Taiwanese art historian: Are Libras and Leos always a perfect match?

Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun muses on his encounters with a Libra who took him on a historical exploration, and a Leo that pushed Taiwan’s film industry into the world stage. Do the rules of attraction truly dictate that Libras and Leos themselves are compatible, even if they despise each other?
The Milky Way seen as night falls over Taiwan. (iStock)
The Milky Way seen as night falls over Taiwan. (iStock)

After being captivated by horoscopes, I often asked my friends, “What’s your horoscope? Your rising sign? Your moon sign? Was your Mars in Virgo?”

Friends from my generation are generally unfamiliar with the concept of horoscopes, and cannot understand why their teenage children would spend all day poring over them. 

Joy of knowing nothing

I wonder if the first people from ancient times were also like our youths, looking up at the star-filled sky at night and believing that each and every star that flows with the seasons and time has its own orbital path, an attraction or repulsion to other stars whether near or far, and a distant yet fatal connection with our little selves?   

Reading the stars, studying the trails of the animals that roamed the earth, and discovering the mountains, rivers, flora and fauna that have yet to be named… What a delightful ancient world the first people lived in! As soon as a stream, mountain, tree or star is named, the joy of observation and elicitation disappears.   

At a time when nothing is known and everything is yet to be known, we preserve the endless possibility of “knowing”.  

A rose is but a rose — if not for the complex changes in our retina and the bewilderment of our nose, the word “rose” is just a label, and labels kill the joy of discovery in children and the first people. 

We give a tree a label, but fail to hear the rustling of the leaves in the wind, smell the fragrance of buds in the spring, or feel the roots moving in the soil. Is the tree that yearns for sun and rain only left with a dead label and a meaningless name?

Observing strangers whose names I do not know on the streets or subway, reading magical stories of unfamiliar astrolabes and learning from the first people who looked up to a world where nothing has been named… The sky and ocean, the earth, mountains and rivers, the insects, fish, birds and beasts… At a time when nothing is known and everything is yet to be known, we preserve the endless possibility of “knowing”.  

People get off a bus in Taipei, Taiwan, 2 September 2023. (Ann Wang/Reuters)
People get off a bus in Taipei, Taiwan, on 2 September 2023. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Zhuangzi was amazing — the sages he described were the ones who repeated "I do not know" as the answer to questions asked. 

How pathetic it is for us to “know” everything.

Can we return to the joy of “knowing nothing” and discovering “everything yet to be known”?

Reading someone’s facial features by instinct, and deciphering their physique and frame, their voice, scent, hairstyle, the moles on their face, the way they buy luxury goods, the angle in which the soles of their shoes are worn out… That is their astrolabe.

Browsing a person’s facial expression on public transport — it is totally unfamiliar yet incredibly familiar at the same time. Indeed, that mole at the corner of his mouth, a fallen star in a past life, the pain lingers, revealing secret burdens of the heart.  

A Libra in solitude

After a department dinner, students took turns to sing on the stage, crack a joke or perform street dance or pole dance. They often start off being a little shy and timid, but would slowly let loose and even fight to perform on stage towards the end.

The student who accompanied me to visit Pan was sitting behind me when he suddenly came closer and whispered in my ear, “Sir, the student performing on stage right now is either a Leo or a Sagittarian.”

Really? “So, are you a Virgo?” 

He wore a sly smile on his face, not answering the question. 

People sit outside of the Nangan Fuao Harbour on Nangan island in Taiwan's Matsu Islands on 13 October 2023. (Annabelle Chih/AFP)
People sit outside of the Nangan Fuao Harbour on Nangan island in Taiwan's Matsu Islands on 13 October 2023. (Annabelle Chih/AFP)

Does this mean that we don’t have to mechanically enter a person’s birth place, year, month, day and hour into a computer to deconstruct one’s astrolabe? Can we also do the same by observing an individual’s facial expressions and behaviour?  

