Mudan: Named for a Flower but Known for a Battle

8 01 2011

This archway marks the entrance to Mudan Township, a Paiwan tribe area north of Hengchun.

The drive from Checheng to Mudan along route 199 offers charming views of the foothills of Pingtung. Two massive rocky cliffs at Shihmen form an impressive mountain pass which turns out to be the site of the Mudan Incident.

Almost everyone in Taiwan has heard of this critical point in local history, but virtually no one can remember exactly what is written in the textbooks. Most accounts mention how the local Paiwan people attacked and killed dozens of Japanese who were attempting to pass through the valley at Shihmen, but Atimbon tells a decidedly different story. His version tells of an unfortunate misunderstanding that resulted from a difference in culture and language. He speaks, too, of how the Japanese would return to seek revenge because the Qing Dynasty government refused to get involved. An entire village of Paiwan people farther to the east of the Shihmen pass would be erased in retribution.

Today, when I pass under the arched entranceway to Mudan, and through the Shihmen Battlefield, the valley is eerily quiet save for the occasional passing car. Cultivated fields blanket the mountain pass and the roads are lined with firey bursts of fuchsia-colored bougainvillea.

Later that night when I return to Hengchun by scooter in the pouring rain, I speed up just a little when passing by the battle grounds in the dark mountain pass. My thoughts wander to that tumultuous part of Mudan’s nearly forgotten history and it occurs to me that none of the Paiwan people I met in Mudan needed textbooks to remind them of their history – it’s common knowledge. Those textbooks are for the rest of us who never heard the stories passed down by tribal elders. But is anyone actually reading and remembering them?

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