Kaohsiung Confucius Temple

The Confucius Temples of Taiwan (臺灣的孔廟)

There are few sights more common in Taiwan than that of its convenience stores and temples. The nation is home to the highest density of both per capita than any other in the world. Sometimes when you’re walking around it seems as if you’ll find a 7-11 on every street corner.

Taiwan is a very convenient place to live and even more so if you’re religious with more than 12,000 registered temples around the country - higher than the number of convenience stores!

If you are a visitor to Taiwan, one of the things you’ll quickly learn to appreciate is the attention to detail you’ll find in the temples here. A visit to one of the nation’s Taoist or Folk Religion temples is often awe inspiring for people unfamiliar with the architectural and artistic detail of these halls of worship.

Of the over twelve thousand temples that you’ll find around the country, around 80% of them are dedicated to Taoism and Chinese folk religion while the remaining 20% are either Buddhist or dedicated to philosophers like Confucius.

One of the most beautiful things about religious worship in Taiwan though is that even if you’re a Buddhist, you can still visit a Taoist temple and find a place to worship freely. The religious experience here in Taiwan can be an exciting one but also one that is harmonious.

Visiting a Taiwanese temple is an excellent opportunity that affords gives outsiders the chance to better understand the diverse cultures of this tiny island nation.

While the majority of Taiwan’s temples tend to be ‘loud’ in terms of both their noise level and their attention to artistic and architectural detail, you are still able to find places that are much quieter and a lot more peaceful.

If peace, quiet and a ‘zen-like’ experience is what you prefer, then a visit to one of Taiwan’s Confucius Temples is exactly what you’re looking for. Temples dedicated to Confucius, who was one of the most important Chinese philosophers and educators to have ever lived, are a stark contrast to what you’ll find at other local temples and stress uniformity and simplicity while adhering strictly to the concepts of traditional Chinese architecture.

Temples dedicated to Confucius are common sights throughout many Asian countries and even though some of them may add regional elements to their design, most of them are uniform in their design which is based off of the type of architecture popular during the Song Dynasty (宋朝 - 960-1279) and are more importantly modelled after the first Confucius Temple in China’s Shandong Province (山東省) where Confucius and his descendants are buried and has an over 1500 year history, making it one of the oldest temples in China. 

Link: Confucius Temples Sacrifices and Rites

Here in Taiwan, the history of Confucius Temples is considerably shorter with the first one being constructed around 350 years ago. With that in mind however its important to note that the temples dedicated to the sage have played interesting historical roles in the various eras of Taiwan’s modern development and in some cases can be a bit confusing (and also unimportant) to the average tourist.

Like the original temple in Qufu (曲阜), most of the Confucius Temple’s in Taiwan have been expanded upon, renovated and reconstructed several times over their history. Visitors to these temples have to keep in mind that what you see today is often much different than what you would have seen when they were first constructed.

Despite the fact that some of the structures you are able to visit today aren’t always as ‘historic’ as they claim to be, the important thing to keep in mind is that each of these temples has an interesting story to tell and the most important thing to consider isn’t always the age of the building but the important role they have played in Taiwan’s history.

History

The history of Confucius Temples in Taiwan can to be divided up into two different periods - specifically anything between 1665-1945 or from 1945 until the present day. To put it more simply - the years prior to the Chinese Nationalists arrival in Taiwan and the years after.

You may think, oh no, he’s going to get political - but in the case of Confucius Temples, its difficult to separate the politics of the era from these temples, which are themselves very political in nature.

The first Confucius Temple in Taiwan was constructed in Tainan during the Kingdom of Tungning (東寧王國) when Koxinga (鄭成功) and his Ming-loyalist army fled to Taiwan after the Qing came to power in China. Koxinga placed quite a bit of importance on Confucian thought and philosophy and the construction of a shrine, where Imperial Examinations (科舉) could be held was important to the fledgling ‘kingdom’ which sought to keep up the traditions of the Ming dynasty.

When the Qing came to Taiwan a few more temples were constructed around in the island in the areas where they controlled - for the most part however Confucius worship was limited to “Academic Academies” (書院) which were private schools devoted to higher learning and the promotion of Chinese classics, literature, philosophy, ethics, etc.

