Travel

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.


Yilan Shinto Shrine (宜蘭神社遺址)

I read an interesting quote from a Taiwanese historian recently that explained that when the Japanese came to Taiwan they developed the island and built things that were meant to last.

They did this because they never actually planned to leave.

The historian continued to explain that when the Colonial Era ended and the Chinese Nationalists fled to Taiwan, they constructed buildings with the mindset that they would only be temporary as were only here for a short time before going back to China.

This is why you can still find buildings and infrastructure constructed during the Japanese Colonial Era that was beautifully designed and still standing after all these years. Whereas a lot of the buildings constructed after they left are constantly falling apart.

The Japanese mindset when it came to Taiwan was that the island would become a ‘model colony’ and the colonial government would do their best to develop the island’s infrastructure, modernize its economy and educate the local people who lived here.

This isn’t to say that the Japanese weren’t guilty of atrocities - they certainly committed their fair share and in many countries across Asia, the history of Japanese Imperialism is one that conjures up a lot of bad memories for those who experienced it.

When the Japanese were forced to leave Taiwan, they left the island in a considerably better situation than before they arrived which is part of the reason why, despite the negatives brought by colonial rule, locals often have a positive outlook on their half-century under Japanese rule.

In China, the experience with Japanese Imperialism was completely different, so when the Republic of China took control of Taiwan (and later fled here in the early 1950s) they could hardly understand how the local population could look so favourably upon the Japanese.

The combination of the experiences the Chinese had with Japan during the Second World War and the Taiwanese affinity for Japanese rule created a rift between the two and is one of the contributing factors as to why so many unfortunate atrocities took place during the ensuing four decades, known as Taiwan’s “White Terror” (白色恐怖) period.

During that forty year period, which we are still learning about today, the Chinese Nationalists took it upon themselves to forcefully promote Chinese culture on the locals while subjugating the use of local indigenous languages as well as Taiwanese, Hakka and Japanese.

They also did their best to rid Taiwan of any evidence of Japanese culture that couldn’t be ‘repurposed’ for their own usage. This meant that almost all of the over 200 Shinto Shrines that were constructed throughout the country would ultimately disappear over this period.

Now that Taiwan has entered a new era of peace and stability, it has become important for society to take an honest look at and learn from the crimes of the past. This includes not only seeking transitional justice for those who were persecuted or murdered, but also making efforts to revive and preserve the languages of the local peoples, and the restoration of important cultural and historic places of interest.

One of the areas where the government has put a considerable amount of effort in the past few years is the restoration and preservation of buildings that were constructed during the Japanese Colonial Era. These efforts have focused on the restoration of the many Martial Arts Halls, Shinto Shrines, train stations and former civil servant dormitories throughout the country.

All over the country you can see restoration projects taking place transforming many of these historic structures into popular tourist destinations.

Of the over two hundred Shinto Shrines that once existed in Taiwan during the Colonial Era, very few actually remain in existence today. The government has made an effort to rebuild and restore some of those that remain but unfortunately only the Taoyuan and Tongxiao Shrines are the largest that are still around.

Interestingly, the former Yilan Shinto Shrine, which like many other large shrines was more or less destroyed decades ago, has experienced a bit of a revival in recent years - but not for being rebuilt like some of the others.

The shine, like several of the other large Shinto Shrines in Taiwan (including the two mentioned above) was converted into a “Martyrs’ Shrine”, a place dedicated to paying respect to the fallen soldiers of the Republic of China Armed Forces.

What makes this one interesting though is the way the local government has gone about restoring the shrine. Instead of rebuilding it, they have instead converted the site into a makeshift memorial with an art display that tells the story of its destruction while keeping the Martyrs Shrine intact.

The Yilan Shinto Shrine (宜蘭神社)

The Yilan Shinto Shine or “Giran Jinjya” (ぎらんじんじゃ) was classified as a prefectural shrine and the largest of the over a dozen shrines constructed in the Yilan area during the colonial period.

The shrine, which was one of the first constructed in Taiwan was originally constructed in 1906 during the latter years of the Meiji Era (明治), in what is today Zhongshan Park (中山公園) near the Yilan Train Station.

A little more than a decade later though it was decided that the shrine would have to be relocated outside of Yilan City to an area with more space. The shrine also had serious structural issues which made it unrepairable due to the amount of typhoons and earthquakes on the east coast.

