street. However, as indicated by letters discovered among his personal belongings, he changed residences in 1933 and began using a different mailing address. His later home was located not far behind the Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess, at Plot 125, District 2, Ximen Ward.

5. The Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess (Matsu)
One of the most distinctly Taiwanese elements of this scene is the temple’s roof with its ridges sweeping elegantly upward like swallowtails. Built in honor of the deity Matsu, this temple was located not far from Chen’s home and served as the backdrop for many of his fondest childhood memories. When he was still a boy, in 1906, a powerful earthquake destroyed the temple. After it was finally rebuilt in 1923, he painted this portrait of its new façade.

6. Irrigation cana
Today, the road in the painting’s background is known as Guohua Street, and the irrigation canal in front now flows underground. According to old maps, the waterway must have been a branch of the Dao-jiang Irrigation Canal. In the 1920s, the old Dao-Jiang canal was dredged using modern equipment. It continued to provide water for irrigation to the neighboring agricultural fields, but was realigned to become the straight and orderly canal depicted in Chen’s canvas.

7. Dormitories for Bank of Taiwan employees
The houses behind the red wall to the right of the canal are most likely dormitories for employees of the Bank of Taiwan, constructed around 1910. During the Japanese colonial era, the bank built Japanese-style dormitories for employees in towns and cities across Taiwan. Today, many of these have been preserved as historic sites, but those in Chiayi were demolished more than a decade ago by the municipal government.

Picture 3: The Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess, post-reconstruction, serves as the main subject of this 1927 painting by Chen, who took great care to depict the details of the edifice’s external ornamentation.
Temple of Wenling Sea Goddess (Matsu), 1927, oil on canvas, 91 x 116.5 cm

Picture 4: By studying this 1931 Chiayi Street Survey Map, we can roughly estimate the spot on which Chen’s home stood, at Plot 125, District 2, Ximen Ward. Walking southward from this point, one would first pass the Temple of the Wenling Sea Goddess, indicated on the map by a temple symbol, and then the renovated yet still aboveground irrigation canal.
Chiayi Street Survey Map (1931), taken from Taiwan’s 100 Years of History in Maps, published by the Center for GIS at Academia Sinica.

Accumulated Snow on Jade Mountain
1947,oil on wood, 23.5×33cm

Patches of burnt copper earth, foothills cloaked in lush green foliage, high mountaintops etched with white jade, and a foreboding, deep-blue sky—these elements compose an ode to the natural world. Each layer of thick paint adds to the profound grandeur of forest and mountain, earth and sky.

Swift, vigorous brushstrokes coat the canvas in mercurial colors. This painting does not recite a long, drawn-out tale, but rather a succinct, pithy poem whose verses exalt the splendor of Mount Jade. In the radiant white pinnacle rising into the heavens, we can almost visualize the very soul of this island.

1. His last painting
On March 25, 1947, Chen Cheng-po was killed in a government massacre. He had only just recently completed Accumulated Snow on Jade Mountain and had given the painting to his close friend Ke Lin, who died on the same day. When Chen’s wife Chang Jie realized that the painting had been his last, she asked the bereaved family of Ke Lin if she could have it back. In exchange, she gave the family another painting and took this one home for safe keeping.

2. Chen Cheng-po and Mount Jade
As an outdoors enthusiast, Chen enjoyed roaming the streets and outskirts of Chiayi to search for new angles from which to admire the view of Mount Jade. Throughout his artistic career, he completed many landscape paintings featuring the mountain, but this small oil-on-wood painting is perhaps the most representative, expressing the strong attachment Chen felt towards the mountains and forests of Taiwan.

3. The snow on Jade Mountain
Over three hundred years ago, Qing dynasty writer and editor of the Gazetteer of Zhuluo County, Chen Meng-Lin, wrote of how impressed he was by the sight of Jade Mountain as he observed it from Chiayi one winter’s day. In his essay “On Gazing at Jade Mountain,” he likened the snowy mountaintops to cascading waterfalls suspended in mid-air and to a length of silk spread open across the sky. What does the snow blanketing Jade Mountain resemble to you?

4. A scenic destination
Once Japan took control of Taiwan, Mount Jade, at an elevation of 3,952 meters, became the empire’s “New Tallest Peak” and the colony’s most representative landscape. In the early 20th century, hiking began to attract a wider range of devotees and industry began to exploit the timber found in Taiwan’s mountain regions. These trends, accompanied by an increase in literary and artistic references, put Jade Mountain on the map as a symbol of Taiwan’s natural beauty.

5. Dawu mountain range
The green mountains in the midground are the first row of foothills that come into view when approaching Jade Mountain from Chiayi. The mountain in the painting’s center is called Jiuzhou Ridge, while the peak to its right is named Wuxinshi Mountain. Documents dating back to the Qing Dynasty identified these mountains as the main peaks of Zhuluo (Chiayi) County and referred to them collectively as the Dawu Range. Rising above these lower peaks, the colossal Jade Mountain was singled out as the “barrier screen” which protected the entire mountain range.

6. Vantage point
The two peaks of the Dawu Range align perfectly with the two peaks, main and southern, of Jade Mountain in the background. This view can only be seen when looking eastward from Chiayi’s Zhongshan Road, from a point east of its intersection with Wufeng North Road. In other words, Chen must have walked, painter’s kit in tow, to a spot northeast of his home and near City Hall to paint this view of the mountain.

Mt. Jade from Afar (1)
1927, oil on canvas , 37.5×44.5cm

As if freshly squeezed out of a paint tube, thick squiggles and glossy whorls of color animate the grassy slope and add a lively depth to the leafy thicket of trees behind. Frenetic brushstrokes flood the foreground with movement and vitality. Beyond the trees and green rolling hills, up where the hawks glide, a chain of mountains rises majestically in the distance. Painted in a flatter, smoother style, the brilliant snow-capped peaks of Mt. Jade evoke a sense of deep serenity.

