The Heritage of Jingzi Pavilions

Jingzi Pavilions (also called "Respect Words Pavilions") are a commonly seen structure in Hakka villages. Jingzi Pavilions are not temples used to worship deities, but are pavilions with furnaces particularly used for burning paper with written words. The origin of Jingzi Pavilions can be traced to customs brought over to Taiwan by a great number of Chinese immigrants during the Ming and Qing Dynasty. Scholars who wished to express their respect and appreciation for paper with written words built such structures to burn such paper. The cylindrical-shaped Jingzi Pavilions are used solely for burning books and paper with written words, and are usually located at street corners, inside a shuyuan (Academies of Classical Learning), or within temples. Some local gentry or rich families also build them within their courtyards.

(Photo: CNA)

In general, the exterior design of Jingzi Pavilions comes in two forms: one is a triple-layered tetragon, the other is a triple-layered hexagon. The first layer forms the base, and is a container to collect the burning ashes, with an opening to clear the ashes at the back or at the side. The second layer consists of an opening to a furnace, and at the top of the opening is a horizontal plaque with Jingzi Pavilion or other names imprinted on it. To the sides of the opening are rhymed couplets. The third layer is set with a shrine placed with memorial tablets of gods related to knowledge or academia, such as Cangjie, Wenchang Wang, Confucius, and so on. The roof is often built in the shape of a hexagonal pyramid, and the rooftop is gourd-shaped (symbolizing fortune and prosperity). A design of a dragon’s head also adorns the roof. It is clear from the design of a Jingzi Pavilion that it was greatly influenced by traditional temples.

(Photo: CNA)

The establishment of Jingzi Pavilions was to convey the respect that scholars had for paper with written words; advocates of Jingzi Pavilions are mainly the gentry with higher levels of education. This practice gradually spread to the general public, and eventually become a common folk belief. People of the past deemed words as sacred, and coupled with the fact that it was not easy to obtain paper in ancient times, it was thought that paper with words written on it should not be disposed of carelessly, but instead should be collected and then sent to a Jingzi Pavilion to be burned to ashes. Additionally, ceremonies would also be held to scatter the collected ashes into rivers. A Jingzi Pavilion is a symbol of reverence towards words, and the belief in the passing on of knowledge.

(Photo: CNA)

In a time of universal education, where information is readily available, paper is not as difficult to obtain as it used to be. Though Jingzi Pavilions are not as crucial as it used to be, the conservation of this tradition can still be observed by residents of some Hakka settlements in Taiwan. Through understanding its historical significance, we can derive that for the Hakka people, Jingzi Pavilions represent the spirit of respect and reverence for their ancestors and for knowledge.

(Translators: Patrick Lin, Eric Zhang, Vivi Cheng, Charles Tang

In collaboration with Fu Jen Catholic University, Department of English)