In 1918 (大正7年), the new and improved Yilan Shinto Shrine opened to the public just outside of the main city on a small mountain. The location that was chosen for the shrine was an optimal one that allowed for the new shrine to be constructed in a traditional fashion with a ground level walking path, a set of stone stairs that led up the mountain, a Haiden (拜殿) and a Honden (本殿) which were both constructed at different elevations.

From historical records and photos I can tell you that the Yilan Shinto Shrine was complete with a Torii (鳥居), Visiting Path (参道), Purification Fountain (手水舎), Stone Lanterns (燈籠), Bronze Horse (銅馬), Komainu (狛犬), Haiden (拜殿) and Honden (本殿).

Unfortunately I haven’t seen much evidence of the shrine including a ‘Shamusho’ Administrative Office (社務所), although for a shrine of its size, I’m sure there was one somewhere - Its just not showing up in photos or records.

What is quite apparent from the few photos that are available though is that the Yilan Shinto Shrine was indeed one of the most beautiful in Taiwan and for the few decades of its existence was a popular place to visit.

The shrine, much like many of the others that would later be constructed around Taiwan was primarily dedicated to Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (能久親王), the ‘Three Deities of Cultivation’ (開拓三神) and the Goddess Amaterasu (天照皇大神).

It is significant to note that Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (北白川宮能久親王) was a distant relative of the Japanese emperor and was the first royal who had the unfortunate luck of dying outside of Japan. The details of his death are somewhat disputed but he either died as a result of contracting Malaria or by being shot by Taiwanese Guerrillas.

Nevertheless he died just outside of Tainan during the 1894-1895 invasion of Taiwan and was quickly elevated to the status of a ‘kami’ with shrines dedicated in his honour throughout Taiwan - as well as in Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine.

Another commonality among many of Taiwan’s Shinto Shrines were the worship of the ‘Three Deities of Cultivation’ (かいたくさんじん / 開拓三神) which consisted of three gods known for their skills with regard to nation-building, farming, business and medicine. Similar to the Chinese Earth God (土地公 / 福德正神) who is enshrined in probably more than a thousand different locations around Taiwan.

Unfortunately all that remains of the Yilan Shinto Shrine today are shattered pieces of the past.

There are however a few pieces that have been left intact. The ‘Visiting Path’ (参道) still features prominently on the park. Likewise the steps that bring visitors up the mountain are still there with the original Komainu (狛犬) lion-dogs guarding them.

The original Haiden (拜殿), Honden (本殿), Torii (鳥居) and Stone Lanterns (燈籠) however have all been demolished and are part of the display in front of the original Bronze Horse (銅馬), which is an interesting case and deserves a bit of explanation.

Bronze Horse

Typically the horses, known as ‘God Horses’ (神馬) sit in front of a shinto shrine and are considered to be the personal mount of the gods enshrined within the temple. Known as “Shinme” (しんめ), the horses are often beautifully molded from bronze and designed in a way that makes them look powerful and majestic while also in a perpetual sense of motion.

In most cases the horse are decorated with a round symbol on their belly that usually depicts the Chrysanthemum Seal of the Japanese royal family, known as the Kikukamonshō (菊花紋章).

When the Chinese Nationalists took control of Taiwan they ended up destroying most of the country’s Shinto Shrines, but for some bizarre reasons left some of the bronze horses standing.

They did however make sure to vandalize the Chrysanthemum Sea, something I’ve already mentioned when I blogged about the former Taichung Shinto Shrine. (Click the link to see photos of the horses)

The Bronze Horse at the Yilan Shinto Shrine however stands apart from many of the others that remain in existence today due to the fact that the emblem on its belly wasn’t vandalized. Amazingly it was left alone.

The reason for this is quite simple - The emblem on the horse’s belly isn’t the ‘Chrysanthemum Seal’ but the official seal that the Japanese colonial government used for “Taiwan”, which is a symbol that remains popular in Taiwan today, especially with independence activists. (See a mock up of a proposed Taiwan flag below)

Even though most of the Shinto Shrine is non-existent today, I highly recommend checking out the Bronze Horse as its continued existence is actually quite surprising. Its also cool to check out the interesting art display near the horses which depict the lost pieces of the shrine in their smashed state.