Looking eastward from the outskirts of Chiayi, Chen Cheng-po carefully arranged the vast expanse before his eyes—landscapes near and far—into a single exquisite composition.

1. Familiar figures with parasols
The figures that dot this painting are indistinctly rendered with simple brush strokes and dabs of color. Even so, those familiar with Chen’s landscapes will recognize them right away as the iconic figures which often appear in his other works: ladies shading themselves with parasols. The use of parasols was a hallmark of modern, civilized life and, as a motif, the parasols in this painting accentuate the southern, sub-tropical setting.

2. Electric poles and Alishan Mountain
Wooden electric poles stand in close proximity along the green grassy slope; in the center of the canvas, one pole leans distinctly askew, capturing the viewer’s eye. During the Japanese era, the colonial government brought Japanese red cedar trees to the island and set up forestry centers in the Alishan mountain region, depicted in this painting’s background. With their perfectly straight trunks, red cedar trees became a standard building material for electric poles in Taiwan.

3. On the edge of the city
Selected in 1926 for the Imperial Exhibition, Outside Chiayi Street (1) portrays the scenic borderline between city and countryside. Mt. Jade from Afar may have been inspired by a similar interest in the urban-rural dividing line. Electric poles and cement walls protrude conspicuously from a sea of lush natural greenery, signifying the expanding influence of modern civilization on the rural outskirts of the city.

4. Mount Jade
Among Chen’s surviving paintings, this may have been the earliest to showcase the snow-capped peaks of Mount Jade. Gazing out at this distant snow-lined mountain range is a shared experience among all Chiayi residents, past and present. In this painting, Chen shares with the viewer this impressive sight of the countryside near his hometown and the mountains beyond.

5. Ou-yang Wen
Chen completed this oil painting early in his career and gave it to an artist under his tutelage named Ou-yang Wen. In 1950, during the period of White Terror, Ou-yang was arrested on trumped-up charges and thrown into prison. As for the painting, it was confiscated by military police and later thrown out into the street. It is thanks to Ou-yang’s wife, Lin Cui-xia, who retrieved and stored the painting with care, that it can still be enjoyed by art enthusiasts today.

6. Impasto: a painting technique
Chen used thick layers of paint to give rich texture to trees, figures, and electric poles, producing a three-dimensionality which spans the entire foreground. This technique, known as impasto, calls to mind the work of Vincent van Gogh, an artist whom Chen greatly admired. Both artists used the impasto technique within several of their works, with brushstrokes visibly dancing across the canvas and contours awhirl.

Mild Winter at Mt. Jade
1934, oil on canvas, 38×45cm

The white snow blanketing the high mountain peaks hints at the approach of winter, but Chiayi is still bathed in warm sunlight. Sunshine streaming in from behind the wall casts a long shadow across the courtyard, where two people enjoy the balmy weather, their faces baked red from the sun. An atmosphere of carefree relaxation characterizes this scene.

Nearly all of Chen Cheng-po’s paintings of his hometown Chiayi radiate warmth. What colors and impressions come to mind when you think of your own hometown?

1. Electric poles
The Chiayi Lighting Corporation opened its doors in 1913 following the introduction of the technology and equipment necessary to generate electricity. That same year, Chen moved north to continue his studies. When he returned to Chiayi, he must have been quite surprised to see electric poles lining the city streets. Perhaps his astonishment at the changes in his hometown landscape is what led him to take an interest in these novelties, which became a recurrent motif in his paintings.

2. Mt. Jade and Chiayi
In a 1935 article entitled “Chiayi and Art,” Chen wrote enthusiastically of the joy experienced by local residents at the sight of the mountain: “Each morning, Mt. Jade greets Grandfather Sun with a smile and we, the people of Chiayi, wake up to this stunning sight. How blessed we are!”

3. The color of snow
Each year, snow begins to fall on Mt. Jade around November or December. The mountaintop remains snow-covered for the following three to four months, and its appearance constantly changes depending on variations in the thickness of the snow. Mt. Jade takes on different hues in Chen’s works as well, reflecting these same changes in seasonal and atmospheric conditions.

4. Shadows as indication of time
Details within a painting can provide contextual clues as to the space and time in which it was created. In Mild Winter at Mt. Jade, shadows cast by the wall, figures, and trees all slant down to the lower left corner. From this detail, we know that the sun must be behind the tree to the right, rising above the mountains east of Chiayi. Therefore, Chen painted this work in the morning.

5. Chen’s signatures
Chen used slightly different signatures throughout the decades. He signed this painting using Chinese characters, but in earlier works, he sometimes used the Romanized spelling of his name as pronounced in Japanese or Taiwanese. At other times he signed his paintings CTH, the abbreviation for the Romanized form of his name as pronounced in Japanese, with the three letters stacked one on the other and configured in a creative design.

6. Painting dimensions
In early 1935, Chen published a newspaper editorial criticizing certain Taiwanese artists who, wanting to imitate their Japanese peers and win acclaim at fine arts exhibitions, created large-scale pieces which were unfortunately lacking in quality. In his opinion, the best art was not necessarily the largest. As long as an artwork conveyed the craftsmanship and personality of the artist, even if it were a painting as small as Mild Winter at Mt. Jade, it was a success.

Chiayi Countryside
1935, oil on canvas, 49×64cm

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?

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

Picture 3: 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.

Picture 4: A fence encloses a pasture owned by the Taiwan Livestock Corporation. Taiwan Livestock Corporation Tenth-Anniversary Report, Taipei: Taiwan Livestock Corporation, 1930, pp. iv.

