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Historic battle reenactment: a different way to learn history

2015/02/22 12:36:22

Photo courtesy of Tsai Teng-chin, Deer Ear Development Association

Taipei, Feb. 22 (CNA) Hundreds of students each year are getting to know the history of Taiwan better with historic weapons, instead of books, in their hands.

Reenacting the Chinese campaign against Dutch colonists in Tainan 353 years ago has become one of the most popular trips offered by the Youth Development Administration of the Education Ministry, which since 2009 has organized experiential learning tours for high school and college students.

In 2014, 439 students signed up for the reenactment of the April 30, 1661 battle led by Zheng Chenggong (鄭成功), better known in the West as Koxinga, a loyalist of China's toppled Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Zheng brought troops from China across the water to Taiwan, where they expelled the Dutch and started a short-lived kingdom that was eventually crushed by China's new rulers, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

To mark these formative events in Taiwan's history, students traded everyday clothes for military outfits and swords and spears. They moved out in battle formation to music played on traditional instruments, making a brief stop at Zhenmen Temple (鎮門宮) -- which honors Zheng -- to pray for his blessings for the reenactment.

The lucky student who got to play the role of Zheng prayed to the seagoddess Matsu (媽祖) for protection in echo of the real Zheng, who reached southern Taiwan only to find that low tide prevented him from landing.

Then student soldiers then boarded rafts amid thundering drums and gongs, the launch of their rafts prefaced by fireworks. They navigated down an inland watery, making landfall to launch their attack on the Dutch outpost of Fort Provintia (赤崁樓), a major landmark in Tainan today.

Unlike the historical event, no blood was shed that day.

The real Dutch surrendered to Zheng in 1662, and Zheng's family ruled over southern Taiwan until defeated by Qing forces in 1683.

"We got closer to historic events through the reenactment," Liang Yun-jung (梁芸榕) from National Chiayi University, who participated in the tour in 2013, told organizers.

"I hope that this small flapping of our wings can lead to a huge tornado (of passion for history and culture) in other people's hearts," she said.

"I learned to appreciate the effort of Zheng and his troops for their role in making Taiwan what it is today," said classmate and co-participant Keng Yun-ju (耿筠茹).

"Today we glimpsed only a fraction of the hard lives of historic people, but we have to be thankful for everyone (we worked with), not just the historical figures," she said.

While popular -- the trip attracted 718 students the year that Liang and Keng participated -- war is not the only option for young Taiwanese looking to go outdoors and learn more about their homeland.

Of last year's experiential learning camps, kayaking and dragon boat rowing in Dongshi Township, Chiayi proved the most popular with 575 students, followed by a visit to indigenous Paiwan (排灣) tribe villages in Sandimen Township, Pingtung, which attracted 510 students. A field trip to the Footwear and Recreation Technology Research Institute in Taichung was third, with 455 participants.

The Youth Development Administration has 54 such activities for participants aged 15-30 years old, including kayaking in Gongliao, New Taipei and tours to the Atayal (泰雅) village of Smangus (司馬庫斯) in Hsinchu County.

Activities are divided into seven categories: cultural tours, tours to indigenous villages, ecotours, tours to rural villages, tours to fishing villages, volunteer work, and sports.

From April, 2009 to the end of 2014, a total of 33,200 people had signed up for the trips.

(By Scully Hsiao)