Professor Hunter's Glass of Water【Parent-Child Reading Guide】


Love transcending borders and the self

James A. Hunter was born in 18891 to a devout Illinoisan Christian family. He received a master’s in agriculture from Cornell University, and enrolled for a time in the University of Chicago Divinity School. Setting his sights on evangelizing Asia from an early age, Hunter went to China first, and then Taiwan after the Sino-Japanese and Chinese Civil Wars. Once in Taiwan, he was appointed head of the livestock division of the Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction (JCRR).

Not long after his appointment there was an outbreak of cattle plague in northern Taiwan. Farming depended much on bovine power at the time; the whole island’s agricultural activity would be paralyzed had the plague gotten out of control. Working from the front line himself, Hunter put out effective measures and managed to contain the outbreak.

Student Labor Program at Tunghai University

Hunter was a founding board member of Tunghai University. Upon retirement from JCRR in 1958, he became a professor of sociology at the university and the director of its Student Labor Program. Incidentally, his wife Maud also taught at the university, in the Department of Foreign Languages. Maud A. Hunter was also an English tutor to former Taiwanese President, Lee Teng-hui.

The Student Labor Program began with Tunghai’s foundation in 1955. In its basic form, students and teachers alike put in the work of cleaning and organizing the campus. Hunter further set up “work camps” to extend the on-campus Program to off-campus community service.

“A university loses its raison d'être if it bears no discernible influence on its neighboring community and the environment in which it is situated,” Hunter once told his students. “Remember, the university’s gate leads not to towers of ivory, but straight to the society.”

Encountering water-deprived residents of Mt. Dadu

During field surveys of Mt. Dadu, an elevated area by the university, Hunter and his students found four farming villages—Xinzhuang, Nanliao, Zhebu, and Ruijing—locating on infertile soil. To sustain their crops, the farmers had to haul manure from downtown Taichung. The piles of barely processed manure in the villages attracted hordes of mosquitoes and flies. The livestock being raised free-range also aggravated the problem.

Every year, in the fourth month on the lunar calendar, Xinzhuang’s Yongshun Temple celebrated the birthday of a god. The day was also dubbed ‘mosquitoes’ birthday’. On this day, mosquitoes were worshipped and paid tributes, and ‘mosquito plays’ were performed. The villagers believed that the mosquitoes would leave in peace once they were thoroughly fed and entertained.

Hunter started a committee to “improve the quality of life in the villages on top of Mt. Dadu” and led students into the villages to clean up the environment, build gutters, and advocate public health. They also found the communities suffering from severe lack of water. Aside from rain collection, the only way the residents could get irrigation or bathing water was from Fazi River down the plateau. One round trip to the river by ox cart would cost more than half a day, considering that the return journey would be steeply uphill while carrying all the water.

On one research trip accompanied by a village chief, Hunter found himself thirsty and went to a well, where the locals drew their drinking water. There was a queue by the well, so the chief asked the old lady at the front to let Hunter draw first. The woman snapped, and protested that she had been queuing for more than five hours since morning, with mouths to feed at home.

When Hunter finally got the well water, he found that the large quantity of potassium alum required to purify it also made it taste bitter and astringent. He resolved to bring tap water here, so that the villagers no longer had to queue or make the journey to Fazi River.

Small local water distribution system

Heeding Hunter’s call for action, a waterworks project called the Small Local Water Distribution System was born, after some prospecting and planning. To finance the project, Hunter himself donated 600,000 New Taiwan Dollars,2 and NTD$100 was levied on each resident. Cattle raisers and owners of bicycles or rickshaws paid a little extra.

Construction of Longjing Well No. 1 was completed in April 1963. For the system to work, groundwater was drawn from the village of Longquan down the plateau, relayed and pressurized through three powerful pumps, and shot to the water tank on top of Mt. Dadu, 300 meters (about 1,000 ft) above sea level. At the system’s inauguration, Mt. Dadu was one of the few places in greater Taichung, besides the city proper and Fengyuan, where potable tap water was available.

Remembered for all generations

After seeing through the Small Local Water Distribution System, Hunter retired with his wife to a US nursing home. There he succumbed to a cardiac disease and passed away on May 19, 1966. His love toward a faraway land led to the wonderful work he did for its residents. To commemorate that work, and to remind future generations to be forever grateful, the four villages on top of Mt. Dadu jointly opened in 1999 the Hunter Memorial Park in Nanliao. Hunter’s offspring was invited to the opening ceremony, during which the villagers found out, for the first time, that the $600,000 was all Hunter had in savings and pensions; he left nothing for himself or as inheritance.

When the author and the editors interviewed Mt. Dadu locals to create this book, we found that the interviewees vividly remembered James A. Hunter and shared what they knew about him. There is a Hunter Scholarship set up by his colleagues at JCRR and figures from the livestock industry for fostering Taiwanese talents in husbandry. To this day, the Hunter Village of Tunghai University still hosts a variety of activities under the Student Labor Program, so as to pass on Hunter’s example: To stoop, to do, to share, to love, and to care.

1.This is according to the monument erected in Hunter Memorial Park. Other records put his birth in 1890 or 1891.

2.Equivalent to tens of millions of NTD today.

*The author would like to thank Lu Chun-Tai M.D. and Presbyter Liao I-Ti for their information gathering and on-site assistance.