Chiayi Street Scene
1934, oil on canvas, 91×116.5cm

A modern office building rises above the city street, creating an interesting contrast with the surrounding wooden houses and traditional storefronts. Around the building, rays of light begin to softly illuminate the scene, paving the street with a warm, yellow glow. A tall tree in the foreground stretches open its branches to form a curtain of leafy shade, as if to offer passersby respite from the brilliant heat. If you try to imagine yourself walking down this Chiayi street, perhaps its warmth will envelop you, too.

1. Mount Jade Photo Studio
In 1927, the photographer Fang Qing-mian moved to Chiayi to start his own business. He bought the Mount Jade Photo Studio, which was located on the street corner depicted in this painting, and ran the business without changing its name. Renowned for his mountain photography, Fang crisscrossed Taiwan—camera in hand—capturing the beauty of Mount Jade, Alishan, Batongguan, and other stunning peaks. To this day, his work lives on as a remarkable tribute to the natural mountain landscapes and culture of early Taiwan.

2. “Traffic keeps left” signpost
The practice of driving on the left side of the road was established in Taiwan by the Japanese colonial government. The Governor-General’s Office actively sought to implement this policy on a local level with traffic signs, traffic controllers, and school campaigns among other means, but was met with limited success. After the war, conforming to traffic regulations introduced by the Republic of China, it once again became customary in Taiwan to drive on the right side of the road.

3. Yong Li Store
Above the green arched doorway of a two-story building, four block Chinese characters read “Yong Li Store.” This trading company specialized in selling a variety of metal parts, tools, and machinery. If you ever find yourself in Chiayi with a moment to spare, you might enjoy stopping by the intersection of Xingzhong Street and Zhongzheng Road. You’ll find that out of all the buildings which appear in this painting, the only one still standing is the old Yong Li Store.

4. Fengmao Hardware Store
Operated by the family of prominent local figure Luo Mao-song, the Fengmao Hardware Store was easily identifiable by the large shop sign over its doorway. At its outset, the company dealt in steel building materials and assorted metal goods. As Fengmao continued to expand its operations during the 1930s, it opened a branch in Kaohsiung. The company also opened a factory in Chiayi’s Beishewei neighborhood which produced various goods, including asbestos-lined chimney flues and chain link fencing for chicken coops.

5. Chiayi’s new landmark
Completed in 1934, the three-story reinforced concrete building housed the business offices of the Fengmao Trading Company. At the time, it was a structure the likes of which had never before been seen in the streets of Chiayi. Chen Cheng-po’s streetscape paintings often draw attention to the spectacular ways in which modern civilization was changing cities and skylines. Thus, the distinctive architecture of this building may have been what sparked Chen’s interest in painting this scene.

6. Sketches
Chen completed at least three pencil sketches of the street corner depicted in this painting. It’s interesting to look at the sketches altogether because they reveal how Chen experimented with different elements, such as shifting the vantage point, using a vertical instead of horizontal canvas, and eliminating the tree on the righthand side. Within these sketches, two things that remain constant are the inclusion of the mountains in the background and the figures, interacting amicably, in the foreground.

7. Streetside arcades (tîng-á-kha)
Streetside arcades offer pedestrians an escape from sweltering heat and rainy weather. As a result, this architectural design became popular across southern China and southeast Asia, regions well-known for their hot and rainy climates. During the Japanese era, Chiayi’s local government mandated the construction of streetside arcades as part of a municipal renovation project. From that point on, these spaces became a common sight lining the city’s lively streets.

8. The principles of art restoration
As with several of Chen’s other oil paintings, Chiayi Street Scene has undergone careful artistic restoration. On the lower left side of the canvas, paint had begun to peel off in large flakes. In line with art conservation principles, Professor Kijima Takayasu touched up the area with a removable paint which was similar in color to the original, seamlessly blending in the traces of restoration with the artist’s own brushstrokes.

Picture 3: Lu Tian-deng, editor. Meeting Yushan Through Time and Space. Shuili Township: Yushan National Park, 2010, pp. 86.

Picture 4: Chiayi City Hall. Chiayi City Fifth Anniversary Review. Chiayi: Chiayi City Hall, 1935, pp. xxii, Native Islanders Street.

Xihuifang
1932, oil on canvas, 117×91cm

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.

1. Xihuifang
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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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. 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.

6. 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.

7. Entertainer-courtesans
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.

Picture 3: 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.

Picture 4: 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.

City God Festival-33.9.22
1933, watercolor and pencil on paper, 36.5×26.5cm

The crowd bursts into cheers as performers on stilts walk nimbly by. These spectators watch wide-eyed, not wanting to miss a single moment of the excitement. They lift their heads, gleefully watching the parade, but the painter lowers his own, gazing at his pencil as it flits across the paper.

Sketchy pencil marks overlaid with simple watercolors reveal a glimpse of a temple festival. Sketchbook in hand, Chen Cheng-po joined the swelling crowds to take part in the 1933 City God Inspection Tour and created this rare pictorial record of his hometown’s traditional festivities.

1. Dintao (traditional temple performance troupes)
In addition to parade floats, Inspection Tour processions include a wide variety of dintao troupes. These troupes, which hold a special place in traditional Taiwanese culture, are the focal points of the procession. Though their performances are often simple, the repertoire of dintao can vary greatly. The two performers depicted in the painting likely belong to a troupe responsible for energizing the crowd in anticipation of the City God’s arrival.

2. Cloth-horse troupe
Donning the characteristic hat of a scholar and clutching a horsewhip, the Leading Imperial Scholar (Zhuang-yuan) “sits” astride a cloth-horse and is accompanied on foot by a servant. A familiar element in Taiwanese folk celebrations, the cloth-horse troupe delights audiences as they enact the blunders of a clumsy Zhuang-yuan or county magistrate, utterly devoid of horsemanship, and his hapless servants.

