Outside the Wall

Tainan City, where I worked from 2000 to 2018 and resided from 2008 until retiring two years ago, was originally walled. You can see that wall on the 1885 map above. Over the decades that have passed since the map was drawn the city has grown and the wall has come down. In some places roads and property lines, originally based on the wall’s route, still follow the old pattern. In other locations lengths of old wall and ancient gates are still in place. When English missionaries set up a base in Tainan, it was Taiwan’s capital city. That’s what the “foo” part of Taiwanfoo on the map means.  The capital moved at least twice between then and the second world war.  To reside “inside the wall” meant safety.  

Before the missionaries arrived in 1865, such education as was available to boys was preparation for the Imperial Civil Service examinations. There was nothing for girls. In the 1880s funds from the UK were used to purchase land to start a boys school. It opened in 1885.  Within a few years more money came from English churches to establish a nearby girls’ school. Both campuses were “outside the wall” which was both a physical and metaphorical presence. The British women who started the girls school refused to educate girls whose feet were bound. Today the school is home to monuments presented by Taiwan’s government, commending those pioneers who “unbound the feet of Taiwan’s women”. More than feet were unbound. Minds were, too. 

Challenged as we are by America’s racial, economic and class divides in the 21st century, we need this metaphor, too. “Outside our walls” is where we’ll find our minds opened and our wounds healed.

David Alexander mourns for the America he found after 39 years away in Taiwan.

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