Yilan Martyrs’ Shrine (宜蘭忠烈祠)

When Japan surrendered to the allies at the end of the war, control of Taiwan was ambiguously handed over to Chiang Kai-Shek (蔣中正) and the Republic of China. A few years later though, they would find themselves on the losing side of the Chinese Civil War and were forced to retreat to Taiwan to regroup their forces.

The influx of a few million refugees created food and housing shortages all over Taiwan and the local people were the ones who had to endure the majority of those hardships. Likewise, the resentment toward anything “Japanese” meant that any buildings of cultural or religious significance that wasn’t helping to solve the housing crisis was demolished or vandalized.

In the early 1950s the Yilan Shinto Shrine was demolished and replaced with a Martyrs’ Shrine (忠烈祠), dedicated to the fallen members of the Republic of China Armed Forces.

The small one-room building was constructed to appear like a traditional temple and on the inside you could find a Spirit Tablet (神位), representing the fallen members of the Armed Forces.

The ironic thing about ‘Martyrs Shrines’ in Taiwan is that the people memorialized within were all born in China and fought in wars that really had nothing to do with Taiwan.

If locals want to pay respect to family members who gave their life serving in the military during the Second World War, they’d have to travel to the Yasukuni Shrine (靖國神社) in Tokyo.

After the shinto shrine was demolished, the ground level area where the ‘Visiting Path’ once existed was converted into a makeshift Military Village (眷村) known as Xingguo New Village (興國新村) where members of the airforce stationed nearby took up residence.

Military Villages Links: Mazu New Village | Rainbow Village  

After a few decades people slowly started realizing that the dream of ‘Retaking the Mainland’ from the Communists was never going to happen. So, with the housing crisis solved and the economy booming, people started to slowly leave the villages for more modern and permanent arrangements.

The local government decided in the early 1990s that Xingguo Village would be demolished and converted into a park, paying homage in part to its history as a Shinto Shrine with the ‘visiting path’ faithfully restored and the shattered pieces of the shrine that remained put on display.

In addition the east and west wings of the Martyrs Shrine would be converted into an exhibition space which would display historic photos of the shrine and have diagrams of what it looked like before being destroyed.

I suppose even though the Shinto Shrine is long gone, its memory is being recognized in a responsible way and people are able to learn about an important piece of this nations history.

Getting There

 

The Yilan Martyrs Shrine is located within the Yuanshan Park (員山公園) in Yilan County’s Yuanshan Township (員山鄉), just outside of Yilan City.

If you have your own means of transportation the park is located a short distance from the Number 7 Highway (北橫公路) on Yuanshan Road Section One (員山路一段) and a quick turn onto Fuxing Road (復興路).

The park has ample parking space for your vehicle, so you probably won’t have to park too far away, unless of course there is a public event going on.

If you are relying on public transportation, simply take Bus #753 from the Yilan Bus Station (宜蘭轉運站) located to the rear of Yilan Train Station (宜蘭車站) and it will drop you off at the park.

Yilan isn’t the most accessible place when it comes to public transportation and they don’t have YouBike service, so if you can’t catch the bus but still want to visit you may want to consider taking a taxi from the train station. Its not that far, so it won’t cost you very much.

It is a historical injustice and truly unfortunate that so few of the over two hundred Shinto Shrines that were constructed here still exist today. The few that remain thus serve as an important link to part of Taiwan’s colonial history. The recent preservation efforts to restore some of the culturally-significant colonial-era structures are important steps in offering the people of Taiwan a link to their past - and their continued existence should serve as a reminder for the future citizens of this country of everything this nation has had to experience to get to where it is today.

Even though the Yilan Shinto Shrine has been all but destroyed, it has left quite the imprint on Yuanshan Park. The local government has done as well as can be expected to preserve the few remaining pieces of the shrine and offer them as a bit of a memorial of the past.

While the Martyrs Shrine itself is not really that interesting, the remnants of the former Shinto Shrine that are left in the park are enough of a reason to visit. If you find yourself in the Yilan area and are looking to learn a bit about the area’s history, this is definitely one place where you should think about making a stop. It won’t take you very long to see it all and the park is quite enjoyable with lots of activities happening on weekends.