Here in Taiwan, the hottest part of the year is coming to an end and we can begin to look forward to autumn. Yellow is the colour traditionally associated with the end of summer, and also a prominent feature in temples and shrines, especially those on the Buddhist end of the religious spectrum.
The reasons why Buddhists embraced yellow are fascinating. One is that it’s the colour closest to daylight. Another is that is was chosen by Siddhartha Gautama (now better known as the Buddha) to signify his humility and separation from materialist society because, in the era in which he lived, it was a colour criminals were forced to wear.
In addition to symbolising renunciation and an utter lack of desire, it is held to be the colour of earth. In fact, most soils in Taiwan are darkish. A stronger connection between yellow and what sustains us can be seen in local markets, where you’ll see bananas, starfruit and red-heart pomelos.
The joss paper that Taiwanese people burn to honour their deities and ancestors – and which in the days of yore was made of rice straw – is yellow. The vertical strips of paper pasted onto bulletin boards outside temples (pictured right) to record official visits by delegations representing affiliated shrines are usually yellow.
One of south Taiwan’s most popular ecotourism attractions is the Yellow Butterfly Valley. Between May and July millions of lemon emigrant butterflies fill this spot, just outside the Hakka town of Meinong. Surprisingly, the vast number of butterflies here is a result of human interference with nature. Before World War I the Japanese then ruling Taiwan began planting hop-hornbeam trees in the area. The wood is ideal for making railway sleepers and rifle stocks and the leaves happen to be a favourite food of lemon emigrant larvae.
Over 100 butterfly species have been spotted in the valley. Whether you’re a serious butterfly-spotter or just someone who likes to immerse themselves in nature from time to time, it’s a wonderful and highly accessible spot.