Last year a 63-year-old woman from Taichung surnamed Chen went to visit her older brother. She had been suffering from a chronic desease and was in low spirits, so her brother invited her to the countryside to stay with him. One day her brother and his wife left home to go on a trip. During the absence of the couple, the woman hanged herself in the flat’s kitchen. After the man returned home, he discovered his sister’s dead body. He became angry and sued his sister’s three kids for damage compensation, arguing that the suicide of his sister had reduced the value of his flat. He asked that he be indemnified by the woman’s children.
According to Apple Daily, the man’s lawyer declared that his client had invited his sister home to recuperate from her illness as an act of kindness, but she had decided to kill herself in his flat. He couldn’t understand his sister’s behaviour. He believes that when his sister killed herself, she didn’t think about the damage she would do to others, and specifically to the value of the property where she committed suicide.
In fact, after the flat had become a haunted house (凶宅), its value dropped by 40-50%. He therefore asked to be paid an indemnity. The woman’s children stated that their mother and their aunt had inherited the three-storey building from their parents, but they had ceded it to their three brothers. The eldest brother and his wife now live there.
They further stated that the woman used to visit her brother from time to time. She would not only buy food and cook but also pay for various expenses. After their mother’s death the children had renovated the flat and performed Daoist purification rites “according to custom and etiquette” (禮俗). The man had nevertheless decided to sue them.
The court ruled in favour of the uncle. The judge said that although the woman had taken her own life, the place and the method she had chosen had caused damage to others. After the house had become “haunted” the value of the property had dropped, therefore the man deserved compensation.
Episodes like this, as isolated as they may be, can make us reflect upon a stereotyped harmonious Confucian family whose values are propagated by many East Asian states, including Singapore, Taiwan and the PRC. That the traditional family has always been far from harmonious, can also be seen in studies that were made before the so-called ‘Westernisation’ of East Asia, such as Village Life in China or Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan.