Buddhism

Abandoned Chiang Kai-Shek Temple (廢棄蔣公廟)

For most tourists, an itinerary for a trip to Taiwan almost always includes stopping by one of the famous night markets, climbing a famous mountain, eating some famous dumplings and of course visiting one or more of the country’s famous places of worship.

This means that on any given day you’ll find just as many wide-eyed tourists at Taipei’s Longshan Temple than you will faithful locals - and there’s good reason for that. Taiwan’s temples are often the best preserved examples of traditional architecture in the country.

While it is easy for tourists to respect the beauty of Taiwan’s places of worship, its not likely that many of them actually understand much of anything is going on inside. Even though we may not understand everything that’s going on, its easy to realize that everything you see inside a temple has a purpose and nothing is out of place - Every mural, every Chinese character, every dragon or phoenix on the roof, etc. It all has a purpose and follows a strict code of design dictated by thousands of years of tradition.

Religion in Taiwan brilliantly mixes Taoism, Buddhism and local folk religion into an experience that is uniquely Taiwanese.

Even though the three different philosophies vary considerably in practice, they are still able to mix together peacefully. This means that in almost every temple in the country you’ll encounter a pantheon of gods and goddesses living in harmony under one roof.

The religious experience though is not entirely as hippy-like as it sounds - There are some aspects that can really freak people out. This is a feeling that actually isn’t exclusive to tourists as many young and uninitiated locals often also have the same wide-eyed look of confusion and disbelief about what they’re seeing in temples.

Take the “Pigs of God” festival for example - In several communities around Northern Taiwan you’ll find a religious festival that worships “God Pigs” (神豬), giant hogs that are over-fed for years only to be slaughtered and put on gruesome display as an offering to the gods.

Likewise, the Spirit Medium’s (乩童) that you’ll find at most temple festivals put themselves in a trance in order to become ‘possessed by a god’ and then self-flagellate until their body is bleeding profusely. There’s also the role of a “Ji-Gong” (濟公) who performs a similar task but instead of using weapons to cause self-harm, they drink copious amounts of rice wine until drunk enough that they’re able to speak for the gods.

When it comes to the deities being worshipped, there are also a few head scratchers - Take the Chinese Zodiac deity Yang Ren (楊任) for example - Even though he’s one of my favourite,  this is a god who has a couple of hands for eyes. There’s also Xing-Tian (刑天), a headless giant whose face appears on his chest and has nipples for eyes.

The strangest of all however, if you’re asking me, are the temples where you’ll find shrines dedicated to “Jiang-Gong” (蔣公), known here on earth as former President Chiang Kai-Shek.

Yes, thats right.

Chiang Kai-Shek, one of the most prolific murderers of the 20th century.

Suffice to say, this practice is an obscure one, with a small following, but in the temples where he is worshipped, you can’t help but feel a bit weird. The subject of today’s post is an abandoned and unfinished temple dedicated to Taiwan’s former president.

On the day of my visit, I posted a photo I took from my phone to Twitter and received a lot of comments and retweets from people who were surprised that something like this existed.

I tweeted: “Today’s Adventure - An Abandoned temple dedicated to Chiang Kai-Shek. Why’s it abandoned? Probably because its weird to worship mass murderers as a god.

Someone replied: “In that case, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei is REALLY weird.”

Yes, I agree, the Memorial Hall is also kinda weird.

There is a major difference between the two however - The Memorial Hall, much like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington is a place of reverence for a former leader. The people who visit are expected to show respect to the former president, but there are never any religious rituals performed there. At the temples dedicated to CKS on the other hand, you’ll find the same style of religious practice taking place that you will at other temples with images of the man adorned in god-like attire.

Before I talk about the temple, I think a bit of context about the cult of Chiang Kai-Shek is in order.

If you haven’t already, I recommend taking a look at my posts about the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall as well as the Cihu Mausoleum where his body lies in state. In both blogs I go into a lot more detail about the man and his legacy in Taiwan.

Chiang Kai Shek Worship?  

President Chiang Kai-Shek, who died on April 5, 1975, has a bit of a contentious legacy, to say the least.

As the political landscape has shifted over the past few decades, the people of Taiwan have started to reflect on their history and are learning about many of the unfortunate events that took place over the long period of Chiang’s governance - subjects which were once taboo.

Chiang’s supporters credit him for the role he played during the Sino-Japanese War, the ensuing Chinese Civil War and the continued development of Taiwan. His detractors on the other hand denounce him as a violent dictator who imposed decades of authoritarian rule over the people of Taiwan and for the crimes against humanity that took place under his leadership.

No matter which side of the fence you sit on, Chiang Kai-Shek’s legacy is often vigorously debated and even though he was one of the most important figures in the history of the Chinese Nationalist Party and a key player during the Second World War, his memory is rarely evoked by the KMT of today.

Nevertheless, there are some who remain ideologically dedicated to the man, whom they have propped up as a hero and someone whose deeds in life are apparently worthy of deification in local folk-religion circles.

Many of the gods and goddesses you’ll come across in temples were actually historic figures, known for performing miracles or achieving greatness during their lifetime. When it comes to the process of “deification” though, it doesn’t seem like the rules are very strict, so you will often come across obscure figures being worshipped in some of the temples around the country.

While many of the historical figures that have been deified over the years have achieved universal recognition, worship of Chiang Kai-Shek is considered an obscure practice and is generally only followed by retired members of the Armed Forces and extreme political types.

Currently there are a handful of places in Taiwan where you can find a temple or a shrine dedicated to “Jiang-Gong.” Most however are simply named “Halls of Appreciation” (感恩堂) likely alluding to the fact that CKS isn’t recognized by most as a deity.

While I don’t intend to offer a complete list of temples or shrines dedicated to CKS, the most notable of the bunch are Hsinchu’s Tian-Hong Temple (天宏宮), Danshui’s Kuixing Temple (魁星宮) and the two “Chiang Kai-Shek Halls of Appreciation” (蔣公感恩堂) on Kaohsiung’s Qijing Island (旗津).

The shrines that are set up in these temples often include a statue of Chiang Kai-Shek surrounded by Republic of China iconography. Most of the statues are actually quite normal but in some cases, they appear with a black face and his body will be adorned in thick yellow-gold robes indicating his divine nature.

In front of the shrine you’ll often find a table where worshippers are able to place offerings and an incense urn for placing sticks of incense once you’re done praying.

The temples don’t hold events very often, but on certain anniversaries, it is likely that a small ceremony is planned to commemorate the day. From what I’ve seen online, these events usually involve the burning of copious amounts of ghost money and making offerings.

As the years have passed these temples have become more and more obscure and for the most part attract people only for curiosity sake. I suppose the main reason for this is that many of the people who grew up adoring the man are now in the late-stages of life or have already passed away. This presents a problem for temple management as CKS currently has many more enemies in Taiwan than allies and makes them a target for vandalism.

In one of the Kaohsiung temples for example, the shrine dedicated to CKS had to be moved from the main hall of the temple to one of the side halls as people would drive by and take shots at the statue with Airsoft rifles or BB guns. Likewise many of the statues of CKS that you’ll find in parks and schools around the country are routinely vandalized (especially on certain anniversaries) with many of them beheaded or splattered with red paint.

The China Times quoted a pragmatic manager in a recent article about one of these temples who said: “People in Taiwan have many different views of Chiang Kai-Shek, if you want to come and pay respect, then by all means come, if you don’t, thats okay, no one is forcing you” (台灣社會各界對蔣介石的評價不一,但想拜的人就來拜,不想的就算了,誰也不能勉強誰)

Abandoned CKS Temple

Although there are a few active places of worship dedicated to Chiang Kai-Shek throughout Taiwan, others that have been completely abandoned.

The subject of today’s post is one of the latter and is one that has gained a bit of notoriety in recent years thanks to its inclusion in the popular film “The Great Buddha” (大佛普拉斯), which if you haven’t seen, I highly recommend.

Information about the temple is a bit hit and miss but from what I’ve found, it was constructed in 1979, a few years after Chiang Kai-Shek’s death and was meant to be a “Chiang Kai-Shek Hall” (中正堂) with an adjoining City God Temple (城隍廟) attached to the main hall.

The land purchase and subsequent construction was funded by a local man named Hong who figured that he could be eligible for compensation from the Chinese Nationalist Party for his efforts.

Unfortunately when party representatives visited the site, they found that there was nothing of historical value and that the location was so obscure that few people would be interested in visiting, therefore Hong’s request for compensation was denied.

Consequently Mr. Hong, who had already spent a fortune on the construction of the temple decided it was best to just move in and converted the rear section into a home where he lived until he died. Having already run out of cash, the temple remained unfinished with no decorations on the roof and the shrine rooms only sloppily painted. Mr. Hong’s family had no interest in maintaining the temple, so they tried their best to sell the land in order to recover their losses.

Unfortunately no one was really interesting in buying the land, nor were there any takers for demolishing a half-constructed temple which would result in a considerable amount of “麻煩“ (inconvenience) for whomever undertook such a venture.

The family ultimately settled to sell the land for an extremely low price to the temple across the road which initially planned to tear it down but later decided to instead raise funds to complete construction.

The temple management however currently has zero interest in maintaining a temple dedicated to Chiang Kai-Shek, so whatever the future of the temple is, its not likely that worship of the former president will be a part of it.

When Director Huang Hsin-Yi (黃信堯) was scouting locations for his film “The Great Buddha”, he noted that the temple was so ‘ridiculous and absurd’ (太過荒謬) that it would be the perfect location to contribute to an important scene in the movie which was making light of some of the absurdities of Taiwanese culture.

The temple currently consists of a main hall, dedicated to worshipping Chiang Kai-Shek and an adjoining hall to the left with various statues in a large shrine room. To the rear of the halls you can find several different rooms, which are more or less empty and a set of stairs to the roof where you are rewarded with the view of an extremely dull landscape.

The Main Hall has has a bronze statue of Chiang Kai-Shek similar to the one at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei (on a much smaller scale) with the blue Republic of China star painted on the wall behind the statue. Below the statue you’ll find some cups for offering rice wine, some old ghost money and some incense if you feel like lighting one up for the old guy.

Directly in front of the shrine you’ll find a rusting incense cauldron with painted dragons on it.

The hall has several red columns that lead up to the shrine, but the paint on the columns has faded and is chipping off. Likewise, the walls on the east and west side of the room have been completed with scraps that Mr. Hong likely found lying on the side of the road.

The adjoining City God Hall (城隍殿) was originally intended to consist of three different shrines but it is currently home to several additional statues which seem like they were placed inside for their protection.

The interior of the shrine currently has a bronze bust of CKS on the far left, with a rock painted with an image of Guanyin on the far right. The middle area features an eerie eyeless statue of the City God (城隍爺) with Lord Guan (關公) to his left and another figure to his right - possibly the Earth God (土地公). There is also a similar-looking statue of Lord Bao (包公) and a small wooden statue that has had its face shaved off.

Save for the statue of the City God, it looks like all of the other statues were hand carved from chunks of wood and they all have hairy beards that have collected dust and dirt. The statue of the City God with its white eyes was enough to freak me out when I was taking photos in the dark shrine room.

I’m not superstitious, but I know enough about temples to know that it this kind of thing is scary.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the “City God” is a deity whose purpose is to more or less protect the city (or town) he presides over and pass judgement on those who commit crimes within. You’ll find a City God Temple in almost all of Taiwan’s large areas with the Hsinchu City God Temple acting as the headquarters of all of them. The strange thing about a “City God Temple” being constructed in this area is that the temple is in the middle of no where. There’s no “city” for the City God to preside over - possibly adding to the “absurdity” of the temple mentioned by the director.

The only other object of note within the complex is a lonely palanquin that sits in a hallway between the two shrine rooms. The wooden palanquin which belongs to a nearby Mazu temple sits in the room with all of its pretty decorations collecting dust.

The temple is completely open and you are free to walk in and check everything out.

I usually include directions for the locations I blog about, but when it comes to Urban Exploration, its better if you try to find out on your own. It won’t be difficult to find if you do a bit of searching and I’ve left enough clues, but I’m not going to do all the work for you.

Happy Hunting!  

As far as temples go, this is one that likely has the ability to freak quite a people out - especially locals. Not only is it unfinished and abandoned, its also dedicated to someone who is for better or worse one of the most infamous figures in Taiwanese history. The obscure nature of the temple and the fact that it sits there completely open the public means that you’re perfectly able to visit whenever you like, but for many of the reasons listed above, its probably not one of Taiwan’s more popular tourist destinations.

Still, it was an interesting place to explore and a bit of a head scratcher at the same time.

I hope you at least enjoyed the photos and my attempt to stay somewhat neutral.


Lukang Longshan Temple (鹿港龍山寺)

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When planning a trip to Taiwan, one of the stops that is always high on the list of places to visit is Taipei’s historic Longshan Temple - and for good reason - the bustling temple in the city’s historic Wanhua District (萬華區) offers tourists a first-hand experience with the vibrancy of Taiwanese religion, culture and the traditional architecture that is considered ‘exotic’ by a lot of foreign visitors.

What though do those tourists who are able to invest a bit more time exploring Taiwan do?

Well, they get out of Taipei and head south - Then they visit the ‘other’ Longshan Temple.

Yes, there is more than one Longshan Temple. (There are a handful of them actually)

Taipei’s Longshan Temple tends to be the busiest of the lot, but that is really only because it is conveniently located within the capital and is easily accessible thanks to the amazing MRT system. Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing place to visit - I’ve been there a hundred times and I’ll probably go a hundred more times.

