Taiwan Tourism

Fort San Domingo (紅毛城)


A few months ago I was commissioned to take photos for an article, a sample forty-eight hour itinerary for people visiting Taipei for the Indonesian travel magazine, DestinAsian.

I couldn’t imagine only having two full days in Taipei - After more than a decade, I’m still finding new places and enjoying new experiences. It goes without saying that the article covered quite a few of the places I’ve already been to, but strangely there were a couple that were still new to me.

You might think its weird that an article describing places that people should see during a forty-eight hour trip to Taiwan actually took me, a travel photographer, over a decade to visit.

All I can say is, maybe I just don’t really have a thing for old forts.

I hail from Nova Scotia on the East Coast of Canada and grew up seeing forts all over the place - English forts, French forts, my neighbours snow forts, etc.

They just don’t really excite me very much.

Still, when you’re getting paid to take photos, you can’t really pick and choose what the client wants, so on an early morning, I made my way out to Tamsui to take photos of one of the area’s most important tourist destinations, the historic Fort San Domingo.

Geographically speaking, Tamsui (or Danshui) is actually a lot closer to where I live than Taipei is, but if you’re not driving a scooter or a car, its a bit of a pain in the ass to get there. If I drove a car, it would have taken about half an hour but with a bus to Taipei and then the long MRT ride, it ended up taking almost two hours.

Given the amount of time it takes to get out there, every time I’ve visited I’ve more or less stuck to the popular areas around the Old Street and the riverside. It’s also a bit embarrassing to admit that I was always under the impression that the fort was quite a distance away from the downtown area which prevented me from visiting.

Suffice to say, I found out that it is actually within walking distance from the MRT station.

Now that I’ve visited Fort San Domingo, I can honestly say that I regret not visiting sooner.

Not only should this spot be on the itinerary of every tourists visit to Tamsui, it is one of the few historic spots in Northern Taiwan that deals with Taiwan’s Western Colonial history.

History

With a history dating back to 1624, Fort San Domingo, both a fortress and consulate, has been one of the most significant locations (with regard to western trade) in Taiwan for almost four centuries. Over its long history it has been controlled by the Spanish Conquistadors, the Dutch, the Qing, the Japanese and the British before becoming a National Historic Site in the modern era.

With such a long list of owners, the fort also had a variety of names - Today we refer to it by its original name “Fort San Domingo” (聖多明哥城) but it has also been referred to as Fort Antonio (安東尼堡), Koumoujyo (こうもうじょう) and colloquially by the locals as Âng-mn̂g-siânn (紅毛城), which in Taiwanese Hokkien translates as the “Red Hair Fort”, a clever way of describing the ‘weird-looking’ Dutch people who came to Taiwan.

Coincidentally if you visit the fort today, it appears red in colour, painted that way to match the consulate residence next door, although I’d like to think that it was an ironic way of paying homage to the nickname the locals gave it.

Spanish Era

The history of a fort located in this area started with the construction of the original Fort San Domingo around 1628-1629. The Spanish, who had already established a colony on what is today’s “Heping Island” (和平島) in Keelung, sought to increase their land holdings and expanded by force into the Tamsui area which was already a popular trading outpost with Chinese merchants.

The original Fort San Domingo was constructed simply of clay, wood and bamboo polls but didn’t last very long. A few years after it was constructed, it was attacked and demolished by a group of angry locals who were irritated with the taxes levied on them by the Spanish governor.

In 1637, a year after the fort was demolished, it was rebuilt, but this time they instead used stone and raised the walls to over twenty feet making life for the over one hundred soldiers stationed inside much safer from attacks by local militias.

The locals unfortunately turned out to be the least of their concerns because in 1641 the Dutch started to show more interest in the region and weren’t really big fans of the Spanish hanging around.

After a couple of attempts (over a period of two years), the Dutch were able to kick the Spanish out of Taiwan. Before they did though, the Spanish demolished the fort out of spite, because they weren’t interested in sharing it.

Dutch Era

As mentioned above, the Dutch East India Company (荷蘭東印度工色) started to take an interest in the area in the mid-1600s with plans to expand their trade with the locals. First though they had to expel the Spanish from Tamsui and Keelung to ensure their monopoly on trade and the safety of their trade ships.