“You’re a Libra…”

When I said this to M, I was actually not asking if he was one. It felt as if I’d known him for a long time and very naturally categorised a familiar face and a type of body language, as well as his unique smile. 

How should I introduce the M who I know and love?

We met during university days. He was very quiet and always smiling. When a group of 20-year-old college students gather, they could get rather obnoxious and arrogant, with everyone having their own strange habits and putting on frills. Some yearn to stand out, so they voice their opinions loudly. They would use frenzied hand gestures and an even louder voice to reinforce their views in the face of opposition.

Amid all of this, M sat cross-legged — his body soft and gentle like a flower. The smile on his face also seemed like a flower. 

I have never seen M angry or agitated. He learned to paint and loved small oil paintings. He drew himself lying on grass fields with one leg crossed over the other, hands behind his head, scrunching up his eyes and watching a cloud float by.  

After graduating, he joined a magazine company and led young illustrators and writers to create nature encyclopaedias and children’s encyclopaedias.  

Those were monumental works that once influenced a generation of children and teenagers, and I believe that they drained his energy.  

In his book, Yu [Yu Yonghe] described a tree “covered in dragon scales and leaves shaped like the phoenix’s tail” — did it refer to the betel nut palm, the Chinese windmill palm or the flying spider-monkey tree fern?  

John Flamsteed, La Balance, et Le Scorpion (Libra & Scorpio), Paris, 1795. Detailed star chart of the constellations Libra and Scorpio and neighbouring constellations. (Wikimedia)
John Flamsteed, La Balance, et Le Scorpion (Libra & Scorpio), Paris, 1795. Detailed star chart of the constellations Libra and Scorpio and neighbouring constellations. (Wikimedia)

When I taught at a university in central Taiwan, he got even busier and I was busy too — as busy as every star should be at the age of 30. Whenever I returned to Taipei, I loved visiting him and enjoyed the cosiness of his home — the elegant lilies his wife arranged, how he folded up his body like a piece of cloth, and his ever-so-calm and collected smile.    

But he was smoking more, and was often sick and tired.

His wife grumbled that he would come home after midnight, exhausted from work yet refusing to sleep. He would cycle to a stream to the north of the city to fish alone.  

A Libra who wanted to be alone with himself amid work exhaustion.

Tracing 300-year-old footsteps

I assumed he was a Libra because of my experience participating in a survey of Taiwan history that he had initiated. We brought along Qing dynasty traveller Yu Yonghe’s book Small Sea Travel Diaries (《裨海记游》). Anything outside the Nine Provinces (九州) was referred to as the Small Sea (稗海), somewhat referring to uncivilised territories.    

The book chronicled the investigation carried out by Yu, an explorer who came to Taiwan from Zhejiang to mine sulphur three hundred years ago. In the distant era of the Kangxi Emperor, Yu set out from Xiamen, passed by Liaoluo Bay, and arrived at “Magong Ao” (妈宮澳) in today’s Penghu, before crossing Taijiang Inner Sea to Tainan.

In Yu’s journey to the north, he wrote about today’s Niumatou Site (牛骂头社) in Qingshui, as he crossed the Taoyuan Plateau, and travelled along today’s Nankan (南崁) in the west coast to Bali ferry pier (八里坌渡船头), at a time when Bali ferry pier did not have many Han Chinese immigrants yet.

Times have changed — the island that was referred to as the “small sea” back then has become a place where civilisation flourishes. We brought the book along on our journey and read it at our accommodation at night, making notes and exchanging opinions. In his book, Yu described a tree “covered in dragon scales and leaves shaped like the phoenix’s tail” — did it refer to the betel nut palm, the Chinese windmill palm or the flying spider-monkey tree fern?  

People at the Taoyuan Flower Festival in Taoyuan, Taiwan, 11 November 2023. (CNS)
People at the Taoyuan Flower Festival in Taoyuan, Taiwan, on 11 November 2023. (CNS)

He didn’t know the name of the tree, but he left behind the earliest records of the island in Chinese characters. Small Sea Travel Diaries is truly on-site fieldwork. 