3. Golden flowers
“Golden Flowers,” which denote his recent success on passing the imperial examination. This character—the Zhuang-yuan walking proudly through the streets wearing a hat adorned with golden flowers bestowed by the emperor—has long been popular in traditional folk operas. Tales of Zhuang-yuan promenades are now commonly interpreted by cloth-horse troupes.

4. Stilts
With the wide array of dintao troupes at folk festivals, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd, but walking on stilts does help. Usually, stilt-walking troupes do not intermingle with other dintao in the parade. The two performers in Chen’s painting belong to a “cultural stilts” troupe that presents theatrical performances combining stilt-walking with costumes and storylines used by cloth-horse troupes to captivate the audience’s attention.

5. Painting and calligraphy exhibition
As the City God Festival continued to draw throngs of visitors to Chiayi year after year, other events, such as the Painting and Calligraphy Exhibition, began to crop up alongside the festivities. Upon returning home from China in 1933, Chen Cheng-po exhibited his recently completed Shanghai landscapes at one such event for the appreciation of Chiayi residents and visitors alike.

6. Watercolors
Although Chen rose to fame for his oil paintings, he left behind a significant number of works in other media, including 408 watercolor paintings. This body of works dates back to the early 1930s and includes many portraits of female nudes completed during his working sojourn in Shanghai. Other watercolors portray another favorite subject of Chen’s: scenes populated by eclectic multitudes of colorful individuals.

City God Festival in Lunar August
1932, oil on Canvas, 44.8×38.2cm

Rollicking groups of performers parade into the center of the canvas, which has been transformed into a profusion of colors—red, yellow, orange, and green. Looking at the chaotic mingled shapes, we can almost feel the bustling of the crowd and hear the cacophony of percussion instruments and voices.

In 1929, Chen Cheng-po left for Shanghai to teach art, but sometimes returned home for summer vacation, in which case he could experience the City God Inspection Tour that took place each year at the beginning of the eighth lunar month. To Chen, this grand ceremony was a symbol of his hometown and the local folk culture. It was also, of course, an excellent subject for his paintings.

1. The city god
The city god is the guardian spirit of a municipality and administers justice in the netherworld as well. During the Qing Dynasty, each time a new prefecture, county, or township was founded, a temple or shrine would be erected at which villagers could pay their respects to the guardian spirit. As an example, construction of Chiayi’s City God Temple began in 1715 following the founding of the county. During Japanese rule, the temple—a relic of a former power—continued to receive support from local residents. And to this day, the people of Chiayi are blessed and protected by their city god.

2. The ceremony
In several different locales across Taiwan, there are elaborate ceremonies to welcome the city god. In 1908, gentry and wealthy merchants from Chiayi proposed following the example of Taipei’s Xia-Hai City God Temple and holding an annual inspection tour to create greater local prosperity. The Chiayi City God Festival was thus initiated. With rapid growth of the local lumber industry during Japanese rule, lumber merchants gradually became strong supporters of the ceremony.

3. Inspection tour
「An “inspection tour” refers to a religious ceremony in which believers parade the statue of a deity out of its temple and throughout the territory over which that god serves as protector. According to popular belief, a visit from the god can purify evil spirits and quell the spread of disease. In the past, inspection tours were important occasions which mobilized the whole community, strengthening social ties and cultivating local identity.

4. A grand occasion
Chiayi’s City God Inspection Tour gathered momentum year after year until by the 1930s the number of participants from near and far reached over one hundred thousand. As its scale continued to broaden, the celebration grew in extravagance. During the daytime, artistic troupes competed to see who could produce the biggest crowd-pleaser, and at night, musical ensembles performed to the audience’s delight. Day and night, crowds stopped to enjoy the show.

5. Floats
Traditionally, float platforms were lifted and conveyed along the parade route by the combined strength of several individuals. Their construction was often funded by commercial associations and they were featured in various celebrations. Many float-top performances recounted folktales or stories from traditional opera, usually interpreted by children or female entertainers in period makeup and costume. During Japanese rule, folk festivals frequently hosted float competitions; as a result, the decor and artistry of floats continued to evolve.

6. Banners
Flying high above the crowds were banners bearing the insignia of the city god or inscribed with the advertising slogans of various businesses. The inspection tour was one of the rare celebrations that had the power to attract bustling crowds. Corporations and businesses often seized the opportunity to generate publicity and produced banners and other promotional materials for the occasion. Along the parade route, these banners added bright colors to the scene.

7. Bamboo hats
During Japanese rule, Chiayi’s City God Inspection Tour normally fell on the third or fourth day of the eighth lunar month. Even though summer was coming to an end, temperatures along the Tropic of Cancer remained uncomfortably high. It was hard to bear the heat on a normal day, let alone throughout a morning-to-night celebration. This perhaps explains why the men in Chen’s painting are all wearing bamboo hats—to block the scorching rays of the sun.

Picture 3: A float appearing in a 1915 parade.
Source: National Taiwan Library, Database of Images from Japanese-era Periodicals, Record number: F110181. Name of digital image file: hp_sxt_0748_132_125-i.jpeg. Retrieved from: 0748 132 Taiwan Pictorial (12th year of Showa’s reign, 1937). Website: http://stfj.ntl.edu.tw/cgibin/gs32/gsweb.cgi/ccd= WeZV5p/record?r1=30&h1=0

Countryside
circa 1932, oil on canvas, 90.5×116cm

A mother and daughter stroll hand in hand down a winding mountain path, but will soon disappear around a bend. Just ahead, an older man carrying a shoulder pole walks towards them with slow, measured steps. In the distance, parallel rows of crops and footpaths trace tidy lines up a broad hillside dotted with laborers at work. This painting evokes such a rosy pastoral serenity that you can almost imagine yourself walking down the path and enjoying the gentle breeze stirring in the treetops.

