May 27, 2012

Chastity Arch

East Gate Arch in  Putien (Fujian)

If in Sarawak there are children who can put up arches to commemorate the chastity of their widowed mothers I wonder how many would there be?

Many women in Sarawak in the past suffered tremendously in different ways before and after marriage. And some even more after the deaths of their husbands.

"May be there should be some kind of recognition for women who suffer from domestic violence etc " a friend once said during a seminar..Lots of laughter afterwards..a woman stood up and say..."There will be as many plaques as there are ferns in the jungle..." more laughter ensued..

Humour aside...many of our Putien friends in East Gate of Putien who have lived in this village pass the East Gate Arch every day.

Even in the 21st century people who pass by look at this arch with awe!!

This special arch in the photo is a PaiFang..- a Pai is a symbol or a badge or a plaque......and Fang is a construction..the two words together make the term Arch. This special arch was built for the sons of this widowed mother to honour her dutiful and chaste life after she became a widow. She would have served the generation above her as a good daughter-in-law and the generations below her as Mother- Mother-in-law and grandmother and grandmother-in-law.

Her wisdom must have been appreciated by four or five generations  she served.

"Paifang can be divided into three types according to their different functions. 'Loyalty'  Paifang is used to record a person's merit or great deeds. For example, Emperor Wanli in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) once ordered a loyalty Paifang to be built for Wang Xiangqian to honor his contribution to the country. If a person passed the imperial examinations, his family members would erect a Paifang because he brought honor to their ancestors. The 'Chastity' arch is built to honor a woman's loyalty to her husband. Other Paifang may contain little deep meaning; serving only as a symbol of a street or a village.
Each Paifang has its own cultural connotation and symbolization which are expressed in the beautiful colored patterns. The common designs on Paifang include dragon and phoenix, bat, deer and fish. The Paifang decorated with dragons and phoenix must belong to a royal family, because the dragon is the king of beasts and represent the emperor, while the phoenix is the queen of birds and represents the empress. 'Bat', in  Chinese, is 'bianfu', with pronunciation similar to 'fu' (blessing); so the bat is regarded as a symbol of good luck and happiness. Deer sounds similar to 'lu' (salary), signifying promotion. Fish are carved on Paifang to represent the passing of an important test, an imperial examination, for example. Additionally, cypress, tortoise, water lily, peony and lotus leaf are often painted on Paifang to express the rich cultural connotation such as longevity, healthy, luck, happiness and so on." (Wikipedia)

This  village  we visited is quite ancient as one can see that the banyan trees look very ancient and most of the buildings are being demolished for reconstruction. The temple nearby could be 800 years old or more.

This natural green stone (granite?) monument constructed by grateful children remains as a monument to their widowed mother and life continues under the watchful arch!!

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