Whilst Longshan Temple is undoubtably Taiwan’s top tourist draw, at least as far as temples are concerned, the Taipei Confucius Temple is also one of the most culturally significant. Located in Da-Tong district, it’s a few metres walk from Dalongdong Boan temple – which is also one of the best temples in Taiwan.
Originally built between 1879 and 1884 during the Qing era, then rebuilt during the Japanese Colonial period, the temple is modeled after the original Confucius Temple in Qufu, Shandong. It’s a brilliant example of southern Fujianese architecture and is the only Confucius temple in Taiwan which is adorned with southern Fujian-style ceramic applique. Unlike most temples in Taiwan, the Taipei Confucius Temple is set up well for tourists – with a tourist shack offering English language brochures on the way in.
Like most Confucius temples around the world, simplicity and uniformity is key. This does mean that at first glance, it won’t have the ‘WOW’ factor that you get from most of the Taoist temples in Taipei – but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. It also means you get a feeling of peace that is rarely available at Temple’s such as Longshan.
It was about 200 years after the Qing dynasty had come to Taiwan that they established the Taipei prefecture – building the Confucius temple as part of the plan to impose the Qing imperial culture on the island. However, the original temple didn’t last long. It was demolished in 1907, when the Japanese had taken control of the island. In 1925 a group of people began to advocate for the reconstruction and renovation of the temple. To fund this – they collected donations from over 200 merchants and other wealthy members of society. Land owners donated the land upon which the temple was to be built, Wang Yi-Shun (of Longshan Temple fame) was brought on board to design and build the temple, and after 15 years, in 1939, the temple was finished. Tragically, by the time it was complete Wang had died.
Whilst the temple remained quiet during World War II (as the Japanese had outlawed Chinese cultural ceremonies), its prominence was quickly restored once the war was over and control of Taiwan was relinquished to the Republic of China. It was in 1950 that President Chiang Kai-Shek visited the temple and gifted them with a large plaque declaring “Education for all” written by himself. The temple is now maintained by the Taipei City Government. There you have it – about 150 years of history shrunk into about 3 paragraphs.
I’m by no means an expert on Confucius or his teachings – but I hope I’ve learnt enough to provide a very simplistic view for you. Confucius was a Chinese philosopher born in 551 B.C, in a period known as the Warring States Period – a violent and chaotic time in China. He wanted to see peace and return harmony and believed that a ritualized life was the way to do that. He stressed the importance of correct behaviour, loyalty and obedience to hierachy, focusing on education as a means of attaining worth and status. Humans are inherently good, teachable, improveable and perfectible – and this is achieved through personal and communal endevour. You can become self-developed by cultivating virtues and fulfilling your social role – this is best achieved through everyday ritualsand customs.
Confucius is not a prophet, or a mystic – but a scholar and a teacher. In fact, many consider him the greatest teacher. He has long been recognised for his unparalleled contribution to the ancient Chinese classics. The cultural influences of Confucianism are impossible to ignore.
Taipei Confucius Temple
Back to the temple. If you’ve spent much time exploring Taoist temples in Taiwan, there are a few things that will strike you about this temple. Namely, you won’t see all the gold and bronze statues, intracate murals, or fabulous colours that normally greet you. Instead, you’ll have to look harder to find the beauty in the simplicity. Here are some of the key features.
Wanren Gongqiang (Wall of Supreme Knowledge)
This red wall is one of the most noticeable elements on your approach to the temple. The origin comes from The Analects of Confucius – “if one does not find the door and enter by it, one can not see the ancestral temple in its beauty.” Fascinatingly, the Chinese characters on the wall were inscribed by the 77th generation descedant of Confucius.
On the inside of the Wanren Gongqing is painted a colourful Chinese unicorn. According to legend, this Chinese unicorn is a gentle beast that heralds the birth of Confucius. This wall is painted to absorb the rays of the sun and the moon. The Pan Pond is a unique element of Confucius Temples. It was believed that such ponds could prevent disasters as well as the reduce the summer heat.
This is the main entrance to the temple. It was said than in ancient times only the scholar who got the first place in the civil service examinations could walk through the Pan Bridge, Lingxing Gate and Yi Gate, into the Dacheng Hall.
Unusually, there are no guardian deities painted on the doors. Instead there are 108 decorative studs, who along with the Eight Diagrams painted on the beams, are used to expel devils and protect the temple.
Apparently, there are no inscriptions on the sides of the gate, for one dare not flaunt one’s own writings before Confucius. No comment.
The main entrance to the Da Cheng Temple. It’s five doors are only opened during the Confucius ceremony, otherwise just the left (Jing Send Door) and right (Yu Zhen Door) are open. The intricate carvings include flowers from four seasons, symbolizing peace and well-being. More interestingly, in my opinion, are the eight hornless dragons, symbols of favour and fortune.
You’ll notice a Yong bell and a Jin drum next to the gate. These are played during the Confucuius ceremony.
Meaning “Great Achievement”, this is the main building of the Confucius temple. Sitting in the middle of a large courtyard, there is an incredibly unassuming picture awaiting you inside. The Hall is surrounded by 42 huge pillars with no special carving – showing Confucius’ character as humble and unadorned. The platform in front of the Hall is called the Dan Chi, and it is where the musicians stand during the Confucius ceremony. In front of the Dan Chi is a carving of the cloud dragon.
The Tablet of Confucius is placed in the middle of the Dacheng Hall. This is also where you’ll find Chiang Kai-Shek’s “Education for all” plaque. On the left and right sides are several other shrines, whilst there is a seven-level pagoda in the middle of the roof used to supress evil. This includes 72 clay owls, representing the accomplishment of Confucius teaching philosophy – Education for all.
The temple is finished off with the East and West Side-Buildings. The idol niches inside them commemorate the 154 scholarship and outstanding students of Confucius who have made contributions to promoting his teaching. Then there is the Chongsheng Shrine. This is behind the main Da Cheng Hall and is used to venerate several generations of Confucius’ ancestors, including his brother, the fathers of his four sages and many others. Finally, a lot of the rooms around the edges contain educational information (which is where a lot of what I’ve learnt about Confucius / this temple comes from) which is well worth the read.
That’s about it. This is probably the longest post I’ve written so far – but I hope you found it interesting (I did… which I guess is why I wrote so much). I took a lot of information for this post from material collected during my visit, so hopefully it’s all correct – but I apologise for any inaccuracies. The Confucius temple is well worth a visit and an easy place to spend a couple of hours. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Yuanshan MRT station and there is a nice park next to it which is also worth a visit.