Confucian Temple (kǒng miào 孔廟)
First completed in 1666, Tainan’s Confucian Temple is one of the oldest and most historically important buildings in Taiwan. It was built by Zheng Chenggong’s (Koxinga’s) son, Zheng Jing, under the advice of city administrator Chen Yonghua. The temple served as Taiwan’s first official school. Since its inception, the temple has undergone more than 30 renovations, but it still retains its historical integrity. It is, justifiably, one of Tainan’s premier tourist attractions.
The current look and layout of the temple comes from the 1917 renovations done during the Japanese era, though many of the structures are much older. At the heart of temple is the main hall, known as Dacheng Hall. Its current look with a double-eave round hip roof dates back to 1719. It is surrounded by an enclosure of halls that connect to the greater temple grounds though Dacheng Gate. In front of Dacheng Gate is the main courtyard. Here, in addition to Banyan trees and open ground, we find two ceremonial gates known as the Li Gate and the Yi Path which symbolize the main disciplines of Confucianism. In front of the central courtyard is the Pan Pond, a semi-circular stone pond that was also a site of ceremonial rituals. Next to Dacheng Hall is the Hall of Edification, or Minglun Hall, where you can find Confucian text displayed in beautiful calligraphy. Tucked in the corner behind Minglun Hall is the Wen Chang Pavilion, built in 1886 and very recently restored. This is a three story pavilion dedicated to the literature deity, Wen Chang. Surrounding this compound are great red walls. Two gates, known as East Dacheng Gate and West Dacheng Gate, allow access through these walls. The east gate sits on Nanmen Road, making it the main gate and a common symbol for the temple as a whole. Across Nanmen Road is the Pan Gao Stone Arch, which was added 1777.
For me, this building is part of everyday life in Tainan. I pass by the salmon-colored walls almost daily. One of the great features of this and other Confucian temples is that it serves the community as a park more than it does a preserved piece of antiquity. While it costs NT$50 to go into the Dacheng Hall, it is free to walk the rest of the grounds. Under the canopy of several large banyan trees, you will find people doing tai chi, feeding squirrels and any other manner of park activities. Seamlessly connected to the front of the temple is a sport field where people can jog, fly kites, etc. The temple is located in one of the quaintest neighborhoods in Tainan. Indeed, when I first visited Tainan, it was walking the quiet lanes in this neighborhood that made me want to flee Taipei and come to the “Kyoto of Taiwan.” The tree-lined streets connect you with much of Taiwan’s preserved past. Many smaller historic sites are a short walk from the Confucian Temple’s grounds.
In addition to being a top tourist attraction and community center, it would seem that the temple is also a stronghold of Taiwanese consciousness. In October of 2008, a visiting Chinese official was assaulted by the DPP city-councillor of Tainan City on the grounds of the temple. The official’s body guards, assigned from the Tainan police force, did nothing to stop this assault.
The temple has a souvenir shop, but you can also head to Fuzhong Street across from the entrance on Nanmen Road. It is marked by the Pan Gao Stone Arch and on the weekends it is quite active with vendors.
Confucian temples have always been centers for culture and learning amongst Chinese communities. They are often considered the heart and soul of the community. The establishment of this temple in the early years of Ming settlement was important for laying the foundations of Tainan as more than just an outpost. Artists and intellectuals were attracted to Taiwan from the mainland at this time. Indeed, it was on the grounds of a (pre-existing?) Confucian temple that Zheng Chenggong pondered the future of Taiwan and the overthrow of the mainland.
Location: No.2, Nanmen Rd., West Central District, Tainan City 700, Taiwan (R.O.C.)