In 1642 the Dutch sailed into Tamsui harbour with a large naval and land force and laid siege on the fort for a period of three weeks. They then moved on to and eventually took the port at Keelung ending the short lived Spanish occupation of Taiwan.

Once the Dutch kicked the Spanish out of the area they moved quickly to secure their position constructing a new fort on the site of the original that laid in ruins. The new fort, named Fort Antonio (安東尼堡), constructed in 1644 is the historic site that you can still see today.

With 32 foot high walls made of brick and stone was home to over 80 soldiers who were stationed there to protect the area and ensure that the trade of deer skins and sulphur went smoothly.

A few decades later, In 1661, a naval fleet of over 200 ships, led by Koxinga (鄭成功) landed in southern Taiwan with the intention of expelling the Dutch and establishing a base of operations on the island. After a nine-month siege the Dutch were defeated and signed articles of surrender at their southern stronghold at Fort Zeelandia (熱蘭遮城).

Undeterred, they quickly signed a cooperation agreement with the newly established Qing empire in China and reestablished their Taiwan base of operations in Keelung and Tamsui.

Their stay however was short lived as they were unable to retake any of their former holdings in central Taiwan and revolts by the Basai Indigenous peoples (巴賽族) saw many of their properties burnt to the ground.

Under constant threat from the locals and being caught in the war between Koxinga and the Qing in the south, the situation became untenable and Dutch decided to abandon the fort and left Taiwan in 1668.

Qing Dynasty

From 1683 - 1867 the fort controlled by Qing government representatives stationed in Taiwan.

The Qing never actually took up residence in the fort but they constructed stone walls with four gates around the perimeter in order to fortify their position in case of attack.

During the reign of the Jiaqing Emperor (嘉慶帝), China got involved in several incursions with the French over territory in Vietnam. In response the French sailed to Taiwan and attacked in Tamsui and Keelung. Easily defeated, they soon realized that their coastal defense network in Taiwan was more or less useless so in the following years they constructed several fortifications in key economic hot spots to protect their interests.

None of that would really matter though because in 1860s, as a result of the Second Opium War (第二次鴉片戰爭), the Qing were forced to sign the Treaty of Tianjin (天津條約) ceding Hong Kong to the British as well as Fort San Domingo (among many other properties) which would be used as a trade consulate.

When the British moved in, the fort was in bad shape with moss and other stuff growing on the walls, so they decided to clean it up and paint the fort red. Later they constructed the beautiful residence next to the fort to serve as a consular residence.

Notably, British linguist Herbert Allan Giles, known for his creation of a romanized system for Mandarin, lived in the fort or a period of three years while conducting research on what would become the Wade-Giles system of romanization (威妥瑪拼音), which is still widely used in Taiwan today.

Japanese Colonial Era

When Japan took control of Taiwan in 1895, things pretty much stayed the same at the British Consulate. The office continued to conduct its affairs and thanks to the colonial governments development projects, was able to modernize the property with running water, a sewage system and electricity.

In 1930, the Japanese government listed the site as a National Historic Monument (史蹟名勝天然紀念物保存法) and conducted surveys of the site to ensure its preservation.

Modern Era

When the Second World War came to an end, the Japanese were forced to surrender control of Taiwan to Chiang Kai-Shek and the Republic of China. The British returned to Taiwan and re-opened the consulate in 1946 and even though diplomatic relations between the ROC and the UK broke off a few years later, the consulate remained open to maintain economic ties.

In 1972, the British moved out of the consulate and tried to sell the land to the local government which wanted to turn the fort into a public museum. The asking price for the land however was far too high and the government refused to pay. Instead of selling the fort, the British placed the it under the stewardship of the United States which would maintain the grounds.

When America established relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1979, they were forced to cut formal diplomatic relations with Taipei, which once again made the question of the ownership of the fort an issue. The British didn’t have much interest in continuing to argue with the government, so in 1980 they turned over ownership of the fort, which was then listed as a National Historic Site and plans were made to open it up to the public.

In 1984, after a period of restoration, the fort was opened and amazingly attracted more then 40,000 visitors on its first day of operation.

Ownership and operation of the fort was later transferred to Taipei County (Currently New Taipei City) in 2002, which came up with plans to renovate the park after years of tourism put considerable wear and tear on the grounds.

