National Geographic : 1969 Jan
Fragile treasure, a 10-inch, 450-year-old bowl of the Ming dynasty depicts a dragon with the five toes of an imperial beast. Some 240,000 porcelains, paintings, jades, bronzes, tapestries, ivories, lacquers, and enamels at Taipei's National Palace Museum form the greatest known collection of Chinese art. Taken from two mainland museums, the collection began an odyssey of escape 30 years ago. Chiang's troops saved it first from the Japanese and later from the Communists. Reward of the gods: In this 6-inch white jade carving, a carp turns into a good-luck dragon after leaping over a "Dragon's Gate" across a clifftop waterfall, folklore relates. Scales and pectoral fins of the carp-stand ing on its tail-can still be seen; dragon's snout and mouth have already appeared. having their eyebrows plucked, others their hoofs pedicured and their skins shaved. Ta bles were laden with cooked chickens and ducks, fruit and rice cakes, all offerings to the gods. Over the temple a neon sign proclaimed the occasion: After 40 years the structure had been refurbished. We followed the shrill sounds of flutes and gongs into the temple. Paper, clay, and wood en figures-little men in mandarin robes, seated Buddhas, tigers, elephants, horses, birds-cluttered tables and benches. "Looks like a toy shop at Christmas," Helen murmured. "Confusing, isn't it," a voice behind us com mented. Stephan Feuchtwang, an English anthropologist studying Chinese religion, identified the major deities: the goddess of the sea, goddess of mercy, and god of heaven. "There seems to be a bit of something for everyone here," said Helen. "The Chinese ap pear rather relaxed about their religion." In one corner a group of men were playing cards and drinking tea, while red-robed priests sang and danced in ritual worship before a candle-lit altar. A Little Knowledge Can Cause Heartburn From an adjoining room the clatter of dishes announced lunch. Everything stopped. One of the priests invited us to join them. We were delighted. Chang was alarmed. "Pai-pai food terrible, sir," he whispered. "I no hungry." We were, and we helped ourselves to a variety of soupy stews, ladling them over boiled rice. Afterwards Helen, an avid menu collector, asked Stephan what we had eaten. "You may be sorry you asked," he grinned. "That one with the yellowish lumps, that's pig's bowel and ginger. And that milky one with the brown squares, well ... that's coagu lated chicken blood with turnips. And that. ... " Happily, Chang's announcement that the pigs were coming interrupted a further tabu lation of our lunch. The crowd in Chungli's main street had parted for the procession. The pallid pigs, some with pineapples in their mouths, others with fish dangling from their jaws, were In tribute to Buddha, two worshipers light incense, or joss sticks, during the February lantern festival in Taipei's big Lungshan Temple. Believers build elaborate lanterns like those hanging above to supplement the fading first moon of the year, in hope of see ing their ancestors' spirits. EKTACHROMES © N.G.S .