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May 29, 2017

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In the footsteps of Taiwan's Robin Hood

Beside a busy road near the new Taipei Port development just outside the center of Bali township stands a rather grand-looking temple. It's larger and taller than the surrounding structures, with a shiny new roof of orange tiles, but there's little at a glance to suggest it's a particularly special temple. The first clue to its fame lies in the row of stalls selling a motley mixture of hot snacks, dried fruit and cheap plastic toys that seem to be camped out here more or less permanently.

This impressive structure encases a small, golden shrine, built over ninety years ago to honor the remains of one Liao Tian Ding (廖添丁), a figure who bravely stood up for the common peasants against symbols of power and oppression—Taiwan's very own Robin Hood!

Liao, born near Taichung in 1883, was only 12 when the Japanese began their occupation of the island. A few years later, he was forced to flee when he was framed by a local bully working for the enemy and orders for his arrest were issued. While Liao fled to the hills, his mother, refusing to disclose his whereabouts, was tortured to death.

Thereafter he dedicated his life to resisting the occupying forces and protecting the local citizens from the soldiers' crueler excesses. Escaping to the north of Taiwan, he launched attacks on the Japanese from a cave on the northern face of Kwanyin (觀音山) Mountain, which rises steeply above Bali township, sleeping (legend says) with one eye open in case of surprise ambush. Eventually he was killed, aged just 27, after being betrayed by his lover's brother. His body was dragged down to the village below and promptly buried in an unmarked grave.

As legend has it, following Liao's death, strange and inexplicable things began happening: On cloudy nights when rain was expected, traces of the blood that had dripped from his body as he was brought down the mountainside for burial began to glow with an eerie light. During a period of very dry weather, a ball of green light was seen shooting out of the mountainside in the neighborhood of Liao's former hideout and flying towards the residence of a local Japanese officer.

Soon after, the officer's wife and daughter were struck by an unknown disease that made it impossible for them to talk. The local villagers, suspecting that Liao's ghost had a hand in the illness, advised the officer to seek repentance at the unmarked tomb, which he finally did.

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