Making Sense of Space: A Comparison of the Nanshan and Anping Graveyards in Tainan


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The ThakBong Project

The research presented in this paper is part of a larger project named ThakBong1, in which we focus on the documentation and archiving of tombstones on Taiwan and apply a scientific analysis to the created data. Since May 2007, we have taken about 180.000 geo-referenced photos of 47.000 tombs on 520 graveyards, of which most are located on Taiwan, some in China and a few in other regions of the world where Chinese settlers moved to.

The fieldwork and data collection, the processing of the data and the annotation are permanently ongoing activities that run in parallel. Preference however is given to the fieldwork, as the time window for the documentation of gravesites in Taiwan is shrinking on a daily base. Due to the rapid transformation of Taiwan’s society, its landscapes and cultural practices, tombs and graveyards are systematically removed, and with them, for many people, a last link to their family history (Streiter, Oliver and Goudin, Yoann 2011).

Our digital documentation of Taiwan’s tombs has revealed paradigmatic changes in the way Taiwanese built their tombs and inscribed their tombstones. Most of these changes relate to how Taiwan was politically embedded in its Asian context, either by the Qing, the Japanese, or the Republic of China (Streiter, Oliver and Goudin, Yoann and Lin, Ann {Mei-fang} 2010). Each toppling of a regime became a turning point in the development of local funeral practices: Each new regime had its requirements for a politically correct behavior and its administrative regulations. In addition, funerals that were organized by official agents, such as the army, hospitals or politicians exemplified the cultural standard of the ruling forces .

  1. The name ThakBong is derived from the Taiwanese 讀墓 thak-bong, meaning to study tombs.

The sampling of graveyards on Taiwan and Penghu, graveyards with Ming period tombs (orange), Qing period tombs (blue), Japanese period tomb (green) and Republican period tombs (red).