M patiently led me into his plan to “trace the footsteps of Yu Yonghe”. 

Three hundred years later, although the cultural landscape had mostly changed, we were still able to identify some signs in nature. The book mentioned the “iron plate sand” (铁板沙) of Luermen beach, and Niumatou being trapped by the floods. It recorded that he couldn’t cross the Taoyuan Plateau and had to make a detour from Nankan to Baliben. All these made it seem as if we were having a dialogue across a three-century barrier.

In his extremely thoughtful and patient way, M led me step by step into the path that Yu had taken three hundred years ago.  

I said, “You’re a Libra…”

Travelling with compassion and perseverance

I don’t know Yu’s horoscope. But he had amazing perseverance and overcame countless obstacles travelling northwards from Tainan to Baliben. He also had great compassion — when he saw the native coolies sleeping under the eaves during a downpour, he asked for help from the Han people who were travelling with him, but they said, “This is how life is for minorities (番人) from Taiwan.” 

Yu noted in his book, “But they’re also human!” Who enjoys being hungry or cold?    

At the site of today’s Bali ferry pier, Yu managed to find the community head and took a Bangka (艋舺) boat to the other side. “Bangka” refers to a dugout canoe in the aboriginal language. They were now given Chinese characters in his field report.

He took a boat to the other side from Bali, and perhaps arrived at today’s Beitou to mine sulphur. He stayed there for six months, completed his sulphur mining work, and returned to the mainland.

That happened in the era of the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty. His arduous journey was written into the detailed and accurate Small Sea Travel Diaries.

We spent most of the day trekking, and read through the places we covered in Small Sea Travel Diaries in a shabby hostel at night.    

A general look of the Beitou Thermal Valley (Hell Valley) that contains sulphur. (Photo: Honmingjun/Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)
Beitou Thermal Valley (Hell Valley) that contains sulphur. (Photo: Honmingjun/Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

M felt that this is an important historical record of the earliest Han involvement in Taiwan — its descriptions of the geography, plant ecology and life of the foreign community are valuable on-site observations.

Thus, we brought along this book and set off from Luermen, retracing the steps of Yu.

M gave me a precious fieldwork learning experience. We spent most of the day trekking, and read through the places we covered in Small Sea Travel Diaries in a shabby hostel at night.    

One that finds harmony between extremes

M was by far the least ideological cultural worker I’ve met. His smile represented a most basic respect for life that is hard to find these days. Meanwhile, his softness was like a perpetual search for a possible harmony between two extremes.

When we were at Luermen, I remembered that two Tianhou Temples were fighting to host the magazine company, digging out numerous pieces of evidence to prove that they are truly the earliest “Tianhou Temple”.

A brawny tattooed man from the folk temple pushed and grabbed us as if we were hostages and I was unable to resist. Amid the violent quarrels, M still had a smile on his face and remained calm. We climbed up the roof of the Tianhou Temple, and saw the colourful ceramic shards glistening under the sunlight. What a captivating sight! I was afraid of heights and my legs were trembling. M supported me, gently saying, “Look into the distance…” 

I saw the boundless Taijiang Inner Sea — its vast waterways flat and wide, while the sea and sky became one. It indeed took away a lot of my fears and worries.  

In the vast universe, the movement of the stars, through attraction and repulsion, forms a delicate and perfect network.

A Tianhou Temple in Luermen. (Photo: Chujuste/Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)
A Tianhou Temple in Luermen. (Photo: Chujuste/Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

M was a Libran friend who made the deepest impact on my life. He suffered a sudden aortic dissection at work and thus ended his 50 years of life. 

I cried in so much pain that I could not speak. 

But even then, I believe that the Libran M would not see me as unrefined.

