Kaohsiung Confucius Temple (高雄孔廟)

I've spent quite a bit of time so far this year travelling up and down the country working on my Martial Arts Hall project having already visited the majority of the remaining halls but still missing out on the halls that are the furthest south. I remedied that however with a well executed trip to Kaohsiung that not only included a trip to the Kaohsiung city Martial Arts Hall but also to the Qishan Hall which is an hour or so long bus ride outside of the city.

While planning for the trip I spent a bit of time mapping out my route on Google maps. I needed to know the quickest possible walking or bicycling route from the Qishan bus station to the Martial Arts Hall in order to utilize the time I had in the best way possible.

When I was looking at the Martial Arts Hall on satellite view I noticed something interesting on a mountain beside it. It seemed like there was a huge temple up there. I zoomed in and the title "Kaohsiung Confucius Temple" popped up. I did a quick search on google to find out what it was and when I saw the description: "The largest Confucius Temple in South East Asia" I automatically decided to add the temple to my itinerary.

I have become a bit of a pro when it comes to taking photos of Confucius Temples - This isn't to say that my photos of the temples are particularly interesting or even look good but I have a lot of experience with them and since they are mostly uniform in design I figured that even though this was dubbed as the largest Confucius Temple in Taiwan and also South East Asia that I could swoop in and out and get the shots I needed without spending much time.

I have to admit, I was wrong. There was no way I would have been able to just walk into this temple, take a few photos and leave. It was simply just too big and too impressive to not spend a little extra time to enjoy the minor details.

So far I've written about a few of Taiwan's other Confucius Temples which include the historic Tainan Temple as well as the Taipei, Taoyuan and Hsinchu temples. There are however over twenty large Confucius Temples Taiwan and are typically constructed at the city or county level and vary in age from over three centuries to less than three decades.

History

The Kaohsiung Confucius Temple, not to be confused with that other "Kaohsiung Confucius Temple" is one of three Confucius Temples in the greater Kaohsiung area which all happen to more or less have the same English name.

For clarity sake I think its probably better to refer to this specific temple as the "Kaohsiung County Confucius Temple" (高雄縣孔廟) or the "Qishan Confucius Temple" (旗山孔廟). But in the case of "Kaohsiung County" it becomes confusing as the "county" ceased to exist a few years ago when the county and the city amalgamated into the area known as "Greater Kaohsiung" (大高雄市).

If I was talking to a Taiwanese person, they would of course understand that the Kaohsiung County Confucius Temple was the one in Qishan, but when it comes to English it becomes a bit confusing and is likely one of the reasons why there is so little English information available when it comes to this specific Confucius Temple.

The Kaohsiung Confucius Temple is not particularly an old temple, but there is a long history on the ground for which it stands. The temple is situated within Zhongshan Park (中山公園) and has an area of 41,169 square meters. While the temple may be lacking in history, it is certainly not lacking in size and easily makes the other Confucius Temples in Taiwan look pretty small in comparison.

The temple was built on the site of the Qishan Shinto Shrine (旗山神社/きざんじんじゃ) which was built in 1936 (昭和8年) and served its purpose until the Second World War when it was partially destroyed and left to rot. In 1983 a local politician promoted the demolition of what was the original shrine and planned for a Confucius Temple to be constructed in its place.

Construction on the temple started in 1984 and surprisingly was completed only a year later opening to the public in time for the annual Teachers Day celebrations. Unfortunately it seems that when it was built, in order to complete the temple as fast as possible a few short cuts were taken which forced the temple to close in 1993 for a period of eight years to reconstruct and repair some of the damaged buildings caused by a weak foundation, erosion and earthquakes.

The temple reopened to the public in 2001 (民國90年) and since 2004 the annual Teacher's Day celebrations on the anniversary of Confucius's Birthday are held on a grand scale at the temple.

 Design

Confucius temples tend to be uniform in their simplicity - Unlike the overwhelming beauty of Taiwanese folk temples and Taoist temples - Confucius temples stand alone in their almost "zen-like" nature in that they don't have shiny gold or bronze decorations and murals all over the walls with hundreds of sticks of incense creating a haze throughout the temple.

The simplicity exhibited in Confucius temples throughout China, Hong Kong and Taiwan is meant to be a show of respect to Confucius as well as the importance of his philosophical views of education and his influence on Chinese culture and history.

One of the common features of all Confucius temples is that there is no imagery or statues of Confucius. This is a rule that goes back almost 500 years to the Ming Dynasty (明朝) when the emperor decreed that all Confucius temples should be uniform and only have "spirit tablets" (神位) rather than images of the sage. This practice has endured in Confucius temples up until today.