But, (yes, there is a but) Taiwan’s first “Longshan Temple”, the most historic of the group, not only stands out as one of the most attractive of the bunch - it is also regarded as one of the most beautiful temples in the whole of Taiwan as well as one of the best remaining examples of a building constructed during the Qing dynasty with traditional Fujian-style architecture.

Located in the historic village of Lukang (鹿港), the temple is just one of the many amazing destinations the small coastal village has to offer. Needless to say, if you haven’t heard of Lukang, you really should take some time to check it out. What might seem a small village in the middle of no where is actually an action packed day trip with some of the coolest historic sites you’re going to see in Taiwan. This is why it has become such a popular destination for both domestic and foreign tourists alike. Lukang is a village that has been frozen in time and provides visitors with an amazing snapshot of what the Taiwan of olde was like.

Longshan Temples of Taiwan

The Longshan Temples of Taiwan have a history that is directly related to the early migration of Hokkien Chinese settlers from China’s Fujian Province (福建省). Starting in the early 1600’s, due to the political instability of the Ming Dynasty (明朝), many people hailing from the Fujian and Guangdong (廣東省) areas made the decision to emigrate across the Taiwan strait and throughout various parts of South East Asia.

In Taiwan’s case, the Hokkien people sought to make a go of it in what was a very under-developed land bringing with them only their language, culture, cuisine and folk religion as well as what little possessions they could fit on the boat.

The original Longshan Temple, constructed during the Tang Dynasty (唐朝) somewhere between 618-619, received its name thanks to its location on “Longshan” (龍山) or Dragon Mountain in Anhai, Fujian.

The original, like every other ‘Longshan Temple’ that followed is dedicated to the Buddha of Compassion, whom in the Chinese Buddhist tradition takes the form of Guanyin (觀音菩薩), a female Buddha.

  • Non-Chinese Buddhists are likely more familiar with Tibet’s Buddha of Compassion who appears in human form as the Dalai Lama.

Here in Taiwan, the tradition that these temples would be dedicated to Guanyin has continued, but as the centuries have passed they started to accommodate Taoist and local folk-religion deities as well - many of whom also happen to hail from the Fujian region.

Even though you can now find several deities housed within Taiwan’s various Longshan Temples, the fact remains that essence of religious worship that takes place within is rooted in Chinese Zen Buddhist tradition.

Something that I can’t underscore enough about the religious experience in Taiwan compared to the west is that temples here have the ability to house gods from what are considered to be ‘different’ religions yet there are never any problems that arise from this. The religious experience here is one of tolerance and should certainly act as a model for those around the world who would use their beliefs to cause harm to others.

Today there are five temples in Taiwan with histories that date between 160 - 370 years which were all constructed during the Qing dynasty.

Lugang Longshan Temple (鹿港龍山寺) - 1647

Tainan Longshan Temple (台南龍山寺) - 1715

Monga Longshan Temple (艋舺龍山寺) - 1738

Fengshan Longshan Temple (鳳山龍山寺) - 1765

Tamsui Longshan Temple (淡水龍山寺) - 1858

Daxi Longshan Temple (大溪龍山寺) - 1868

Each of the temples differs in its design, but they all share a similar history and purpose making the Longshan Temple’s of Taiwan an important place of worship and of course, historical value.

Lukang Longshan Temple (鹿港龍山寺)

The oldest of all of the Longshan Temple’s in Taiwan is located in Changhua County’s Lukang Village - With a history that is said to date back to 1647. and is considered to be one of the most historic in all of Taiwan.

Something I’ve learned over the past few years though is to take some of these historical “facts” with a grain of salt.

Does the Lukang Longshan Temple in fact date back to 1647? Technically yes and technically no.

The history of a ‘Longshan Temple’ in the area most certainly dates back to the mid-1600s. However that history doesn’t necessarily relate to building that we see today. The original was actually a much smaller shrine, in another part of the village and was constructed solely to house a statue of Guanyin that was brought to Taiwan from the original Longshan Temple.

The temple we see today moved to its current location in 1786 and since then has been expanded upon, renovated and restored on several different occasions with reconstructions in the 1800s forming the basis of the structure that we continue to enjoy today.

So, while it may not be as old as advertised, Its still quite old.

History

To make things a bit clearer, I’ve gone ahead and translated some of the more important historical events over the temple’s long history:

  • 1647 - Immigrants from Quanzhou (泉州) bring a statue of Guanyin from the original Longshan Temple in Fujian on the voyage across the Taiwan strait and set up a small shrine on what is now a small alley near Dayou Street (大有街).

  • 1786 - The original shrine moves to its current location across town on a larger plot of land.

