The Hsinchu City God temple (新竹都城隍廟) is regarded as the most important ‘City God’ temple in Taiwan and is the headquarters of all the City God temples in the country. There are currently ninety-five temples dedicated to the Taoist deity found throughout Taiwan as well as the islands off of the Taiwanese mainland. Each temple acts as a spiritual protectorate for the people living in the area and each year believers from these temples throughout the country will visit Hsinchu to pay homage to the City God.
The City God, also known as Cheng Huang Ye (城隍爺) is an interesting figure in Taoism and is an important god in the hierarchy of deities within the religion. His importance seems to me to be very Confucian in nature and is quite representative of ancient Chinese ideas of political ideology and methods of urban development.
Historically, cities in China were walled and there were generally four different gates to enter the city with guards stationed at each gate for protection. The gates were set up to demarcate the perimeter of ancient towns and cities and also to mark the area which the City God as well as his human counterparts were expected to reign over.
The function of the City God was to act as a supernatural magistrate of sorts that would make decisions about the city (along side human colleagues), keep it safe and make decisions regarding the final judgement of citizens who lived within the borders of the city.
Each of the ninety-five City God temples “presides” over a administrative region of the country. A few centuries ago, these temples would have been off limits to the public and would only be available to local magistrates and people of power. Today however things are quite different and people visit regularly to pray and make offerings to "Cheng Huang Ye" for keeping them healthy and safe as well as praying to his wife (城隍夫人) who is known for her skills in helping people find love!
Every year on July 15th (of the Lunar Calendar), the Hsinchu City God will leave his temple and go on an inspection tour of the city - This event is a lot like what happens during the Qingshan King Inspection tour (青山靈安尊王) of Wanhua district in Taipei and while it's not entirely the same, the atmosphere is just as electric and the parade that ensues throughout the city is one of those Taiwanese cultural events that should be seen at least once!
You might be a bit confused as to why City God statues from temples around the country visit and pay respect to the Hsinchu City God considering that they are all statues of the same god. To explain it simply, there is a hierarchy of importance when it comes to these statues - The Hsinchu City God is considered the emperor and all the statues from minor temples are thought to derive spiritual power from it and thus they have to visit in order to maintain their spiritual control over the order of the area in which they preside.
On July 15th, the day of the inspection many temples from throughout the country will form a traditional parade and visit Hsinchu to pay respect to the City God. When a major Taoist god travels around (especially those of the underworld) there will be an entourage known as the "night patrol" to offer protection and also scare away any evil or ghosts which may be hiding in the area.
The entourage is my favourite part of these inspection tours as they include the Eight Generals (八家將), the First Officers (官將首) and the Infernal Generals (大仙尪仔) as well as people dressed up in robes beating gongs, lighting fire crackers and generally causing about as much noise pollution as possible in order to scare away evil. The inspection is said to liveliest time of the year in Hsinchu City and attracts thousands of spectators and believers from all over the country.
When I wrote about the City God Temple a few months ago I made sure to put this inspection tour on my calendar as it was one of the must-attend events of the year. Unfortunately a few factors led to a bit of failure on my part: The first was that I had just arrived back in Taiwan from a trip to Korea and was exhausted. The next factor was that the weather was miserable and it rained cats and dogs. The best part of the event happened after 10:00pm and I thought that I could ultimately have to take a taxi home (because I'd have to stay too late and miss the last train), however the rain really killed those plans and I decided to go back before the City God went on his inspection.
I had hoped to have photos for a more in-depth report of the inspection in the same way I did for the Qingshan King Inspection several months ago - unfortunately I'll have to wait until next year and hope for better weather!
Despite not getting the photos I wanted, I had an excellent time and also got to meet up for coffee and hang out with my friend and fellow blogger Alexander Synaptic who live Tweeted/Instagrammed the event while I was shooting these photos. We walked around together (despite being annoyed by the rain) and the sight of two expats was enough for a lot of the people taking part in the parade to pose for photos, have a chat and cheerfully greet us in the typical Taiwanese manner.
On November 29th of the Lunar Calendar another large event will take place at the temple to celebrate the birthday of the City God and I hope that this time the weather will be more agreeable and that if any of you visit and see me walking through the crowd that you'll say hi!