After being closed for a year the fort reopened again to the public in 2005 as part of the Tamsui Historical Museum (淡水古蹟博物館), a network of historic sites in the area that has a modest admission fee and provides access to each of the sites.

Design

The area that encompasses ‘Fort San Domingo’ consists primarily of two main buildings which include the fort and the former consular residence. The area however is set up a bit like a park with a nature area on the hill below the main buildings with some additional buildings setup that help tourists learn about the area and provides shaded rest stops for visitors to have some food or drinks.

Strangely though, the actual fort is often a bit of an afterthought for most tourists as they prefer to spend most of their time touring and taking photos of the beautiful Victorian-style mansion instead. And you know what, I can’t really blame them. As far as architecture goes, the consular residence is absolutely beautiful and is a rare sight in Taiwan - The fort on the other hand isn’t really that appealing to the eye.

Fort San Domingo (主堡)

The information you’ll received on site claims that Fort San Domingo is the oldest surviving historic building in Taiwan. I’m not sure how much I believe that, but I guess I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one, because yeah, it is pretty old.

The fort, which was constructed on the top of a hill overlooks the mouth of the Tamsui River and was constructed in a strategic location allowing the people in the tower to have the ability to closely watch who was coming and going through the river.

The fort is square-shaped and is about 15 meters in length and 13 meters in height. The walls around the fort are about two meters thick and were constructed with the thought that they could withstand artillery attacks.

The two-storey fort used a mixture of stones and brick to strengthen the walls of the structure. The outside walls, which were originally painted white were painted with stucco and lacquer but was later repainted red by the British to match with the colour of the consular residence.

The interior of the fort consists of a few rooms, which used to house soldiers and later consular officials. There’s not much to see inside, but the people who run the site have added some exhibitions that let you learn about what life was like when the fort was once a military outpost.

Consular Residence (領事官邸)

The beautiful Victorian-style Consular Residence is where most tourists focus their attention while visiting the area. The large two-storey brick building, constructed in 1891 is considered to be indicative of British colonial style architecture but mixes in a bit of local construction techniques that help to shelter the building from wind and rain.

The exterior of the red brick building is beautifully designed with arches along the veranda that encircles the perimeter of the building and makes for some beautiful photos.

The interior consists of several rooms on the first floor that were used for consular affairs including offices, a large foyer, meeting room and dining room, etc. The second floor likewise consists of three large bedrooms and storage rooms that housed the consular officials and their families. The rooms are large and beautiful and are currently full of displays that educate guests on what life in the residence was like.

The residence was designed by a British architect, but the craftsmen who constructed the building as well as the bricks and other material used in its construction were all imported from Xiamen in China. Likewise, the fireplace and clocks in the building were also imported, but directly from England.

Unlike the fort, most of the rooms in the residence are open the public and there are informative displays in each of them that allow visitors to learn about the house.

If you’ve got time, I recommend checking out each of the rooms, then walking around the perimeter of the building and checking out the line of cannons that sit to the rear of the building in the area between the fort and the consular residence.

For a more detailed description of the design of the consular residence check this link: Tamsui Historical Museum - The British Consular Residence.

Getting There

 

Fort San Domingo is located a short distance from the main stretch of the Tamsui Old Street. If you are planning a day-trip to the area, I recommend first walking from the Tamsui MRT Station (淡水捷運站) to the fort, checking it out and then making your way back to the MRT station walking along the riverside. This way you’ll get to walk the entire loop and not miss anything.

There are of course a few places you could stop along the way including the historic Fuyou Temple (福佑宮), Tamsui Church (淡水禮拜堂), the Tamsui Red Castle (淡水紅樓) and the Tamsui Customs Officers’ Residence (小白宮) among others.

If you follow this route, you can easily leave the MRT station and walk straight down Zhongzheng Road (中正路) until you reach the fort - even visiting a few places along the way. Then when you’re finished you can explore the Old Street along the riverside on the way back.

For those who have their own itinerary in mind, the address for the fort is:

No. 1, Lane 28, Zhongzheng Road. Tamsui District, New Taipei City. (新北市淡水區中正路28巷1號)

If you prefer to save some time and take a bus to the fort, you can take either bus #836 or Red 26 directly from the Tamsui MRT Station bus terminal.

