A special Wind Lion God, or Fengshiye (風獅爺), has captured people’s attention on the island of Kinmen in recent days. Tourists take selfies with this local god, not because they worship it, but because they are amazed by its cape fashioned from the PRC’s national flag.
Fengshiye are statues of lion-looking gods in Kinmen, a part of “Fujian, ROC” de jure. They are usually located at sites where strong winds enter a village. Kinmenese people believe that these lions, symbols of wisdom and divinity in southern Hokkien culture, protect villages against evil. With increasing tourism in this former battlefield between Taiwan and China, Fengshiye have been adopted as a cultural symbol of Kinmen island. For instance, Starbucks in Kinmen uses Fengshiye as their icon on their city mugs.
“The elders still believe in Fengshiye a lot,” said Deng, a local primary school teacher in her forties. “As well, from the perspective of fengshui, Fengshiye is still important.” We had just finished eating at a buffet in Everrich, a tax-free shopping center for Chinese tourists in the eastern part of the island. Though the mall’s interior has a modern layout and design like any other department store in Taiwan, in the lobby sits a Fengshiye.
“When the Tsai Administration ascended to power, green capes were put on more than 70 Fengshiyes (green is the color of Tsai’s DPP party),” she said, highlighting a way in which Kinmenese people view the seemingly traditional god. “[This] very big controversy was brought [to the attention of] the county council because that went too far!” Deng said. One KMT county council member blamed DPP supporters for the capes, condemning their behavior as raping Kinmen’s god. The person responsible for the capes was Wu Xin-fa from Taipei, who told the Kinmen Daily that the Fengshiye granted him permission through divination and that it was just coincidence that a “politicized” color was used.
Chen Cang-jiang (陳滄江), director of the DPP branch in Kinmen, denied any correlation between the green Fengshiyes and the DPP. “There are always different colors for Fengshiyes’ capes, such as blue, green and red,” he explained. “And it was sacrilege in itself for the KMT member to use the term “rape” [when referring to] Fengshiyes.”
The Wind Lion God that is now the topic of the current controversy sits at Chenggong Beach and looks towards the Taiwan Strait. Its PRC flag could be regarded as a counter against the DDP.
Deng did not know there exists such a “red” Wind Lion God. At least, not until earlier this month when the statue become one of UDN’s top news stories. But was it possible that none of the locals felt that there was something off about this “god”?
“Is there such a thing [as a red Wind Lion God]? I didn’t know,” Deng said. “I think it shows how Kinmenese tend to not protest over things because of the legacy left by the military government.” Kinmen was governed by a military government for 36 years between 1956 and 1992. At that time, most of the locals’ daily lives were strictly monitored and restricted by the Battlefield Affairs Council, which replaced the function of Kinmen County Government. Since the military occupation, ordinary Kinmenese have been silent about most public affairs.
Chen, 65, is the one who set up this PRC Fenshiye. After this unusual Wind Lion God was reported on by Taiwan’s media, he told Kinmen Daily that it has nothing to do with politics. “I bought it and it’s just installation art,” he said.
Taking the cultural role of Fengshiye into consideration, displaying a PRC flag on Fengshiye is just as rude as the “green” Wind Lion Gods. However, the chief of Chenggong village argued that this Fengshiye is private property. “If none of the locals feel offended, it is acceptable to see this as creativity,” he said.
But take a close look at this Fengshiye. The statue is made of not granite, but FRP, according to Taiwan People News. Besides, there is no burning incense in front of the “god.” Although Taiwanese netizens have had a strong response against this statue, these facts mean this is a fake “Wind Lion God.”
Studies have shown that Kinmenese people have a distinct identity from Taiwanese people, as their island underwent a separate military governance for many years. During that period, people from Taiwan needed a visa to enter Kinmen and vice versa. Also, the two islands’ currencies were not the same. Moreover, Kinmenese believe that their hometown protected Taiwan from becoming a part of the People’s Republic of China. However, the Kinmenese feel frustrated when the Taiwan independence movement excludes Kinmen and Matsu from their political imagination. In fact, despite how Taiwanese netizens have criticized Kinmen as an island that “licked the commies,” Kinmenese people do not align themselves with mainland China, but instead are more closely aligned with Taiwan.
Additionally, the Kinmenese do not strongly support the KMT because the party is blamed for trapping Kinmen in the miseries experienced during the Cold War, and then doing little to lift the island from these traumas and help them move forward. In 2014, the no-party-affiliated County Magistrate-elect Chen Fu-hai (陳福海) defeated the incumbent KMT-nominated Li Wo-Shi (李沃士).
With increasing interaction between Kinmen and Taiwan, young Kinmenese people have started to identify more with Taiwan than China. But as their parents or grandparents still have memories of Kinmen being a Chinese island, Kinmen youth do not know how to negotiate the tensions that emerge when different generations talk about modern cross-strait politics. To some, identifying with Taiwan’s mainstream political discourse and promoting Taiwanese independence seems to be a betrayal of Kinmen’s past. Keeping Kinmen governed by ROC, instead of giving up the island as what USA suggested, was to maintain the possibility of “counterattacking the Mainland” — ROC occupies Fujian and Taiwan, so it is still China. Kinmen fought for Republic of China, not Republic of Taiwan.
Despite being fake, the PRC Wind Lion God, like many other art installations, is not politically neutral. The social impact these statues have had recently highlights some of the identity issues Kinmenese people are dealing with. Facing the south instead of either China or Taiwan, this particular Fengshiye seems to withstand the pull of either. Kinmen is Kinmen. This island’s people need more time to ponder who they are.
Kinmen and Me
I served my military service in Kinmen as an English teaching assistant from 2017 to 2018. During this year, I wrote articles on Kinmen for the Taipei-based media UDN Opinion. My book written in Chinese about the identity politics in Kinmen is in press.