Below I'm going to describe a bit of the key features and different buildings within the Confucius Temple:

 Dacheng Hall (大成殿)

Dacheng Hall is the main shrine area of any Confucius temple. The hall, which is known in English as the "Hall of Great Achievement" sits in the architectural centre of the entire complex and is also in the middle of a large granite courtyard. Inside the hall is a very simple set up with the Confucius spirit tablet set up on a nicely decorated table.

Suffice to say that with the rest of the complex being as large as it is, the Dacheng Hall at this temple, which is the main attraction is equally as large. When you walk into the main hall you can't help but feel a bit of awe at the sheer size of the single-room hall. The ceiling is quite high and when you walk in you might feel a bit like an ant.

On either side of the Confucius shrine there are additional shrines dedicated to the four sages (四配) Yan Hui (顏子), Zengzi (曾子), Zisi (子思) and Mencius (孟子) who were Confucius scholars and authored books which expanded upon the Confucian philosophy and has had a lasting impact on Chinese culture and the diaspora of Chinese people's throughout the world.

The building is the highest building within the main complex and is elevated off the ground. In the front of the hall is a stone carved mural of a dragon with several more dragons on the roof. In the middle of the roof there is a 'seven-levelled' pagoda which is thought to suppress evil.

 Chongsheng Shrine (崇聖祠)

The Chongsheng Shrine is traditionally situated behind the main Dacheng Hall and is used as a shrine room to venerate the ancestors of Confucius as well as the various Confucian sages and philosophers throughout history. This shrine room is not unlike a shrine room that you'd find in any large Taiwanese home and is an important place for ancestral worship for the descendants of Confucius whom have over time spread out throughout the world.

The Chongsheng Shrine in this temple is accessible to the public and has several different shrines with spirit plates for the many different generations of Confucius's ancestors. The room isn't as grand as some of the other areas of the temple but it is quiet and there's a nice breeze through the pills on the exterior.

The Kaohsiung Confucius Temple has the honour of being the largest in all of Taiwan but at the same time also one of the loneliness of them all. I visited the temple on a weekend and apart from a young couple who were hanging out at the main doors making out, I was the only person inside the whole complex.

The relative emptiness of the temple was great for a few reasons - The first that I didn't have to worry about people ending up ruining my shots. The second is that the temple is supposed to be a place where people go to be educated, relax and contemplate the larger aspects of life. I feel like in the case of this Confucius Temple, it would be much easier to sit next to one of the massive pillars, enjoy the mountain air and the peace and quiet of the temple.

I suppose the reason for the relative emptiness of the temple can be attributed to a number of factors - The first being that most people don't actually have any idea that it is there. The next is that most tourists prefer to take leisurely walks through the old street rather than walking up the steep set of stairs that brings you to the temple.

No matter what the reason, I think more people should know about the Kaohsiung Confucius Temple - Even though its not one of the older temples, its certainly the biggest and also the most peaceful. If you are in the Qishan area, make sure to stop by and check it out!

Map / Location

 

 Confucius Temples: Taipei | Taoyuan | Hsinchu | Tainan


Yuanzui Mountain (鳶嘴山)

In the short time that drone photography has become more accessible to the greater public, I've seen some really creative photos and also some amazing videos which I believe gives a whole new perspective to photography. I have to admit though that I have some mixed feelings about the whole thing. 

Whenever I see something cool, I'll show my respect to the photographer - I realize that a lot of work goes into not only travelling to certain locations, but also flying the drones and getting the shots necessary to make a beautiful photo or video.

My reservations are quite simple - Drone photography has the ability to invade people's privacy and in some cases has become a tool for people with nefarious purposes to spy on people in the privacy of their homes. It seems that we see something in the news almost every week about some pervert with a drone doing something stupid.  

Why am I talking about all of this?

A few years ago I saw a video made with a drone shared on social media. The video was taken from the top of a mountain here in Taiwan and was so well-made that my jaw dropped at the sheer beauty of the landscape.

Link: Beautiful Yuanzui Mountain Drone Video by 王志文

The video was taken on the peak of one of Taiwan's "xiao bai-yue" (小百岳) or one of the "100 peaks in the country between 1000-3000 meters above sea level. 

Surprisingy, the mountain was a well-known one with Taiwan's avid hiking community but was also one that was quickly becoming popular with the young and beautiful Instagrammers of the world who are constantly on the look out for a beautiful place to take photos.

The mountain, known as Yuanzui Mountain (鳶嘴山) or "Birds Beak Mountain" is most attractive due to the fact that it gives people with even novice hiking ability the chance to climb to one of Taiwan's high peaks and also because the the view from the peak offers amazing 360 degree panoramic views of the mountains and valleys below.

At 2,180 meters (7,152 feet), the mountain is a relatively high one but as it is one of the peaks that belongs to North-Eastern Taiwan's Snow Mountain Range (雪山山脈), it is actually a bit of a baby compared to some of its neighbours which rise up to as high as 3,886 meters.