1. Parasols
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japanese women were often seen carrying parasols, one of several newly imported and fashionable goods. In modern art collections around the world, images of women with parasols have carried distinctly different connotations depending upon the context in which they were created. In Chen Cheng-po’s Taiwanese landscapes, these figures seem to draw attention to the sweltering heat which characterizes the local climate.

2. Shoulder pole and bamboo hat—the uniform of a laborer
The iconic figure of the laborer, carrying a shoulder pole and wearing a conical bamboo hat, appears in almost all of Chen’s paintings of rural life. In the early 20th century, the humble laborer dressed in rustic garb was the most visible working-class figure in Taiwanese society. This figure obviously captured the imagination of Chen, who portrayed him with lively brushstrokes, walking across every inch of the island’s terrain.

3. Winding paths
The composition of this work may seem familiar because Chen used similar designs in several other landscapes. In the foreground, a winding road guides the viewer’s gaze into the painting before disappearing behind a curve. This composition also adds an element of mystery, leaving viewers to wonder where the path must lead beyond the red brick wall.

4. Drainage ditches
The long ditch curving alongside the mountain road is possibly a drainage canal dug in response to demands for modern sanitation. The first drainage systems in Taiwan were built early in the Japanese era by the colonial government, which enacted laws requiring the construction of sewers. Though often inconspicuous, sewers significantly raised environmental sanitation standards and represented an important step forward along Taiwan’s path to modernization.

5. Location and date
The manner by which Chen worked out the composition for Countryside is clearly illustrated in one of his surviving pencil sketches. Although he did not date the final painting, he did make a notation on the sketch. Based on this information, we know that he painted this landscape from atop a mountain slope in Chiayi’s outskirts and that it was completed sometime after July 1932.

6. An old photograph
An old photograph entitled “Celebration in Honor of Chen Cheng-po” shows the artist surrounded by a group of his fellow countrymen. On the back wall hang two commemorative horizontal tablets given by Dr. Huang Jia-lie, a physician from Chiayi, while high above in the center hangs the painting Countryside. Even though this photo serves as a lasting memento of the event, the precise reason for this celebration remains a mystery.

Picture 3: Back from a full catch, oil on canvas, 72.5 x 90.5 cm, 1936.

Picture 4: Chiayi (1)-SB09: 32.7.8 1932 Pencil on paper 12×18.2cm

Looking towards Chiayi
1934, oil on canvas, 73×91cm

A profusion of green flows throughout this vast landscape; it crawls up tree trunks and curls into verdant, wing-like branches. Similar to notes in a musical suite, different layers of bright, lively yellow-greens and darker, more somber jade-greens are woven into a resplendent composition. In the distance, a large building is ornamented with flecks of glimmering blue-green, like a precious stone nestled in a jeweled setting.

The sea of green extends out to the aquamarine sky, half-shrouded by white clouds at the horizon. Gazing out over his city, Chen Cheng-po poured his heartfelt love into this work, creating a beautiful, engaging landscape abundant in life and cheer.

1. Two sketches
In two preliminary pencil sketches, Chen took note of the smokestacks and the large building at the far end of town. The sketches suggest that he initially planned to include figures in the foreground but omitted them in the final painting.

2. Vantage point
Chen noted “Looking Towards Zhuluo City” on one sketch and “Chiayi Park” on the other, indicating the subject matter and vantage point from which he completed these sketches. Nowadays, a forest of high-rise buildings blocks the view, but this painting gives us an idea of how the city must have looked years ago from way up high at the park.

3. Smokestacks
At the other end of the city, modernization is afoot. Smokestacks pump out thick black fumes which are dispersed by strong winds into the clouds. Like other cities across Taiwan, Chiayi underwent rapid industrialization in the mid-Japanese colonial period. On its west side, state-of-the-art factories were constructed to produce ice, tiles, lighting appliances, and other goods. These industrial facilities left their mark on the city skyline, which was thereafter studded by towering smokestacks.

4. Farmland
In 1934, the year that Chen completed this landscape, there was still a great expanse of farmland lying between Chiayi Park and the city streets. According to Chiayi City Planning Map, drawn up at roughly the same time, almost all roads lying to the east of the Dongmen traffic circle had not yet been built. Dongmen Public School and the Chiayi Agriculture and Forestry Public School were still surrounded by large tracts of cultivated fields.


5. Fengmao Hardware Store
In this bird’s eye view of Chiayi, one local landmark stands out. The light-yellow building punctuated by emerald green is possibly the Fengmao Hardware Store, located in Chiayi’s Yuanding neighborhood. Chen used a similar color scheme in Chiayi Street Scene, also painted in 1934, to depict the three-story structure—the city’s tallest at the time.

6. Datong Road
Lined with electric poles, a modernized road runs from the city outskirts towards the city proper. Referred to as “Datong” during the Japanese era, this road is now known as “Zhongshan.” Datong stretched eastward toward the park and was one of three main thoroughfares radiating from the Fountain Roundabout. In the early colonial period, several important government offices, such as City Hall, lay along this road. Today it is still one of the main arteries of Chiayi.

Picture 3: Looking Towards Zhuluo City-SB13:34.8.21 1934 Pencil on paper 24×18cm

Picture 4: Chiayi Park(2)-SB13:34.2.28 1934 Pencil on paper 24×18cm

Doing Washing
Date unknown, oil on canvas, 23.9×33.7cm

Immersed in the task of handwashing laundry, women crouch over the edge of a riverbank, their reflections mirrored in the surface of the clear shallow water. Working next to each other, they share and exchange tidbits of local news and neighborhood gossip. Children who have come with their mothers wait along the water’s edge, ready to jump in and splash around.