You should also note that Fort San Domingo is open on weekdays from 9:30-5:00 and from 9:30-6:00 on weekends. It is closed only on the first Monday of every month.

There is also a modest admission fee of $80NT that offers visitors access to Fort San Domingo as well as nearby Hobe Fort (滬尾礮臺) and the Tamsui Custom Officer’s Residence (小白宮).

You have the option of paying with cash or your EasyCard (悠遊卡).

After living in Taiwan for so long, it is hard to believe that it took an article about a 48 hour trip in Taipei to get me to this historic tourist destination. In retrospect that is something I regret, I should have visited much sooner. If you’re travelling in the Tamsui area, you should definitely take the time to visit as well.


Changhua Confucius Temple (彰化孔子廟)

Changhua County, in central Taiwan is an area that rarely receives the amount of attention it deserves, especially from tourists. The county sits on the western coast of the country and seems to have the unfortunate luck of being overshadowed by its popular neighbours, the city of Taichung (台中) to the north and the beautiful mountainous county of Nantou (南投) to the east.

A fast-growing industrial area that has attracted a lot of business thanks to the affordability of land and proximity to the Port of Taichung (台中港), Changhua has always been an ideal space for industry allowing the products that are manufactured there to be easily exported out of the country.

Few people however realize that Changhua has always been an important centre for trade and commerce with a history dating back hundreds of years to the Qing Dynasty. In fact, as one of Taiwan’s earliest centres for commerce, Changhua developed much earlier than other areas in Taiwan.

Like some of Taiwan’s other historic hot spots, Changhua not only developed at a fast pace but its residents earned a lot of money and in turn constructed extravagant places of worship which has left a historic footprint on the area that the people of today continue to enjoy. 

With historic buildings dating back to the 1700s and a wealth of delicious local cuisine, it’s unfortunate that Changhua hasn’t been able to make more of a name for itself within foreign tourists circles - but locals will always tell you how great the area is, especially since many of Taiwan’s most traditional dishes originated there.

Visiting Changhua is a simple two hour train or bus ride from the capital and travel times are even shorter if you splurge and take the High Speed Rail - Once you’re there though you can easily walk the streets and soak up all that the city has to offer.

Among the long list of historic buildings in Changhua is one of the nation’s oldest temples and places of learning - The Changhua Confucius Temple. With a history dating back over three centuries, not only is the temple one of the oldest in Taiwan, it is also among a very exclusive list of truly historic places dedicated to the worship of Confucian philosophy.

Taiwan is home to well over a dozen temples dedicated to Confucius, but only in a few rare cases are they as historic or as culturally significant as the Changhua temple.

If you’d like to learn more about Taiwan’s Confucius Temples check out the guide I wrote which explains in more detail the history of Confucianism in Taiwan - The Confucius Temple’s of Taiwan.

The Changhua Confucius Temple

The Changhua Confucius Temple holds the distinction of not only being one of the oldest Confucius Temples in Taiwan but also the site of the oldest places of higher learning in Taiwan.

Dating back to 1723 (大清雍正四年), the temple is only pre-dated by the Fengshan Confucius Temple (鳳山舊城孔子廟) in Kaohsiung and the Tainan Confucius Temple (台南孔廟)

Like most historic structures in Taiwan however, in order to properly explain their history, you need to explain how they’ve been able to survive through the different periods of Taiwan’s colonial history.

In the case of this temple, its history has successfully spanned the latter stages of the Qing Dynasty, the Japanese Colonial Era and the current Republic of China-era which should be considered a feat given the fact that colonial regimes have a bit of a habit of tearing down reminders of the past.

Likewise, it is important to note that when it comes to the history of older temples like this, facts tend to become a bit convoluted and you often have to take some of their history with a grain of salt.

So before I start, let me state things clearly: This temple truly is several hundred years old BUT it is currently only a fraction of its original size and has been renovated and restored several times throughout its history. Suffice to say, what you see today isn’t what you would have seen a century or more ago.

Qing Dynasty (1723 -1895)

During the 17th Century, Changhua was one of the four main areas established in Taiwan for mass-immigration from the Chinese mainland. Its important to note that even though the Qing “controlled” Taiwan for over two centuries, they only controlled small portions of the country, mostly on the western coast and were uninterested in venturing any further, due to hostile indigenous peoples who were (for the most part) uninterested in interacting with them.