Don't let that dismay you however as it is one of the most accessible of the "Bai-yue" peaks and does not require hikers to stay overnight or apply for a permit months in advance.

The Hike

Yuanzui Mountain is situated within Taichung's Snow Mountain National Forest Park (大雪山國家森林遊樂區) and is a short hour-long drive outside of Taichung city. With no public transportation available however, the mountain is really only accessible to those who can arrange their own transportation.

This means that for a lot of people, a day trip from Taipei can be a bit difficult if you don't have a car.

Hikers don't necessarily need to apply for a permit before hiking this mountain but it is a good idea while on your way up to the trailhead to stop in at Taichung Police Bureau's Heping Precinct (和平分局大棟派出所) to "sign-in" which more or less just requires you to fill in your name, ID number/passport number and phone number to let the police know you are up on the mountain in case of emergency.

The police station is a few kilometres ahead of the trailhead and can't really be missed as you'll see a bunch of cars parked alongside the small mountain road with hikers inside signing in.

If you don't want to take the few minutes to sign in, its up to you, no one is going to check for a permit at the trailhead, but if there is an emergency its better to be safe than sorry.

I have climbed the mountain on two separate occasions and on both trips it took no more than three hours to complete the hike - I travel quite quickly and rarely stop for breaks though, so if you are planning on doing this hike, at least plan for four or five hours. This means that you should be at the trailhead before noon so that you don't end up losing light at the end of the day.

The trail to the peak is well-developed and also well-marked but it is important that when you hie, the mountain that you travel in a group and don't travel alone. 

There are dangerous portions of the hike, so it is important that you take extreme caution and make sure that you are comfortable with using the ropes and climbing up and down a rock face before making an attempt to hike this one.

With that being said though, if I had a ten year old son or daughter, I wouldn't hesitate to take them for a hike on this mountain. If you are in relatively good shape and aren't' afraid of heights, you shouldn't have any problem.

The payoff for those who do complete the hike are beautiful panoramic views of the Snow Mountain range and Taiwan's alpine environment. 

As mentioned above, in recent years the peak of Yuanzui Mountain has become a popular place for the young and beautiful people of Instagram to get a selfie. This means that you're going to run into quite a few 'novice' hikers on the trail who have no idea what they're getting themselves into.

The popularity of the mountain means that there is often a bit of congestion on the trail, especially on the sections where ropes are required to pull yourself up and if you end up hiking on a hot day, waiting around in the sun could possibly cause you to get sunburnt or heat stroke. So, when hiking the mountain, its important that you dress appropriately and also bring enough water and food with you in case you start to feel weak.

The hike can be split up into a few different sections - The first section is probably the most tiring part of the whole hike. It is a walk up a tree-covered hill and is probably the most difficult part of the hike where you'll find yourself starting to sweat within the first few minutes.

The second part is where you have to start using ropes and climbing up the rocky side of the mountain. This part is probably one of the funnest and also one of the busiest sections of the hike due to the fact that people tend to go up quite slowly and/or freak out.

The third part is the peak where people tend to hang out for a little while, take photos and have something to eat. The peak is really beautiful and a lot of people want to wait to get their photos on top so you may have to wait around for a little while.

The next part is the way down and basically you have a choice - You can go down the same way you came. If the trail is busy it's probably not the best idea to go down that way. Personally I think the best route is to compete the entire hike by following the trail to the rear trailhead.

The way down is just as fun as the way up and if you enjoy rock climbing you're going to like it. If you're afraid of heights on the other hand you're going to have a difficult time.

Hiking down the mountain, like the way up goes in two different sections - The first is an open faced rock climb down while the second part is a forest-covered walk down the hill to the trailhead. The walk down is a fun one and is the place where I ran into a Formosan Blue Pheasant (藍腹鷴) feeding on seeds on the ground.

The trail is known for its wildlife, and there are signs at the trailhead that mention that there is a possibility of running into one of the extremely rare Formosan Black bears,  so make sure to keep your eyes open while walking around and you might see something special.

This hike has become a popular one over the past few years - I'd like to think that we can thank the amazing video I posted above for that but I'm assuming it was more of an Instagram thing that brought it the popularity it enjoys today. No matter what the reason, the popularity this mountain is enjoying at the moment is well deserved. It is a great day-hike and gives even the most inexperienced of hikers an excellent climbing experience.

If you do plan on taking up the challenge, make sure to dress properly, bring enough water, something to eat and prepare for a mild workout. If you're afraid of heights, you may want to bring a friend with you who can cover your eyes or push you to test your limits.

Trailhead Map / Location 


Gallery / Flickr (High Res Shots)