The Academic Academies that were constructed around the island were often built in a way that could be considered similar to the set up of a Confucius Temple, but the design of the schools was never as strictly adhered to in the same way a Confucius Temple was and it was common for them to also have shrines dedicated to Taoist literature deities.

Today only a few of these academies remain in existence around the country but for the most part they have slowly disappeared with the passage of time. 

Links: Visits to Huangxi Academy (磺溪書院) and Daodong Academy (道東書院)

The Confucius Temples constructed after the Chinese Nationalists fled to Taiwan, of which are in the majority at this point, were built between 1958 and 1985 in a time when the government sought to forcibly impose traditional Chinese culture on the local citizens of Taiwan.

In 1966, as a response to the insanity of the Cultural Revolution (文化大革命) in China which threatened to destroy the over 5000 years of Chinese history, the KMT initiated the “Chinese Cultural Renaissance” (中華文化復興運動) movement here in Taiwan. The purpose of the movement was meant to not only help preserve traditional Chinese culture but also promote Chinese cultural development in Taiwan and around the world.

One of the goals of the moment was to improve educational standards in the country and put an emphasis on Confucian principles of ‘filial piety’ and ‘fraternal love’. To help achieve this the government started to construct Confucius Temples throughout the country that would not only promote Confucianism but help to keep Classical Chinese architecture and design alive.

The plan was to construct at least one Confucius Temple in every major city or county where one did not already exist - Currently the majority of the temples you will find in Taiwan were either built, renovated or expanded upon after 1966 as part of the Chinese Cultural Renaissance initiative.

It is common, such as in the case of the Taipei Confucius Temple that you will see literature claiming that the temple was constructed in 1881, but in actuality what you see today was a product of the 1960s and not as ‘historic’ as you’d expect and has become somewhat of a forgotten piece of Taiwan’s history that even fools locals.

This isn’t to take away from the temples, they are excellent places to visit - you just have to be a bit careful when considering the history. Confucianism has played an important role in the development of Asian societies for well over a thousand years and continues to play a role in Taiwan with regards to education and ones roles in his or her family.

With the exception of the Taipei and Tainan Confucius Temples, the rest that are on the list below may not be tourist hotspots, but that is part of the reason why I prefer them - They are quiet, peaceful and are great places to visit where you can learn quite a bit.

In all there are over twenty temples dedicated to Confucius in Taiwan - My list however is going to skip over any of those temples that are not strictly dedicated to the sage. I’m also not going to include the small elementary school shrines which are common in the south of Taiwan. The list consists of seventeen temples of which ten are publicly owned and another five that are private - but still open to the public.

I still have a few of these temples to visit, take photos of and write about, so I plan to update this space several times in the future. I hope that this provides a useful English-language resource for people who want to visit and learn more about these temples as information about them tends to be a bit convoluted. 


Public Temples (官立)

  1. Taipei Confucius Temple (台北孔廟) 1881, 1960

  2. Yilan Confucius Temple (宜蘭孔廟) 1868, 1958

  3. Taoyuan Confucius Temple (桃園孔廟) 1985

  4. Hsinchu Confucius Temple (新竹孔廟) 1958

  5. Taichung Confucius Temple (臺中孔廟) 1976

  6. Changhua Confucius Temple (彰化孔廟) 1726

  7. Chiayi Confucius Temple (嘉義孔廟) 1964

  8. Tainan Confucius Temple (台南孔廟) 1665, 1989

  9. Kaohsiung Confucius Temple (高雄孔廟) 1976

  10. Fengshan Confucius Shine (鳳山舊城孔子廟) 1686

  11. Qishan Confucius Temple (旗山孔廟) 1985

  12. Pingtung Confucius Temple (屏東孔廟) 1815, 1938

  13. Peng-Hu Confucius Temple (澎湖孔廟) 1766, 1963

Private Temples (私設)

  1. Luodong Confucius Temple (羅東孔子廟) 1966

  2. Miaoli Xiangshan Confucius Temple (象山孔廟) 1901

  3. Nantou Confucius Temple (南投孔廟) 1831

  4. Puli Confucius Temple (埔里孔廟) 1911


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

 

 For more information about Taiwan’s Confucius Temple’s please check out my Confucius Temple Guide.