In 1723, Changhua was granted “county” status by the Qing Emperor thanks to the economic success of trade between the port town of Lugang (鹿港) and China’s Fujian Province (福建省).

With its official designation as a county (and the favourable economic situation), local officials were able to start urban development projects that not only included fortifications but the construction of places of cultural significance.

In the 4th year of the reign of Emperor Yongzheng (雍正), construction started on what would be the site of the Changhua Confucius temple. In addition to the temple, plans were made to construct an educational institute, Baisha Academy (白沙書院) next door which would serve as one of the foremost institutes for higher learning in Taiwan.

  • Note: Baisha Academy later moved and is currently known as the “National Changhua University of Education” (國立彰化師範大學).

In 1726, County Magistrate Zhang Gao (張縞) hired craftsman from China to come to Taiwan to construct the temple. The craftsman brought with them not only their expertise but also the necessary building materials and stone carvings that were pre-made by artisans in China.

A few decades later, in 1786, the original Minglun Hall (明倫堂) and Baisha Academy were burnt to the ground during an anti-Qing rebellion known as the Lin Shuang-Wen Incident (林爽文事件).

Then, in 1816, thirty years after Baisha Academy and Minglun Hall were destroyed, the local government put together a plan to rebuild the school in its original location. The site where Minglun Hall once stood however was replaced by a shrine dedicated to the God of Literature (文昌帝君) making the Confucius Temple a one-stop shop for all your academic needs.

In 1830, the temple underwent its final major renovation which saw the addition of several shrines and the difficult task of raising the foundation of the main hall by over two feet, completing the layout that we see today.

Japanese Colonial Era (1895 - 1945)

The Japanese Empire took control of Taiwan in 1895 and wasted no time instituting reforms that sought to drastically reshape the island’s infrastructure and economy. Not only was the existing railway system modernized, it was greatly expanded upon and eventually connected the entire island. The original walls constructed by the Qing around cities like Taipei, Hsinchu, Changhua, and Yilan (among others) were torn down and urban renewal plans transformed the look of many of Taiwan’s urban centres.

Changhua in particular is a case where you can still enjoy the mastery of Japanese urban planning - The roads in the city are much wider than areas around the country and the city is designed in a way that makes it easy to traverse (although later development has muddled that up a bit).

The projects undertaken by the Japanese however meant that the walled parts of the city weren’t going to be the only casualties to improving the city’s urban planning - Many homes and businesses also fell victim to the plans.

History has shown that the Japanese weren’t really big fans of temples dedicated to Confucius, so when it came time to widen the roads around the temple they came up with plans to tear it down completely.

These plans however met with staunch indignation and protests from the locals, so accommodations were made to preserve the temple. Baisha Academy however was torn down and relocated.

In 1933, local residents committed funds for a restoration project that would ensure the continued survival of the temple and improve the condition of the Main Hall.

Republic of China (1945 - Current)

In 1945, when the Second World War finally came to an end, as part of the terms of their surrender, the Japanese were forced to give up their colonies. The allied leaders (ambiguously) decided at the Cairo Conference that control of Taiwan would “returned” to Chiang Kai-Shek’s Republic of China.

The problem with the decision and the reason why it has remained ambiguous for so many decades is that the ‘Republic of China’ (中華民國) was a non-existent entity when the Japanese took control of Taiwan in 1895 and the Qing never really had any interest in fully controlling Taiwan.

The claim that Taiwan belonged to “China” was and still remains a contentious one.

Political arguments aside, (there is a reason why I mention this) the Nationalists at that time were embroiled in a bitter Civil War against the Communists and had little time to deal with what was happening in Taiwan.

For the first few years control of Taiwan was given to Garrison Commander Chen Yi (陳儀), an infamous figure in Taiwanese history who will forever be remembered as the architect of the 228 Massacre.

As the Communists declared victory in the Civil War though, Chiang Kai-Shek, his government, military forces and elite members of society retreated to Taiwan as a last ditch effort to regroup their forces and continue the struggle against the Communists.

Upon arrival, Chiang Kai-Shek inherited a well-developed island but the sudden influx of more than two million refugees put a considerable amount of strain on Taiwan’s existing infrastructure. This further enflamed tensions between the people of Taiwan (who in turn became second class citizens) and the refugees which contributed the a long period of Martial Law that ensued.

