I recently had a chance to dive into the world of spirits and the local Taiwanese folklore associated with it. Having a long history of both aboriginal culture as well as a host of Han Chinese immigrants and colonial presence by Europeans and Japanese, Taiwan has a mix of beliefs and religions and mysticism that I find fascinating.
Who doesn't love a good ghost story? Today I'll be sharing a local legend about a young widow named Sister Lintou, or 林投姐, whose spirit is now one of the most famous to haunt the southern Taiwanese coast.
I also read, however, that because belief in the spirit world and the respect due to it is so strong in Taiwan, people don't talk or share local legends and traditions like they used to. Some of these 妖鬼神怪, or literally “spirits, ghosts, deities and monsters,” might never be known to the younger generations. So it's great that some writers, artists, and game creators have been collaborating to illustrate collections, comic books, and novels featuring these supernatural beings.
One of the most famous story in Taiwan is that of 林投姐, or Sister Lintou, because her story is features a woman whose life was marked by tragedy based on situations that were very serious and very real during that time.
As always, there are many versions to Sister Lintou's story, but the main plotline goes like this: During the Qing Dynasty, a widow in the south of Taiwan loses her husband when his ship gets overturned in the Taiwan Strait on a business trip to the mainland. In return however, she receives a legacy from his death and is able to support herself and her three young sons.
Some time passes, and the widow receives a visit from a friend of her deceased husband. The young man befriends the widow, providing companionship and support. Despite local tongue-wagging, the widow eventually strikes up a relationship of sorts with the friend. Some say they did eventually marry, but somehow this new guy manages to take control of her financial assets.
He invests in camphor and sugar, buying goods in Taiwan and shipping them to Hong Kong, and making a healthy profit off the top. After making a good amount of money with the widow's investment, the friend disappears back to his hometown in Guangdong province supposedly to do more business there. However, you probably guessed that he doesn't come back. Some stories say that he ends up marrying another woman and starting a new family on the mainland.
Either way, the widow remains in Taiwan, waiting for her lover's return to no avail. Having exhausted all of her resources, desperate, and ridden with guilt and shame to see her own sons slowly starve, she strangles the children and hangs herself from a screw pine tree, thus ending the tragedy in a four-person murder suicide. Since then, her spirit is doomed to haunt the trees by the sea ever more.
This is a pretty dark tale, and the reason why I was so drawn to it is because Sister Lintou's predicament has just the right amount of reality infused in it to be believable. During the Qing Dynasty, women's rights were basically non-existent. Though the widow had her own independent income, she could do little with it. Taiwan at the time was enjoying an economic boom that it had never seen before. Everything from tea, camphor, sugar, coal, and even gold, allowed many cities to prosper in ways that attracted foreign commerce from around the world. But a woman would have no access to any of these opportunities. I can't blame Sister Lintou for having ambitions for her own financial situation, but the laws of the time put her in a vulnerable position to have to rely on a virtual stranger to transact any sort of business venture. That her situation was complicated by affection made her an even easier victim to target.
What is least real to me is that Sister Lintou's husband even left his wife the legacy at all, as normally, a wife would live with the husband's extended family, but maybe their family clan were separated between China and Taiwan, as is often the case for families in trade. That Sister Lintou was left to her own independent devices would have been a rarity during those times.
Of course, no folktale would be complete without a lesson to be learned. Nowadays, we might say that lesson is a warning against being too trusting, but back when this story first originated, it probably went more like this: A widow was considered under strict Confucian guidelines to honor her husband's memory until her own death, and a woman who flouted those customs would of course receive divine justice for fraternizing with another man. Sister Lintou might have very well started as a cautionary tale against young widows who strayed from their Confucian standards, but I don't think that kind of message would get very far today.
If you enjoyed the story about Sister Lintou, hit the like button so I know to share more local ghost stories. Or leave a comment and tell me what you think about Sister Lintou's story. Thanks for watching and see you next time.