  • 1798 - After only a decade the newly constructed temple turns out to be far too popular and needs to be expanded to accommodate the amount of people who visit. The expansion sets in stone (literally) the layout for the temple which confines the complex to the 5,300 square meter plot of land that we still see today.

  • 1897 - Two years after the Japanese Colonial Era began, the Japanese authorities rented out the rear hall of the temple to create a Pure Land Buddhist (浄土仏教) shrine to accommodate Japanese Buddhists who lived in the area. Part of the temple is also used as a school for teaching the Japanese language to the local people.

  • 1904 - The temple joins a network of Pure Land Temples (淨土真宗本願寺派 / じょうどしんしゅうほんがんじは) and the Guanyin statue is relocated to the Rear Hall and replaced with a statue of Amida (阿彌陀佛) in the Main Hall.

  • 1921 - In what would become one of the worst tragedies in Lukang history, a fire completely destroys the Rear Hall of the temple taking with it the historic statue of Guanyin.

  • 1938 - Reconstruction of the Rear Hall is completed.

  • 1961 - Sixteen years after the Japanese Colonial Era ended, it is decided that the Main Shrine of the temple would revert back to Guanyin and the statue of Amida would be moved to the Rear Hall.

  • 1983 - The temple is awarded the designation as a ‘First Class National Historic Site’ (國家第一級古蹟) making it a protected historic building.

  • 1999 - On September 21st the powerful Jiji Earthquake (集集大地震) rocked Taiwan and created mass destruction all over the country. The temple was badly damaged as a result of the quake, so another massive reconstruction project is started to repair the damage.

  • 2002 - Reconstruction project is completed.

  • 2005 - Josh visits for the first time and falls in love (with the temple).

Design

When most people talk about the Lukang Longshan Temple, they only briefly mention the temple’s long history - Numbers are thrown out and people nod their heads and think “cool”, because when it comes to this temple, its not its age that really matters.

This temple is often described as one of the best remaining examples of Southern Fujian Qing-style architecture remaining in Taiwan. Does the average tourist really understand what any of that means though?

When you walk around the temple you don’t really have to really understand the complexities of historic architecture to realize that this temple is a masterpiece of design.

Interestingly though, whenever you search for “Southern Fujian Architecture” or “Hokkien Architecture” (閩南風格) most of the search results will feature a photo of the temple as the prime example of the characteristics of this style of architecture.

Hokkien-style architecture shares many similarities with other styles of Chinese architecture but there are of course several different ways that make buildings constructed in this style distinctive from others. First, the material used to construct this style of building is usually a mixture of red brick and wood. For most commoners in China, the usage of the colour red was frowned upon because “red” was typically reserved for imperial buildings. The Hokkien people it seems didn’t really care much about that though.

Swallowtail Roof

Another important characteristic is the “Swallowtail Roof” (燕尾脊) which refers to having a roof with an ‘upward-curving ridge’ shaped like the tail of a swallow. This design tends to vary in terms of the degree of the curve as well the number of layers on the roof but is something quite common throughout Taiwan.

Finally, to compliment the swallowtail roof designs, the Hokkien style often includes colourful porcelain carvings (剪瓷雕) which became common not only on the roofs of temples but also homes and ancestral shrines as well. The porcelain designs range from plants and animals to mystical creatures from Chinese mythology including dragons and phoenixes.

As one of the most well-preserved temples of its kind, the Lukang Longshan Temple combines all three of these architectural designs with beautiful red brick, swallowtail designed roofs on the main halls and gates and expertly crafted porcelain figures decorating the buildings.

The temple also follows the traditional ‘Three-Hall-Two-Courtyard’ design (三進二院) which refers to the three halls - The Front Hall (五門殿), Main Hall (正殿) and the Rear Hall (後殿) which are separated by the front courtyard and the rear courtyard and surrounded by passage ways on the perimeter of the building.

If you take a look at the diagram above, you may discover that the temple is constructed to resemble the Chinese Character “日“ which translates into English as either “sun” or “day”.

You could easily spend hours of your day enjoying the minutia and intricate designs of this temple, so I hope the following descriptions of each section helps to point out some of the things that you should pay close attention to when you visit.

Even if you can’t read Mandarin, I recommend checking out this site to see some historic photos of the temple as well as some sketches that beautifully illustrate the layout of the temple.

The Main Gate (山門)

The Main Gate of the temple, often referred to as the “Mountain Gate” (山門) is one of the most impressive you’ll see in Taiwan. The courtyard in front of the gate is decorated with red lanterns that lead up to the beautifully constructed wooden gate. Between the layers on the roof is a plaque that reads “Longshan Temple” (龍山寺). There are also red lanterns hanging off of the layer below that read “Lukang Longshan Temple” (鹿港龍山寺).