When the refugees first arrived the housing situation was quite dire, so to solve the problem, temporary measures were made to construct military communities. Additionally buildings like the Changhua Confucius Temple were opened up for people to take up short-term residency.

In 1949, permits were awarded to vendors to set up stalls at the temple gate in order to allow people to not only earn a living but to feed those living in the area. The vendors, in addition to the squatters living in the temple complicated the situation at the temple and its long-term health became an issue with the local population.

Due to the deterioration of the temple, the government drafted plans in the 1970s to tear it down and instead use the land to construct a shopping centre. The temple would then be relocated and reconstructed on Bagua Mountain (八卦山).

Once again the residents of Changhua were forced to stand up to yet another colonial regime to ensure the continued existence of their historic temple. The ensuing pressure that was put on the government forced officials to eventually capitulate to their demands and instead of tearing the temple down, they decided to instead restore it.

In the years since that restoration project was completed the temple has been awarded the designation of becoming a National Historic Site (國定古蹟), is recognized as one of the ‘Top Religious Sites’ in Taiwan and has become a popular tourist attraction.

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. You won’t find any shiny gold or bronze decorations nor will you find beautifully painted murals on the walls or hundreds of sticks of incense creating a haze throughout the temple.

The simplicity exhibited in the Confucius temples found throughout most of East Asia is 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. 

The design of the Changhua Confucius Temple adheres to the most traditional construction standards for Confucius Temples. In fact, as I mentioned above, the original designers and craftsmen who constructed the temple were brought over directly from China for the sole purpose of building the temple.

Even though the temple we see today has pieces that were later added and others that have disappeared, the complex is still one of the best examples of traditional Confucius Temple design in Taiwan making it an important historical relic.

Lingxing Gate (櫺星門)

The Lingxing Gate acts as the main entrance to the temple and is a necessary part of any Confucius temple. The gate symbolizes Confucianism's ‘willingness to accept anyone with talent and virtue' and the name Lingxing refers to the Taoist Star of Knowledge (櫺星) whom Confucius is often regarded as a reincarnation of.

When it comes to the architecture of the Lingxing Gate at Taiwan’s Confucius Temple’s, the designs tend to vary. In some cases the gate may be a freestanding structure similar to that of a Torii at a Japanese Shinto Shrine. In other cases the gate may be constructed in the form of a building that has a wall on either side that helps to enclose the complex.

The Lingxing Gate at the Changhua Confucius Temple is a proper gate that connects to the perimeter of the temple. The design follows the ‘Five-Kaijian’ (五開間) style which means that the gate has five doors which are separated by pillars. The gate also has a roof that is separated into three different sections with a swallow-tail design at each end.

As is the case with other Confucius Temples, the Door Gods (門神) you typically find at other temples around Taiwan are absent and according to tradition are instead replaced simply with 108 metal studs.

Ji Gate (戟門)

The “Ji Gate” at the Changhua Confucius Temple was a ‘first’ in Confucian Temple design in Taiwan - While the gate is common in older Confucius Temple’s in China, here in Taiwan due to a lack of space these gates are usually left out when the temples were designed.

In Chinese, the word “Ji” (戟) refers to a hybrid-style weapon that was used for thousands of years by infantrymen in China. The weapon resembles a spear but also has an ax-dagger.

Tradition has it that when military personnel entered a Confucius Temple they would have to leave their weapons at the gate as a sign of respect for the sage.

The Ji Gate acts as the second gate of the Confucius Temple but like the Lingxing Gate before it, its huge doors are rarely ever opened. Instead the are two round doors to either side of the gate that provide entry to the main area of the temple complex.

The round doors are an absolute treat and are common in a lot of the historic temples in Changhua - unfortunately something that became a less common practice with newer buildings.

Dacheng Hall (大成殿)

The Dacheng Hall or “Hall of Great Perfection” is the main shrine area of a Confucius Temple. 

The exterior of the hall is minimalist in design but you will want to pay close attention to some of the wooden carvings as well as the craftsmanship of the two stone dragon columns and the twenty other pillars that encircle the exterior.

The interior of the hall likewise is a simple set up with a shrine that has a Confucius Spirit Tablet (神位) in the middle with a table in front of it for offerings.

