The Liou Family Old House
Liu Family Mansion Introduction
The Liu Family Ancestral Mansion is a large and beautifully maintained Siheyuan, or house with four wings surrounding a central courtyard. Located in the town of Liuying, it is just a short bike ride away from Xinying Railway Culture Park and the Xinying train station. The building that stands today was erected in 1870, and while the family no longer resides here, they still own the property and maintain it as their ancestral worship hall. Both house and grounds are open to the public; visitors are asked to enter through the open side entrance.
The Liu family traces their lineage back to the time of Zheng Chenggong, or Koxinga, the Chinese warlord/pirate who fought against China’s newly minted Qing Dynasty, expelled the Dutch from Taiwan, and for a period of time controlled China’s eastern seaboard from Guangdong Province all the way up to modern-day Shanghai and up the Yangtse River as far as Nanjing.
The Liu’s first ancestor died while fighting for Zheng Chenggong at Nanjing, and Zheng rewarded the family with money and lands for their service. The family pulled up stakes and moved to Taiwan, where they became owners of nearly 1000 hectares of land in the Liuying area (both Xinying and Luiying started out as military encampments; the land was eventually parceled out to soldiers who settled there). As the largest landowners in the region, members of the family have played an important role in civic life here over the centuries, as the home and the items contained within it make clear.
One of the most noticeable of these items is what looks like a tall wooden flagpole in the large plaza in front of the house. This is one of two original Provincial Official Rods—the other was destroyed in a lightning strike—awarded separately to scions of the family in generations past by emperors of China. One of the poles was awarded for literary achievement and the other for military achievement. The poles were cut in China and shipped to Taiwan, where the family was allowed to place them as a sign of imperial approbation, and of course, the family’s resulting power.
Today, the descendants of the family still use the home to honor the memory of their ancestors. Visitors to the 800-ping (2500 square meter) compound are welcome to come in and have a look around. The house is painted a deep maroon with layers of antique blue, gold, white, and green trim decorating the edges of the roof gables. The unusual gilded lions under the saddleback roof ridges—one holding an eight-trigram design and the other a sword—are said to ward off evil. The bulk of the materials used in building the house were brought across from Fujian Province. A close look at the interior walls of the rooms reveals that they are decorated in an unusual half-timbered design, and the brickwork and roof tiles are largely original.
But what is most impressive about this house is the ancestral hall, which houses the family altar. The altar is covered with dozens of tablets of illustrious ancestors, and a wall-sized family tree to the right traces the entire Liu clan for some thirteen generations down to the present day. This extraordinary genealogical chart is a reminder of the important role that family and lineage have always played in Chinese society. In Taiwan, you are never just ‘you’. To be a Liu is to be a keeper of generational memories, to be responsible to those memories, and to pass them on to one’s descendants. When you visit the Liu family ancestral hall, you are sharing the space with the ghosts of the past and the unborn hopes of the future. It’s a profound and rather eerie experience.
When you find that you are ready to lighten the mood, just step back outside to the enticing smell of sausages grilling at the famous stand right outside the main gate. Grab a couple—they’re delicious—and head next door to the beautifully restored Liu Chi-hsiang Memorial Museum to learn about this internationally acclaimed artist—another famous scion of the Liu family—and see his work.
No. 128, Sec. 3, Zhongshan W. Rd., Shilin Vil., Liuying Dist., Tainan City