This painting rekindles fond memories of washing clothes by the riverside, memories which are shared by many in Taiwan’s elder generation. Looking at this painting, you can almost hear the women’s chatter and laughter mingled with the splashing of the water.

1. Washing clothes by the riverside
Before indoor plumbing and underground wells became virtually ubiquitous, water used for washing clothes was mostly provided by streams, lakes, or man-made canals. Women throughout rural Taiwan would congregate at natural water sources near their homes to wash clothes by hand. In Chiayi, women could be seen doing so at the local sawmill’s old log pond.

2. More than just washing clothes
In keeping with the traditional notion that “a woman’s place is in the home,” the various domestic chores assigned to women did indeed normally keep them indoors. However, washing clothes brought Taiwanese women to a communal space in which they could freely interact. It also created an opportunity—otherwise rare at the time—for them to leave the confines of home and enjoy the company of neighbors and friends.

3. Washing clothes: from past to present
During the Japanese era, the rapid growth of Taiwan’s population and industries resulted in the devastating pollution of local water supplies. Gradually, in view of modern hygienic standards, some in the public began to vigorously campaign against the practice of washing clothes outdoors. At the same time, new Western-style laundromats began to open for business in cities, marking the birth of what would become a fully-fledged industry.

4. A quintessential Taiwanese sight
To the Japanese, who were accustomed to washing clothes with well water, the sight of Taiwanese women washing clothes along riversides had a certain exotic charm. During the colonial period, multiple collections of “photobooks” introducing the society and scenery of Taiwan were published in Japan. These invariably included photographs of women huddled together in small groups along riverbanks, busy handwashing clothes—images which represented quintessential scenes of colonial life.

5. Women washing clothes as a subject for painters
A characteristic scene of early Taiwanese life, women washing clothes at water’s edge naturally became a popular subject for local painters. Several of Taiwan’s renowned early artists, including Lee Shih-chiao, Li Mei-shu, and Lan Yinding created paintings of such scenes. These works speak to the great love these artists felt for their home land and the interest they took in society and communal life.

6. Pissarro: The Laundry Woman
Numerous works from the Western art canon also feature women handwashing clothes. For example, the French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro enjoyed painting rural women tending to laundry. An image of The Laundry Woman, a painting of this genre by Pissarro, was found among Chen’s collection of artistic images. It depicts a woman bent over a large water bucket, scrubbing clothes clean.

Picture 3: Shimoda Masami, Southern Islands Economic Report: Appendix—Korea. Tokyo: Osaka Bookstore, 1929, inserted after page 129.

Picture 4: Li Mei-shu, Morning at the Riverside, oil on canvas, 91 x 116.5 cm, 1970.

Tropic of Cancer Post
ca. 1921-1923, watercolor on paper, 24×28.5cm.

Towering over the West Coast Rail Line which runs north to south along Taiwan’s west coast, the commemorative obelisk symbolizes the glory of the Japanese Empire and bears inscriptions which condense the uniqueness of its southland territory of Taiwan into two columns of scientific description. It is precisely these numbers, or rather this latitude, 23°27’4” N, which has nurtured the diverse landscapes of Formosa. The lush mountain forests, deep blue waters, and open fields illuminated by the bright sun—all the myriad landscapes of this island lying along the Tropic of Cancer—are represented in exquisite color in Chen Cheng-po’s artwork.

1. The Second Tropic of Cancer Monument
In 1908, in celebration of the completion of the north-south rail line, the Taiwan Governor-General chose to erect a commemorative monument near the intersection of the rail line and the Tropic of Cancer. After this famous Chiayi landmark was severely damaged by a storm, a second monument was unveiled in 1915. It is this second monument which is portrayed in Chen Cheng-po’s painting.

2. Inscriptions on the monument
The monument, as depicted in the painting, bears the inscription “Tropic of Cancer Post.” Yet, historical sources indicate that the actual inscription read “Tropic of Cancer Monument” and, underneath, a smaller inscription composed of two columns of Chinese characters indicated the latitude and longitude. Contemporary painters have their own rationale for including or omitting certain details, and as such, this sort of discrepancy (that is, Chen’s decision to not copy the inscription of the geographic coordinates) is a common occurrence.

3. Purpose of constructing the monument
The completion of the north-south railroad was a feat of engineering that ushered in a new era and symbolized the success of Japanese efforts to modernize infrastructure in its colony of Taiwan. The decision to erect a commemorative monument along the Tropic of Cancer and the precision involved in measuring its latitude and longitude reflect the technical prowess of the empire and its capability to push southward, having already crossed one important geographical boundary.

4. Chen Cheng-po and Shuikutou Public School
In 1920, Chen was transferred in his capacity as instructor from Chiayi Public School to Shuikutou Public School, located on the city outskirts. As the Tropic of Cancer Monument stood between Chiayi City and Chen’s new place of work, he would inevitably catch sight of the giant commemorative structure each time he traveled between those two places. Thus, this painting was likely completed during this period of Chen’s life.

5. Chen Cheng-po and modernity
Machines, electricity, train trestles... Under Japanese rule, Taiwanese people witnessed brand-new innovations spring into their everyday surroundings. These sights of modernity are important recurrent elements in Chen’s paintings. It is perhaps for this very reason that the Tropic of Cancer Monument, a sort of modern marvel itself, became a subject of Chen’s work.