On either side of the Confucius shrine there are additional shrines with spirit plaques dedicated to the four sages (四配): Yan Hui (顏子), Zengzi (曾子), Zisi (子思) and Mencius (孟子) who were Confucian scholars and authored books expanding upon the Confucian philosophy.

Above the shrine are several plaques (御匾) that were placed by the Yongzheng Emperor (雍正), the Qianlong Emperor (乾隆), the Jiaqing Emperor (嘉慶), the Xianfeng Emperor (咸豐), the Tongzhi Emperor (同治), and former President Chiang Ching-Kuo (蔣經國), who all praised Confucius’ superior knowledge and personal character.

The plaques and their meanings are as follows:

  • Yongzheng Emperor (1726) - “生民未有” (A Person of Unsurpassed Intelligence)

  • Qianlong Emperor (1739) - “與天地參” (At One with the Heavens and the Earth)

  • Jiaqing Emperor (1798) - “聖集大成” (Combined Wisdom of the Sages)

  • Xianfeng Emperor (1851) - “德齊幬載” (All Encompassing Virtue)

  • Tongzhi Emperor (1862) - “聖神天縱” (Divine Wisdom)

  • President Chiang Ching-Kuo - “道貫古今” (Tao is Universal Through all Times)

Even though the Hall of Great Perfection is rather plain in comparison to Taiwan’s other temples you’ll still want to pay attention to some of the designs on the exterior, especially the two stone dragon columns - The pair of dragons date back to 1830 and are similar in design as they encircle the column. They differ only in the fact that one of them has a closed mouth while the other is open. Likewise the carved designs on the wooden gables are beautiful as well. 

Chongsheng Shrine (崇聖祠)

As with tradition, the Chongsheng Shrine is located directly behind the 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.

The 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. It consists of an altar with spirit plaques and a couple of red lights. In front of the altar there is a table for placing offerings.

There are additionally two shrines both to the left and right of the main shrine but truthfully when I was there the shrines, which have several spirit plaques on them were blocked by stacks of benches. It would seem that the staff at the temple consider the shrine room to be more useful as a storage space than what it is actually supposed to be for.

Getting There

 

The Changhua Confucius Temple is conveniently located a short distance away from both the Changhua Train Station (彰化車站) and the Changhua Bus Terminal (彰化客運站).

The downtown core of the city is perfectly walkable and if you’re arriving by train or bus and want to visit some of the city’s historic sights, you’ll be happy to know that they are all relatively close to each other.

If you are driving a car I’d recommend simply finding a parking spot and getting rid of your car for the duration of your visit. The beauty of this historic city is best experienced on two feet and you will have definitely missed out on most of it if you’re driving.

You can find history (and amazing food) in every little alley in the city, so if you take the time and pay enough attention you’ll be able to learn quite a bit - and eat extremely well in the process.

The Confucius Temple is located at #30 Kongmen Street (孔門路30號).

The temple is open Tuesday - Sunday from 8:30am - 5:00pm.

It is only closed on Mondays, national holidays and on election days. Entry is free of charge.

If you’re walking from the train station simply cross the street and walk straight down Guangfu Road (光復路) until you reach Minsheng Road (民生路). From there make a right turn and continue walking straight until you reach the temple.

The Confucius Temple is also conveniently located near the base of Changhua’s historic Bagua Mountain (八卦山), so if you are driving a car you should be able to find adequate parking if you can’t find anything near the temple.

Within a short walking distance from the temple not only will you find a wealth of great food to eat, but the Bagua Mountain Great Buddha, Changhua Roundhouse, City God Temple, Mazu Temple, Martial Arts Hall, etc.

Taiwan is home to well over a dozen Confucius Temples but rarely are they as complete and as historic as the Changhua Confucius Temple. With an almost three century year history, this quiet little temple sitting the heart of historic Changhua City is one of the highlights of any visit to the area and if you are interested in Taiwanese history and traditional architecture, you’ll definitely want to stop by this one for a quick visit.

No matter where you live in Taiwan, I recommend hopping on a train for a day trip to this beautiful central Taiwan city where you’ll be treated to historic temples, amazing food and displays of Taiwanese culture that you so often miss if you spend all your time in Taipei.