I always remember his smile. A few days after his funeral, I dreamt of him. He smiled at me, and then left. I desperately ran after him, but he was already on a plane. I didn’t know why, but the airstair of the plane was a soft rope, which I climbed with all my strength. The rope ladder violently swayed back and forth as the engine of the plane started. I jolted awake, fell, and was covered in cold sweat.

That was the last time I saw him. And he still had a smile on his face.

This was my closest Libran friend.

I said, “M, you’re a Libra…”

He didn’t answer; maybe that was the last thing I asked him when I fell from the rope ladder.

*************************

There was a period of time when I met many couples consisting of a Leo and a Libra.   

I would ask myself, “Are Libras and Leos compatible?”

Looking up at the astrolabe in the sky, I felt the inexplicable trajectories of the densely packed stars, attracting and repelling one other. Attraction and repulsion are both forces at work in the orbital paths. 

Sometimes people are together because they like or love each other. But other times they are together because of jealousy, tolerance, ostracism or hate. They can be together because they care for each other but also because they torture each other. 

In the vast universe, the movement of the stars, through attraction and repulsion, forms a delicate and perfect network.

John Flamsteed, Le Lion (Leo), Paris, 1776. Detailed star chart of the constellation Leo. (Wikimedia)
John Flamsteed, Le Lion (Leo), Paris, 1776. Detailed star chart of the constellation Leo. (Wikimedia)

I only saw the littlest part of a small corner and thought that I had unravelled the secret of the astrolabe. In fact, I am still miles and miles away from the true “secret”. 

Big data analytics tell us that it is not Libras and Leos who often end up together, but more specifically male Libras and female Leos.

Big data of horoscope

I was pleased with myself, like a superficial astrologer or a shallow king, as I said, “There’s attraction between Libras and Leos.”

That sounds rather like the big data of today’s internet world…

My friend was telling his family that his “knee hurts”. Shortly after, he tapped open his phone and out jumped various information on knee replacement, tuina (推拿) massage, meridian massage, foot tubs, Chinese medicinal foot bath packs… Anything and everything related to the “knee joint” appeared and bombarded his phone for weeks.   

Until one day, he held his phone in his hand and got into a quarrel with a colleague. He screamed “whore”, and the information on his phone turned from “knee joints” to sexy women in sheer panties with butts pointing to the air and a finger in their mouth.

“Are all of us being watched?”

“Who is watching our every move?”

The discovery that Libras and Leos often end up together is too elementary— the internet can tell us a more accurate answer with big data.

Big data analytics tell us that it is not Libras and Leos who often end up together, but more specifically male Libras and female Leos.

People hoist a huge rainbow flag during Taiwan's annual LGBTQ pride parade in Taipei, Taiwan on 28 October 2023. (I-Hwa Cheng/AFP)
People hoist a huge rainbow flag during Taiwan's annual LGBTQ pride parade in Taipei, Taiwan, on 28 October 2023. (I-Hwa Cheng/AFP)

“Then what about homosexuals?”

A Gemini had asked the question. He wanted to refute the conclusion that big data had reached.

“I guess homosexual couples are also made up of a yang (阳, masculine) and a yin (阴, feminine) partner?” The Gemini surmised himself. 

Like a strict godmother

“Oh…” And so I was sure that she’s a Leo, because she had already changed three assistants. Were they all Libran young men?

“Are you a Leo?”

“Yes, I am! There are six Leos in my birth chart!”

She looked like a lion too, and a male one at that. She had a big head, fluffy mane, broad shoulders and muscular physique. She often had dark undereye circles as well.  

She’s intelligent and has always been a leader in her field of expertise. She had a small team that introduced early Taiwanese cinema of the 1980s to the world.  

She almost looked like a strict godmother once, and led numerous male directors, producers and actors to take part in international dealings.

As the film industry needed massive funds, the person in charge was often gangsterish, shrewd and eloquent, and had a strong brotherhood. None of her team members were easy to deal with either — those in charge of lighting, filming and editing all screamed at the top of their lungs at the film set, chewing on betel nuts as they went about their jobs. Whenever there were disagreements, betel nut juice, along with “to hell with it”, immediately landed on the detractor’s face. 

