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NTU Digital Taiwan-Related Arhives Project

Since ancient times, China has had an agriculture-based economy. Taiwan’s economy of earlier days has also been based on agriculture. Plowing of the vast amount of farmland has been heavily relied on oxen. Moreover, oxen also play a vital role in harvesting and transporting the crops.  Therefore, in traditional Chinese and Taiwanese societies, oxen have been seen as essential to food provisions and to livelihood. People normally would regard them as an important asset, and thought that they deserve our appreciation.

This rubbing was taken from a stone stele erected by the chief magistrate (equivalent to the current title of county head) of Ilan County in the 16th year of Guang-xu Period in Qing Dynasty (1890). The content of the inscription claimed that to appease the petition from many of the local gentry and the qualified imperial-service examinees, the Ilan county magistrate signed a ban on three activities considered to be violations of decent behavior. The three things that were explicitly prohibited were: the use of cow lard in candle making, the performance of plays depicting beggars, and the adornment of Guan-yin, the Goddess of Mercy, during funeral services. Of the three, the explanation about the prohibition of using lard in candle making was the most detailed. It was emphasized that the local authorities prohibited the use of cow lard in candle making because that in Ilan, as vast as 25,000 square meters farmland in average could there be a single ox to help with farming tasks.  But there were thieves, who frequently took advantage of nightfall to slaughter oxen large and small, and use their fat for candle making. Those who lost oxen were suffered from loosing the mighty help and were forced to plow the fields themselves. Seeds of suspicion were sown as residents began to doubt one another, lawsuits multiplied. The inscription continued to expound that worship is sacred, and those that help mankind should not be killed in its service, to do so is blasphemous. Prohibiting using cow lard in candle making would avert the death of oxen, consequently would cease those that are harmful for farming activities and stop robbers altogether. Besides, the inscription also indicated that beggar plays were only to break a folkway and, the adornment of the Goddess of Mercy during funeral services would not release the soul of the deceased from purgatory. Rather, such things should be considered irrational, and were therefore banned.

The inscription of this stone stele reveals the fact that the key members of society and academics could have definite influence over local authorities and administrations during the Qing Dynasty, and the importance these authorities placed on upstanding folkways.

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