Shuixian Temple (Water Fairy Temple)
Shuixian Temple (shuǐxiān gōng 水仙宮)
Tucked away in Shuixian Temple Market is a tiny gem of a temple and a real piece of history. Located at the head of Shennong Street, this temple was a control center for much of the on-goings of the Five-Channels Area during the Qing Dynasty. When this was a busy port area just outside the city walls, several trade unions pretty much ran the show here. Three large trade unions cooperated in building Shuixian Temple as a headquarters. The combination of business and worship created a rather religious guild hall. The worship was closely linked to the business of ocean trade, of course. Sea captains, sailors and tradesmen made their way up Shennong Street to worship the five water-based deities of the temple as a means to reinforce their own safety in the shipping business.
The story of this guild and the five families that ran the area has historical influence in Tainan’s Coming-of-Age Festival, Chishi (qīxì 七夕). This festival celebrates young people who are turning 16 years of age, marking their ascendancy into adulthood. While the festival has a long history in China, much of Tainan’s tradition with it stems from the days when child labor was rampant in the dockyards of the Five Channels Area, and turning 16 meant gaining full adult wage and corresponding household responsibilities.
The temple was first built in 1715, and was originally a larger temple with three sections. The Japanese demolished two of these sections to create an air-raid shelter during World War II. The building was restored with only one hall. What is left over is rather small, but the old woodwork and details are a real treasure.
The temple feels rather quaint and lonely sitting in the back of old Shuixian Temple Market. This market is one Tainan’s oldest and was one of its most active up until recent times. The market took a big dent in business during the Haian Road construction fiasco, and now seems rather abandoned except during the morning hours and maybe the early afternoon on weekends.
When I first did the Lonely Planet’s walking tour I had a hell of time finding this place. In my opinion, it’s easier to find this place if you enter the market from Haian Road not far from Minzu. The temple is about 30 meters inside the market. The market kind of swallows up the eastern section of Shennong Street, but it is actually on this street.
Location: No.1 Shennong Street (神農街), West Central District, Tainan City