Not only is the gate held up on the front end by wooden pillars, it is also connected to a brick base that forms the entrance and also part of the wall that surrounds the entire perimeter of the temple.

The Main Gate is not only impressive from a distance but when you get close enough you can easily see the mastery it took to design such an intricate roof with the pillars holding the gate up.

Before entering the temple make sure to take some time to stand under the gate looking up at the beautiful work and all of its intricate pieces.

Paper Incinerator (惜字塔)

In the front square before you enter the temple quietly sits a relic of the past that isn’t widely talked about in English-language articles. What looks like a simple brick tower is actually a paper-burning incinerator that is of cultural and historic significance.

To describe it simply, Taiwan is a very humid place which makes it easy for things (like paper) to rot or become moldy. Before we had dehumidifiers and air conditioners people had little recourse to preserve the books they had, so as a show of respect for the written word, when people finished reading something they wouldn’t just leave it around. Likewise, throwing books in the garbage was simply not an option, so they took the book to an incinerator like this one and burnt it so that the words would live on in eternity.

I know, it sounds weird, right?

This practice was especially common with the Hakka people of Taiwan who constructed these special furnaces in the areas where they lived. As time went on, these towers became more and more unnecessary, so in many places around the country they’ve unfortunately been torn down.

In recent years however there has been a push to preserve them as they are of cultural and historical significance. In Taoyuan for example two of these incinerators, which are known as “Miracle Terraces” (聖蹟亭) have been restored and are open to the public as cultural shrines.

The paper incinerator at the temple looks like it hasn’t been in use for decades and sits quietly in a corner, still though, most people, including locals walk by it and don’t pay it any attention despite its historic significance.

Front Hall (五門殿)

The “Front Hall” is a actually a very simplistic term for what the main entrance of the temple actually is; In Chinese, the name translates directly as the “Five Door Hall” and is sometimes referred to as the “Five Door Portal”. No matter how you like to translate the name of the Front Hall, it consists of five doors with the three in the middle separated by four stone pillars.

Directly in front of the centre-most door is an incense cauldron with beautifully carved calligraphy on it.

On either side of the cauldron are stone pillars that have a dragon encircling the column.

On the walls you’ll find traditionally carved windows that are made out of wood and allow for the natural flow of air through the gate. On the windows you’ll find various designs including dragons, tigers, phoenixes which together symbolize prosperity and longevity.

On the interior it is important to pay attention to the ‘Door Gods’ (門神) that are painted on the doors.

When the doors are open they will face the inside of the temple and when the temple closes at night they’ll face the exterior. The ‘Door Gods’ have somewhat faded over the years but this style of artwork has started to become something of a lost art in Taiwan, so its great that we can still enjoy these.

The Door Gods on the main door in the centre represent Skanda (韋馱), the guardian of Buddhist Monasteries as well as Sangharama (伽藍), the Buddhist name for popular historical figure known as Guan Yu who is highly regarded for his ability to offer spiritual protection and grant blessings. The remaining four doors each have one of the Four Heavenly Kings (四大天王) who bestow wealth, success, peace and protection.

Theatre Pavilion (戲殿)

The ‘Theatre Pavilion’ is traditionally an area where temple performances would take place.

Temples constructed in Taiwan within the last century have (for the most part) constructed their performance stages in a separate area from the rest of the temple, usually outside of the main gates. This has allowed for larger, more mobile stages and more space for the audience, while reducing the amount of noise within the temple.

Truthfully, in all my years of temple hopping I can only count a handful of times where the Theatre Pavilion was actually constructed in such a central location in the temple.

Once you enter the Front Hall, the Theatre Pavilion is a large flat space with a spider-web caisson decorating the ceiling above it.

Few performances are held in this area anymore but the open space it provides in addition to the caisson above make it an especially grand spot that you won’t find at many other temples in Taiwan.

The Caisson (八卦藻井)

While doing research for this post I learned a new word - I’ve never actually known the English word for these so-called ‘spider web ceilings’ but whenever I see them I’m absolutely amazed by them.

In the case of this temple, the “caisson” is jaw-droppingly beautiful. There are so many adjectives that could be used to describe how beautiful the craftsmanship on this ceiling is but I’m at a loss for words - and if you have the chance to see it, I’m sure you will be too.

Known as the most beautiful “caisson” (藻井) in all of Taiwan, the “Ba-Gua ceiling” as I’d prefer to call it is an architectural masterpiece found in many East Asian temples and palaces. The reason I call it a “Ba-Gua” ceiling is because it is octagonal, a shape that has particular significance in local folk religion and culture.

