Review of Study of Basics for Divinatory Writing in Traditional Hakkanese Houses in Hsinchu

  • Author Chung Hsin-yi
  • Title of Thesis Study of Basics for Divinatory Writing in Traditional Hakkanese Houses in Hsinchu
  • Degree MS
  • Research affiliation Department of Architecture, National Cheng Kung University
  • Year thesis completed 2000
Just as anthropologists care much about local knowledge, Chung’s “Study of Basics for Divinatory Writing in Traditional Hakkanese Houses in Hsinchu”, hereinafter called Chung’s article, leads readers to tour one part of ethnic Han race’s local knowledge from traditional Hakkanese structure. This commentator believes that if Chung’s article or its followers could pursue this train of thought to sketch the artilleries and veins of Hakkanese construction knowledge in ethnic Han race’s traditional knowledge and local social and cultural system, readers would have a better understanding of Hakkanese society and culture.

The so-called divinatory writing mentioned in Chung’s article refers to professional publications housing artisans use in Hakkanese communities in Hsinchun County. In short, they are called books of divination diagram for houses. The contents focus on auspicious size as its core, surrounded by gods and demons in addition to ritual ceremonies. By common sense, the so-called auspicious size indicates reasonable spatial arrangement and the rationale in the reasonable arrangement is the cosmology ethnic Han people believe. By the dictionary of ethnic Han people, cosmology includes ying and yang, the primary 5 elements, and the theory of the 8 diagrams. To an ordinary person, computation of an auspicious size is a very complex task. This commentator believes that the cause for such a complex phenomenon is that computation of an auspicious size requires simultaneous consideration of such interactive relationship of producing and destroying variables as direction (24 mountains), and property of length (the primary 5 elements). On the other hand, names under the decimal unit is not a simple unit for length, but, instead, it is the 9 stars with specific property. The nine stars are tanlong, chumen, luchun, wenchu, lienchen, wuchu, pochun, tsopu and yutong as well as yibai, erhe, shanbi, shihlu, wuhuang, liubai, chichi, pabai and jiuchi. These terms alone are already quite scary, deterring people from getting any access. Despite this phenomenon, Chung’s article has patiently analyzed and inferred 9 available books on divinatory writing. Using the professional language of housing artisans, Chung’s article describes the method of computing the auspicious size by illustrating Geng Mountain from among the 24 mountains(Chung 3:24-3:40). But it must be noted that this is only the description method a researcher uses; it is not the generally used language, nor the academic language. This commentator estimates that follow-up researchers may apply the concept of algorithm to transform the decision of good or ill luck into a mathematic formula.

Even if we have come this far, we still lack a complete knowledge of the housing artisans insofar their professional knowledge is concerned. To the whole construction process, is auspicious size nothing but a reasonable spatial arrangement? Or is there still reasonable arrangement for time? In this regard, Chung’s article has fully described the good and ill luck of space. To the good and ill luck of time, however, Chung’s article can only list gods and demons of all sorts, lacking the ability to estimate good or ill luck for time. Any further description would require the professional know-how of a fortune-teller. Chung admits frankly he does not know. Even for the housing artisans he has studied, he says he lacks a complete knowledge of the subject. In addition, when it comes to rituals, Chung’s article believes it should at least include ground-breaking, use of ax for beam laying, sacrifice to the beam, beam installation, beam calling, sacrifice to God and removal of demons upon completion(Chung 4:37). But all these rituals are centered on the beam, which indicates coverage of Chung’s article is rather limited. In short, the divinatory writing Chung’s article relies is only a small part of the professional knowledge the housing artisans are trained to learn. Chung’s article touches upon only the space-time decision of good and ill luck, nothing on materials or fabrication method in the construction engineering.

What lacks in the divinatory writing does not necessarily mean the housing artisans do not have the professional know-how. Portions that are not printed in the divinatory writing are said only to be handed down in actual field work or acquired by observation. The pity is that Chung’s article focuses on analysis, and fails to spot the social and cultural artillery in the place the study takes place. As such, it restricts further development of the thesis. While comparison is limited to only 9 divinatory books, why not present one by doing a more thorough work? Let the old housing artisan carry his own divinatory book to lead readers back to the housing complex he used to build while young. If this can be done, the knowledge of the old artisan may be vividly presented before readers. Current information on the housing artisans Chung’s article has on hand is adequate enough to present the life of an old housing artisan, especially the training process(Chung 2:16-2:31). This should make Chung’s article proud for he has the first-hand information, ahead of his predecessors. But again it is a pity that Chung uses the investigative research of his predecessors as the framework to present his materials.

Despite Chung’s article carries the name Hakkanese, the target of the study covers Hakkanese communities in Hsinchu, Taiwan only. Besides, the divinatory writing does not necessarily mean that they exclusively belong to Hakkanese. By the account of bibliographies in Chung’s article, the professional knowledge of auspicious size is prevalent everywhere in Taiwan (Chung 2:1-2:5). But the fact is that Chung’s article fails to compare the research results of the Hakkanese community with other areas or other ethnic groups. In reality, the issue in question is widely existent in Hakka study in other disciplines. To Chung’s article, a far better and more refined description may result, if the approach starts from the text and the artilleries and veins at the same time. That would a good reference material for comparison and study of architectural culture across the board of all races.