6. Watercolor painting
In 1913, eighteen-year-old Chen enrolled in the National Language [Japanese] School at the Taiwan Governor-General’s Office in Taipei. There, under the guidance of watercolorist Ishikawa Kinichiro, he commenced his formal training in Western art techniques. For the next decade, Chen was primarily focused on watercolor painting, as reflected by his surviving works from this period. It was not until after 1924 when he left to study abroad in Japan that he slowly began to establish himself as an oil painter.

7. Wheeled carts
In former times, cattle-drawn carts, usually ox-carts, were a characteristic feature of the rural Taiwanese landscape. As the Japanese colonizers worked to modernize Taiwan’s transportation systems, the ox-cart was gradually replaced by mechanized vehicles. Although Chen’s painting takes modern landscape as its central theme, the decorative flourish of the ox-cart perhaps reveals his desire to create a contrast between past and present.

Picture 3: In these photographs of the second monument, taken from Paintings from the Colony of Taiwan (1918), the inscriptions (including the numbers denoting the latitude and longitude of the site, 23°27’4” N 120°24’46” E) are clearly visible, as are structural details of the monument. It is interesting to note that numerous details in Chen’s representation do not correspond to the actual monument as photographed.

Picture 4: Baffalo (sic) & Ox-Cart, National Taiwan University Collection of Japanese Era Postcards, arrowntul-tw-1609621_2102_001

Tropic of Cancer Landmark
1924, oil on canvas , 45×33cm

While on summer vacation from his studies in Japan, Chen Cheng-po returned to Chiayi and visited the Tropic of Cancer monument just outside the city. The structure which he had depicted with watercolors a few years earlier had been torn down and a brand-new structure stood in its place. Chen decided to take on this new man-made marvel with a different medium: oil paint. Like David taking aim with his slingshot at Goliath, the artist peered up at the giant landmark and considered how best to use the paints in his paint box to subdue his adversary.

1. The third monument
In 1923, Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito, who would become emperor two years later, paid an official visit to the empire’s colony of Taiwan. In preparation for this grand occasion, the Governor-General’s Office reconstructed the Tropic of Cancer monument out of stone. This third monument remained unchanged until 1935, when it was renovated for the exposition commemorating the 40th anniversary of Japanese rule.

2. The sphere at the top
The most distinctive element of this commemorative landmark was the sphere on top. Since the monument was constructed for the imperial visit, this sphere was perhaps suggestive of the crimson Hinomaru, or “circle of the sun,” at the center of Japan’s national flag. In old photographs of the monument, the sphere appears to be much smaller than in Chen’s painting, so the artist may have indulged in a bit of artistic embellishment.

3. Depiction of the monument
According to old photographs, the third monument bore one inscription reading “Tropic of Cancer Monument” and another indicating the site’s geographic coordinates as measured during the reconstruction. However, just as he did in his previous watercolor, Chen omitted these details. We can discover several other interesting discrepancies by comparing the proportions of the monument in the painting with those in old photographs.

4. Oil painting
After matriculating in 1924 at the Tokyo Fine Arts School, Chen’s artistic expression gradually began to shift from watercolor to oil painting. This landscape is from the period when he was still learning how to work with the new medium. In comparison with his earlier watercolor which depicts the second monument, this work is much more vibrant. The oil paint creates much fuller, richer colors, which bring out the somber quality of the blue-gray sky and the lushness of the green grass and trees.

5. Signature
Chen adopted several different signatures throughout his artistic career. In the lower righthand corner of this painting, he signed his name using a configuration of the three Roman letters, CTH, superimposed one on top of the other. This is an abbreviation for the Romanized form of his name as pronounced in Japanese, Chin Tou Ha. Such a unique signature clearly reflects Chen’s desire to create an emblem as original as his work.

6. X-ray examination
X-ray imaging has been an enormous boon for art historians. With this technology, researchers can uncover the story hidden beneath layers of oil paint. For example, the x-ray image of this painting reveals that Chen modified its top half. If he had painted the clouds and sky according to his original design, what would this painting look like?

Picture 3: A postcard from Chen’s collection which features a photograph of the third Tropic of Cancer Landmark. Toward the bottom of the tablet, two neat rows of small characters clearly denote the site’s geographic coordinates, 23°27’4”51 N 120°24’46”5 E. Interestingly, the monument as pictured in this photograph was a three-sided structure, but Chen’s painting does not accurately represent its three-dimensional form. Furthermore, the size of the sphere atop the monument seems to have been magnified in the painting.

Picture 4:A scenic postcard of the third Tropic of Cancer Landmark which reveals its immense proportions as compared with those of the two people standing nearby.
(Chiayi) Tropic of Cancer Landmark, 3 miles from Chiayi
NTU Digital Repository of Japanese Era Postcards ntul-tm-ntuv02005_001

Lumber Factory
1921, watercolor on paper, 18.2×23.5cm

Railroad tracks, factory buildings, smokestacks, steel cables, colossal cement structures, and loudly whirring machinery—all of these modern marvels comprised Chiayi’s lumber factory, often referred to as “East Asia’s Finest.” By the early 1920s, Chiayi had grown into a thriving metropolis after substantial investment in its lumber industry. The central force behind this great transformation was none other than the lumber factory on the town’s northern outskirts.

1. Sawmill
A three-story, steel-reinforced concrete structure, the sawmill was completed in 1914. Logs ready for sawing after their soak in the “Chinese fir pond” were brought by conveyor belt to the second floor, where they were split into lumber. After being dried and processed, the lumber was ready for sale to private merchants. Unfortunately, the original sawmill was destroyed in 1941 by an earthquake, but it was reconstructed under the direction of the Taiwan Governor-General’s Office, and factory operations continued throughout the war.

2. Boiler room
Constructed in 1913, the boiler room was Chiayi’s first reinforced concrete structure and coal- or wood-fired power plant. The boiler produced more than enough electricity to power all factory machinery, so surplus electricity was routed to the nearby Beimen neighborhood. In 1931, after the Chiayi Lighting Corporation began supplying electricity to the lumber factory, the boiler room was no longer used for power generation. Instead, it was converted into a power distribution center.