In that era, many directors were Aries and Leos. Even if they were water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), they were also Scorpios who had the mettle to get through anything. But she was indeed a Leo — a true blue male lion. 

People cross a road in Taipei, Taiwan, 14 November 2023. (Ann Wang/Reuters)
People cross a road in Taipei, Taiwan, 14 November 2023. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

I’ve been to a film set before and it happened to be a scene of dreadful clamour. I saw the Aries director resting with his eyes closed. He then said, “I want a big tree swaying in the wind. I want it to sway for a long time.”

And the clamour stopped. I saw a massive superb fig with luxuriant foliage swaying in the wind. The light and shadow were like a miracle, lingering for a long time.  

I suddenly thought of the line: “The trees long to be calm but the wind will not stop (树欲静而风不止).” Were his silence and teary eyes because he suddenly thought of his grandmother’s death?  

A true blue lion

In that era, many directors were Aries and Leos. Even if they were water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), they were also Scorpios who had the mettle to get through anything. 

But she was indeed a Leo — a true blue male lion. 

Those directors and producers who threw their weight around while chewing on betel nuts understood the rules of the underworld very well — seeing that she’s arrived, they were immediately at her beck and call. 

I heard that true male lions do not hunt — they are always upwind so that the wind carries their scent. When small animals, antelopes, deers and zebras smell the scent in the wind and know that the lion is upwind, they become terrified and flee downwind, where the lioness is waiting.  

So she’s a true male lion. Her scent alone scared everyone. 

A lion (SPH Media)
A lion in Kenya. (SPH Media)

She once lambasted an American psychic witch, Elizabeth.

“What happened?” I did not understand why she was so furious.

“Damn it, she said there’s a man living inside me!”

I was stunned and pondered for a moment. Is a man really living inside her?  

I rewatched The Godfather in high definition and I kept seeing her instead, nonchalantly walking past; the enemy already dead on the ground.

Her assistant, whom she called “Little Gay”, had always been weak, submissive, loyal, diligent and non-confrontational. The assistant was always unassuming beside the ferocious lion. There was no chance of betrayal.   

A Libra’s betrayal

That was at the end of the last century. Because of her, the island’s film industry once flourished, winning awards everywhere in the world.

When she returned with an award, I loved hugging her; it felt like hugging the whole world. 

And then the island’s film industry declined. A bunch of self-complacent gibberish could not leave the island, like fish wetting each other with their saliva on the brink of death, hanging onto each other and gasping for air. Are some stars also attracting each other and staying together with their last breath?    

Yes, the godmother left, leaving behind a city gradually losing the scent of a male lion. 

I heard that she had also taken directors from across the strait to the world stage where they made a name for themselves. But even when she was in Venice, Berlin or Cannes, her stubborn self still couldn’t care less about engaging with Hollywood or the Oscars. 

People walk on a street in Keelung, Taiwan on 4 September 2023. (I-Hwa Cheng/AFP)
People walk on a street in Keelung, Taiwan on 4 September 2023. (I-Hwa Cheng/AFP)

Later on, her Libran assistant cheated her of her money, emptying years of accumulated company savings.

And she only knew about it after the money had been emptied. She sat in the empty house, her dark undereye circles becoming a ditch for her tears.   

Her assistant, whom she called “Little Gay”, had always been weak, submissive, loyal, diligent and non-confrontational. The assistant was always unassuming beside the ferocious lion. There was no chance of betrayal.   

I often felt that she was bullying her poor Libran assistant… 

I was wrong. I guess there must be a rule of attraction between a Leo and a Libra that I don’t know about… 

Apart from the six Leos in her birth chart, there is actually a distant and sombre Virgo.  

This article was first published in Chinese on United Daily News as “天秤獅子”.

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