Note: Bagua (八卦) refers to eight symbols in Taoism that represent the fundamental principles of reality and are interrelated with each other. At the centre of the Bagua is the Yin-Yang symbol. (Wikipedia link)

This particular caisson was constricted during the temple’s 1831 reconstruction and there are claims that it is one of the oldest of its kind in Taiwan.

A caisson is basically a sunken layered panel in a ceiling that raises above the rest of the ceiling almost as if there were a dome above it. The layers of the caisson are often beautifully decorated and with a design at the centre - in this case a beautifully painted dragon.

The most amazing thing about these caisson’s is that they are designed using expertly measured interlocking pieces that go together in a way that mean that neither beams nor nails are used to keep them together.

They just lock together to form a six-layer deep spider-web of beauty.

The Ba-Gua ceiling here commands respect and has become one of the most defining features of the temple. If you are visiting, I can’t stress it enough that you need to spend a few minutes with your head in the air appreciating the beauty and genius of this architectural masterpiece.

Worship Hall (拜殿)

To make a bit of a comparison, the Worship Hall at the temple is similar to something like the front patio of a house - It is more or less just a large covered platform that allows people to perform religious rituals without actually entering the Main Hall.

On the left and right side of the Worship hall sit a couple of century-year old trees that offer a bit of shade in front of the hall. Likewise each side of the hall has a station that allows people to light candles and incense for their prayers. In the centre there is another large incense cauldron with beautiful calligraphy carved on it. Behind the cauldron sits a large table where people can place offerings and is where you’ll often find beautiful floral decorations donated by visitors to the temple.

Of note when it comes to the design are the two stone dragon columns on either side of the incense cauldron - The columns which date back to 1852 are each carved with a dragon encircling the pillar. The dragons each have a pearl in their mouth and one in their foot while showing their fangs. The way the dragons encircle the columns make them is said to make them almost lifelike as they seem like they’re constantly in motion.

On the back of each column you’ll find the same four creatures featured in the windows of the Front Hall - A Phoenix (鳳), Qilin (麟), Crane (鶴) and Turtle (龜) - known as the ‘four spirit animals’ and together represent an idiom in Chinese (鳳毛麟趾、鶴算龜齡) that is really hard to translate to English but more or less refers to the rarity of the animals, how precious they are and the longevity of their lifespans (稀奇珍貴、祥瑞長壽) - certainly a metaphor for the temple.

Also of note are the two octagonal passageways on either side of the Worship Hall that lead to the the rear area of the temple. The passageways have become quite popular with photographers, especially wedding photographers who you might run into while touring the temple.

If you visit the temple make sure to take a few photos from the two doors as they’ve become quite iconic.

Main Hall (正殿)

To start, the roof of the Main Hall is actually quite simple; Following the same design as the other sections, the roof is a double-layered swallowtail design. On each of the tips you’ll find a dragon that is facing a pagoda in the middle.

Interestingly the Door Gods at the Main Hall mirror those of the Front Hall and consisting of the Four Heavenly Kings (四天大王), Skanda (韋馱), and Sangharama (伽藍). This time however they are painted a bit differently representing different aspects of their character. In this case they appear more ‘compassionate’ and ‘scholarly’ while they appear a bit more threatening on the outside.

Note: The scary, threatening Door Gods are considered to be “martial” (武) representations while the compassionate representations are considered ‘scholarly’ (文).

The interior of the hall is really where the design of the temple really shines - It is dark, not very well-lit and constructed with a network of stained wooden beams that hold everything up.

In the centre of the building, the ceiling rises almost a level higher than at the entrance - On the sides there are windows on both the east and west ends that allow for natural light to flow into the building offering a bit more light on the inside.

On the far right of the shrine room you’ll find statues dedicated to the Eighteen Arhats (十八羅漢), the original disciples of the Buddha. Next to them you’ll see desks nearby where there are attendants watching over the building and are there to answer any questions you may have.

The main shrine consists of several different statues of Guanyin, the Buddha of Compassion.

The largest statue is a replacement for the original that was brought to Taiwan in the 1600s. Accompanying the large image of Guanyin are several others which were carved out of wood or molded out of bronze.

Once again, to the direct left of the main shrine you’ll find martial representations of Sangharama (伽藍) and to the right Skanda (韋馱) whose purpose is to act as spiritual bodyguards for Guanyin.

You’ll also find a shrine dedicated to the Goddess of Childbirth (註生娘娘), The Monkey King (齊天大聖) and the Dragon King (龍王).

Rear Hall (後殿)

The Rear Hall of the temple is considered the youngest part of the entire complex due to the fact that it had to be rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original hall.