3. Sawdust storeroom
The sawdust produced during the milling process was collected and stored in this room. It was then transported to the boiler room by two conveyor belts, as pictured in the painting, and fed into the boiler to be used as fuel to generate electricity. Today, the wooden warehouse no longer stands. All that remains of the sawdust storeroom is its reinforced concrete structural foundation.

4. Smokestack
In the boiler room, the steam generator noisily churned away as grayish-black smoke was drawn into the exhaust duct, piped up the 120-foot-tall iron smokestack, and finally discharged into the sky high above the factory. In early Chiayi, the tall smokestack was a spectacular symbol of progress, visible from all points around town. However, this landmark was destroyed by a 1965 earthquake; a portion of the flue is the only remaining vestige.

5. Overhead crane
The image of this monumental overhead crane came to represent the factory more than any other. Manufactured by the US company Allis-Chalmers, the “sky wagon” (the crane) was composed of a pair of triangular steel-frame towers positioned on opposite sides of the log pond. The towers, set on tracks, could be moved up and down the pond’s banks. The tops of the towers were connected by iron cables from which the crane’s hook block was suspended, and the hook could be moved back and forth over the pond to pick up and transport logs.

6. Drying room
The rectangular, “snail-shaped” drying room was constructed in 1914 and housed Taiwan’s earliest steam-drying equipment. In order to reduce the moisture content of the wood and dry the logs, iron hoses blasted hot air in the direction of the logs as they were slowly carried on a conveyor belt towards the exit. Water vapor exited the room through two antenna-like gas flues above the roof.

7. The writing on the back of the painting
The movements of Japan’s imperial family attracted much attention within the country and even in colonial Taiwan. In August of 1921, the Crown Prince Hirohito was homeward bound following a tour of continental Europe. Since Chen completed this watercolor on the day that the Crown Prince’s ship passed through the Taiwan Strait, he made note of the special occasion on the back of the painting.

Picture 3: The factory’s conveyor belt. Source: Chiayi Town Hall, Big Chiayi (Osaka: Eishin Publishing House, 1929).

Picture 4: The back of the painting bears two passages which are translated as follows:
At noontime today, August 28th, the battleship carrying His Highness the Crown Prince entered the Taiwan Strait. It will have passed through Taiwan’s territorial waters by approximately sunrise tomorrow, August 29th. This painting commemorates this propitious day.

August 28, 1921 (10th year of Taishō’s reign)

Within a painting dominated by the color purple, there should still be a variety of hues and tones, especially for a hot, summer scene such as this.

Sawmill
1946, oil on canvas, 91×116.5cm

Even though the vibrancy of the original oil painting is somewhat lost, a vivid and energetic scene emerges from this yellowed photograph. The pulleys on the crane spin swiftly round as workers use long poles to grapple with the unprocessed logs floating in the pond. Wartime had only just ended, but the sawmill is thriving and in full operation, with enormous logs piled high across the entire mill yard.

This sawmill in Chiayi was a setting which Chen Cheng-po visited and painted at the beginning and end of his career as an artist. Studying these two works closely, can you perceive any differences?

1. The log pond
Commonly referred to as the “Chinese fir pond” by Chiayi residents, the large pond was used to hold Formosan and Taiwan cypress logs and those of other premium buoyant wood varieties. Soaking the logs helped to maintain the quality of their wood. Furthermore, alkaline substances released into the water by the wood were said to have cleansing properties, so neighboring residents would come to the pond to wash their clothes.

2. Different grades of wood
Large loads of wood were transported from Alishan to the sawmill and then measured, sorted by grade, and stored on-site. Logs of more expensive, premium grades of wood were deposited into the log pond, while logs of lower-quality wood were stacked on the ground in great piles for buyers to inspect and bid upon.

3. The workers
Wearing conical bamboo hats and grasping long poles, workers stood atop giant logs floating in the log pond, pushing and pulling them into place. The sawmill covered such an extensive area that even with the use of large-scale machines, its operation depended upon human labor to transport heaps of wood throughout the mill yard. Grappling with logs in the pond was dangerous work. If workers were distracted or careless for even a moment, they risked falling into the water and possibly losing their lives.

4. The crane
The crane was constructed on a set of tracks upon which it could move back and forth along the edge of the log pond. With its boom and hoist rope extended over the water, the crane was ever ready for the task of moving the giant logs below. Historical records indicate that, in addition to a standard overhead crane, the sawmill had a German steam-powered crane capable of lifting three tons. This perhaps is the piece of machinery depicted in Chen’s painting.

5. Taiwan Province’s first fine arts exhibition
In October 1946, with the enthusiastic sponsorship of painters Yang San-lang and Guo Xue-hu among others, the Republic of China’s newly established Province of Taiwan hosted its first fine arts exhibition. The event was held in Taipei’s Zhongshan Hall and styled after the governmental exhibitions of the Japanese colonial period. As an active participant in Taiwan’s art circle, Chen was invited to serve on the panel of judges for the exhibition.

6. The missing painting
After the February 28th Incident of 1947, it became taboo to utter Chen’s name and his paintings suffered a similar fate. Many were hidden away; some were even destroyed. Historical records document that this painting was purchased by the Chief Executive Office after the provincial art exhibition and then presented to Chiang Kai-shek. However, its present whereabouts are unknown and all that remains is this photographic reproduction.

Picture 3: The silhouette of this crane appears as early as 1929 in Big Chiayi, published the same year. Source: Chiayi Town Hall, Big Chiayi (Osaka: Eishin Publishing House, 1929).

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