Tied up like animals, a human chain of 700 psychiatric patients in the Lung Fa Tang Temple in Taiwan are tethered by their ankles to farm one million chickens. Seen as a way to help both themselves and the families who have rejected them, this book confronts the astounding feats of their captivity.
The renowned Taiwanese photographer Chien-Chi Chang's images of the Long Fa Tang Temple in Taiwan, where helpers among the 700 mental patients, many chained together, farm one million chickens.
In 1970 Ki Lun-Tai, an abbot in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, decided to become a Buddhist monk. He built a thatched hut in front of his house, adopted a schizophrenic as his disciple, and began to raise pigs and chickens with his new helper, whom he kept on a line of string, much like a leash. Within 20 years Li Kun-Tai, by now rechristened (by himself) Hieh Kai Feng, had 600 deranged helpers, most chained together, almost exclusively consigned to him by their families, distraught by the shame of having to look after lunatics, or socially unacceptable misfits.
Ten years later, in 1999, Long Fa Tang - the Temple of the Dragon - was recognised as the largest chicken farm in Taiwan, with a million chickens laying eggs and defecating in almost equal proportions. They are tended by helpers from the 700 mental patients in the 'care' of the Temple, wading through slurry, eggs and chicken corpses. Hieh Kai Feng had by now sought to sophisticate the impracticalities of string, and with such a large number of inmates found that a light chain was the most efficient form of control. So he chained them together, one by one, through noon and night. He is delighted with the results, and proud of them. He firmly believes he is not only taking care of his patients but also helping alleviate the tremendous burden placed on their families.
Chien-Chi Chang, born in Taiwan in 1961, took these photographs with a sense of awe. He has produced a catalogue of infinite humanity and its consequences, an artless choreograph of emotions. They are repetitive, and benefit from that. They are squalid, careful and uncomfortably reminiscent of humours, whims and childlike uncertainties.