The new version of the hall dates back to 1938, during the Japanese Colonial Era and its design us a reflection of the era with a mixture of both Japanese and Chinese styles.

The exterior of the hall is a simple one that follows the Hokkien style of design making using of the swallowtail roof. The doors and the interior however are constructed completely of Taiwanese Cyprus and the Stone Dragon Columns are more ‘Japanese’ in design than the columns in the previous two halls.

To the sides of the Rear Hall you’ll find two round doors which used to be the dorm rooms for the temple abbot. Today the room to the right has been converted into a kitchen and the room on the left is partly used for storage and also allows guests to go to visit the back garden or the public restrooms.

On the doors of the Rear Hall you will find General’s Heng and Ha (哼哈二軍) who are mythical generals that date back to the Shang Dynasty (商朝). They’re mostly known today in their capacity as ‘Door Gods’ at Buddhist Temples.

Like the exterior, the interior of the hall is very simple in design with shrines dedicated to various Buddhist figures. In front of the shrines there is ample floor space that allows for the nuns who hold daily prayer services to take a seat on the floor.

In fact, the main reason why I don’t have many photos of the interior of the Rear Hall is due to one of the daily prayer services taking place at the same time of my visit. Even though I missed out on getting better photos of shrines inside, I did enjoy taking photos of the ladies who were busy chanting.

As mentioned above, the Rear Hall is home to several Buddhist figures which include Amida (阿彌陀佛), Sakyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼) and the Medicine Buddha (藥師佛) - known as the ‘Three Treasures’ (三寶佛).

You’ll also find statues of Manjusri (文殊菩薩), Puxian (普賢菩薩), Jizo (地藏王菩薩), the Wind God (風神), Rain God (雨神), the God of Literature (文昌帝君) and the Zhenwu Emperor (玄天上帝).

Last but not least in the courtyard in front of the Rear Hall you’ll find an old well known as the “Dragon Stream Well” (龍泉井) which used to be where the people who lived and worked at the temple got their water. Today the well is closed up but you can still see that there is water inside.

Getting There

 

Lukang isn’t particularly a large town and is easily walkable - If you arrive in a car or on a scooter the best thing you can do is just find a parking space walk around to better explore the magic of the historic village.

Home to several historic temples, buildings, businesses as well as an old street were you can sample local delicacies, there is certainly more than enough to do while you’re in Lukang and if you plan your day well enough you should be able to explore for an entire day (or more if you have the time).

If you get tired of walking there are bicycle rental vendors all over the city - I’d recommend saving yourself some money and getting a Youbike instead. 

Lukang doesn’t have its own railway station, so if you want to visit using public transportation you have a few different options:

  1. Take a Ubus direct to the village from Taipei Bus Station ($350NT).

  2. Take a bus from Taichung - You can choose either Bus #6936 from Taichung HSR Station or Bus #6933 from Taichung Railway Station.

  3. Take a bus from Changhua - From the Changhua Railway Station you’ll find buses that frequently travel back and forth. (Buses: 6900, 6901, 6902, 6909, 6933, 6934, 6936 - Website)

  4. Take a scenic ride with a YouBike from Changhua Train Station on the six kilometre ride to Lukang - There are stations all over Changhua City as well as in Lukang to get a bike. Make sure to download the YouBike App so you’ll know where to get a bike.

Whatever method you choose to get to the village, I can’t stress it enough that once you’re there you should walk around and enjoy the quiet ambience of one of Taiwan’s most historic villages. You’ll easily be able to walk through the village and see all of the most important sites without needing a car or a scooter.

The Lukang Longshan Temple is located at “No. 81, Jinmen Street” (彰化縣鹿港鎮金門街81號) and is open to the public and to tourists everyday from 6:00am - 9:00pm.

Okay, so this post turned out much longer than I actually expected - And I really only scratched the surface when it comes to the history and design - You could write a thesis about this place and you still wouldn’t come close to describing all of the fine details. 

I suppose it is arguable whether or not Lukang‘s Longshan Temple is factually one of the “oldest” temples in Taiwan, it is however the oldest “Longshan Temple” in the country and when it comes to its beauty, it really does stand out as one of the most stunning places of worship in Taiwan. Its age and adherence to traditional architectural styles place it very high on the list of the most important historic temples to visit and I can assure you that if you do have the chance to go, you’ll certainly be glad you did.

Visiting Taipei’s Longshan Temple is obviously much more convenient for the majority of people who travel to Taiwan, but if you’re one of those people who takes a little bit of extra time to explore the country, a visit to Lukang and the many historic temples within the small village should be high on your list of things to do.