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One of a Kind: the Legacies of Chao Ying Lin and His Family
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One of a Kind: the Legacies of Chao Ying Lin and His Family

Philanthropist, artist, and famous businessman: all of these titles were bestowed upon Lin Chao-ying (1739-1816), an intellectual who lived in Tainan during the reigns of the Qing Dynasty emperors Qianlong and Jiaqing. Yet, some of best-known stories about him, such as the pirate Tsai Chien (Cai Qian), repaying a debt of gratitude, are fabrications. Likewise, a rumor which circulated during Japanese colonial period, according to which Lin had buried gold under Sanjietan (a shrine which no longer exists), was untrue.

The exhibition displays the art work, family genealogy and records of daily activities relating to Lin, along with the family’s personal and corporate seals, as well as various contracts donated by his descendant Lin Shu-ping (1923-2014). It is thus an accurate picture of Lin Chao-ying and a cultured family through the lenses of art, family legacies and life. Reaching beyond the folk tales, this exhibition will show you how Lin and his family cultured the city by their devotion to art, education and charity.

Who was Lin Chao-ying?

Born in what was then Taiwan County (today’s Tainan City), Lin Chao-ying also went by the style names Poyen, Meifeng, Yifengting and Chinghuying. He displayed talent in different fields of art from a very early age. He was passionate about reading and writing, and his achievements in calligraphy and painting led him to be acclaimed as “the only artist in Qing-era Taiwan” by both Japanese Sinologist Ozaki Hotsuma and the historian of Tainan, Lu Chia-hsing.

In addition to his artistic achievements, Lin was also lauded for his generosity. He donated money for public works, to repair Tainan’s Confucius Temple, and for disaster relief. Just before he passed away, Taiwan suffered a serious famine that caused price of rice to exceed what ordinary people could afford. He selflessly sold his stock of rice at pre-famine price, and gave money and grain to famine victims. In his enthusiasm for art and compassionate deeds, Lin can be said to embody the best of Taiwanese culture and society.

Branching Out

Originally from Haicheng County, Zhangzhou Fu, Fujian Province, Lin Chao-ying’s grandfather, who was named Lin Teng-pang, crossed the strait to Taiwan with his family in 1693. He settled down on Linghou Street in Tainan, near where the former Tainan Assembly Hall on today’s Minquan Road now stands. There, Lin Teng-pang started a cloth and sugar business named “Yuan-Mei-Hao.”In accordance with family tradition, Lin Chao-ying, being the eldest of the four sons of his father Lin Tsung-hsien, was also named Yao-hua (or Yeh-Hua). After three generations in Taiwan, the Lins had grown into a major house, with a very successful family business and flourishing decedents.

Big families almost always break up after the parents pass away. However, the Lins managed to stay together by arranging marriages and courteously obeying family traditions. They became a living legacy of Tainan, and flourishing during the Qianlong and Jiaqing eras. The Lins often arranged marriages which could expand their influence. For example, the second of Lin Chao-ying’s four daughters, Yin-niang, married Chen Yu-ke, who had passed a high-level imperial civil service examination. His youngest daughter, Yung-niang, married Wang Te-kuan, a successful candidate in the imperial exams for military officers, and also the younger brother of renowned Taiwan-born imperial military commander Wang Te-Lu (Wang De-lu).

The Extension of the Lins’ Business

During the Lins’ first generation in Taiwan, Lin Teng-pang –Lin Chao-ying’s grandfather –was a pioneer in the business of importing cloth and exporting sugar. He was also involved in land investments related to the sugar business.

Purchase contracts passed down through the sixth branch of the Lins’ show they owned land as far north as what is now Dalin in Chiayi County, and as far south as Linbian in Pingtung County. In addition to fields in the lowlands, the family also owned some plots in areas along the mountains inhabited by what were then known as “civilized aboriginals”(indigenous people who had accepted Chinese imperial rule and absorbed elements of Han culture).

From the 400-plus land documents which have survived, one can speculate that the family’s landholdings may have been even greater before the Lin family separated in to branches, although the overall scale of their estates has yet to be determined. Places mentioned in the contracts, such as Bantiancuo and Wuyingcuo (both near today’s Taibao, Chiayi County), can be cross-referenced with the inscribed boards that Lin Chao-ying gave away as gifts. These boards – which have been found between Yunlin County’s Beigang in the north, and Pingtung County’s Ligang to the south– reveal the complicated social relations behind land trades.

Passing On The Lins’ Tradition

People often overlooked the fact that Lin Chao-ying was a very successful businessman as well as an accomplished artist, but that is what was so special about him. To him, business and art were simply two different paths to the same end, making the world a better place. Because of his business acumen, he was able to generously offer economic supports when it was most needed. On the other hand, it was also this capability which led him to realize that money alone could not educate society. That required books, manners and morality.

The self-portrait hanging on the wall of the family school anticipated the success of descendants studying there. Donations for improving the educational environments, and the printing and circulation of Lin Chao-ying’s calligraphy, were among the artist’s efforts to extend the legacy of virtues from one generation to another. On the memorial arch to Lin Chao-ying, which still stands in Tainan Park, a couplet written by Cheng Chien-tsai (Zheng Jian-cai), the Official then in charge of education in Taiwan County, praises Lin’s achievements: “Great contributions of this noble family hold timeless reputations; A celebrated name of heaven marks eternal exemplary characteristics.”

Cultural Legacies

The cultural environment and the moral standards established by Lin Chao-ying deeply influenced not only his descendants, but also the social atmosphere and researchers of Taiwanese art for generations afterward.

For instance, his descendant Lin Shu-ping – who ran the family business in Pingtung until the 1960s, changing the line of work to cleaning products – was a fan of painting and cultural and historical readings just like his forefathers. From the old photographs, notes taken before and after World War II, scrapbooks and book collections, as well as the paintings he executed, we can see how closely he followed his family’s artistic learnings.

Lin Chao-ying’s artistic achievements have been researched by experts in culture and history. His work of art are important assets, and his personal and cultural activities are vital resources, for the study of Taiwanese culture and history.

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