The Nuclear Power Plant and the Dog
Taiwan has seen numerous waves of immigration from the Chinese provinces of Fujian and Guangzhou. These settlers, desiring a new start in a new land, must first tackle the dangerous waters of the Taiwan Strait, a crossing of around 200km that separates the island for Mainland China. This perilous journey is the origin of the legend of the 18 Sailor-Kings.
A boat carrying 17 men across the Strait capsized in a storm, so the story goes. Their bodies were washed up on the banks of the Shihmen River on Taiwan’s northern shore, where locals discovered them watched over by a dog, the tragedy’s sole survivor. When the villagers proceeded to bury the dead men, the dog threw itself into the grave and could not be persuaded to abandon its dead masters, and so was finally buried alive beside them.
Later, a temple was built on the site to honour the ‘18 Kings’, the faithful hound included among their number. In line with local traditions attached to violent death, or deaths that occur far from home, ceremonies are performed at the temple to appease the Sailor-Kings’ troubled souls.
Today, the temple stands beside Taiwan’s first nuclear plant, which pumps waste into the mouth of river. Once a busy destination for those seeking blessings, the few buildings that remain around the temple are in varying states of disrepair. A scattering of stalls sell celestial money, incense and snacks to the few who still drop by to pay their respects. But far outnumbering the diminishing flow of human visitors, a large population of stray dogs haunts the temple grounds.
Wu’s camera roams the site chaotically, exploring the abandoned buildings and the hollow interior of the giant metal dog that dominates the site – a ‘Godzilla’ he calls it, recalling the ambiguous metaphor of the ‘King of Monsters’ as both the embodiment of nuclear catastrophe, and a dubious saviour of humanity. The lens focuses briefly on rain-slicked concrete, dismal commerce, and dogs feasting on petrified fish, as if frantically searching for some clue to give meaning to this sad, grey scene. The picture that emerges is of the enchanted eking out an existence on to the fringes modern life. Ghosts, or spiritual messengers, cling to their territory, but cringe, snapping at scraps, where once they were nourished by a society rich with folkloric tradition.