City God Temple

The City God Temple at Night

The City God Temple sits alongside the traffic of Qingnian St.

City God Temple (Chénghuáng Miào 城隍廟)

The front door of this temple perhaps sits closer to the street than any other in Tainan. All the action (or at least traffic) of Qingnian Road whizzes by this temple in a constant furry, making it one of the most environmentally-integrated temple exteriors in the urban landscape of Tainan City.

The city god is the judge for the afterlife.

The city god is the judge for the afterlife.

The city god has an important civic duty. While mortal government officials look after the affairs of the people in life, the city god does the same for souls in the afterlife. An equivalent to St. Peter in the Christian religion, this deity weighs the moral character of the deceased and decides what kind of afterlife is in store. The large, red abacuses above the door and in the mini-museum are used by the city god to add up a person’s good and bad deeds. At this temple, Duke Wei Ning is the celestial magistrate in charge. He has deities on either side of him for 24 departments of heavenly government. Each has its own duties such as the education office, the information office, and the hell office.

City god temples were built in every administrative center in traditional Chinese society. In Tainan, there are three city god temples overlooking different affairs, but the one on Qingnian Road is the oldest, largest and most important. It is not just the oldest city god temple in Tainan, but it’s also the oldest in Taiwan. It was first built in 1669, making it almost as old as temples like the Confucian Temple and the Official God of War Temple. The earliest record of a renovation was in 1693, and in 1777 it took its present form. City god temples are important to city administrators of course. New local government officials must pray here before taking office.

temple interior

temple interior showing some of the "magistrate's 24 officers"

The layout of the temple is rather deep and thin. It’s meant to somewhat resemble a traditional courthouse. The atmosphere of the main hall could be described as somber and gloomy, or even dark and creepy depending on your take. The mood is meant to inspire some amount of fear in patrons as a measure to keep them honest. A famous plaque overhead informs people “you have come” in a rather ominous greeting to remind people that everyone will meet their judgment. The outer halls are not as morbid as main hall and they are really quite serene. It’s a good temple to take your time going through. There is a mini-museum in the west wing that houses a giant red abacus, some stone steles and a few other treasures. Behind the temple is a rather nice backyard.

giant red abacus in the mini-museum

giant red abacus in the mini-museum

Location: 133 Qingnian Road (Cingnian Road 青年路), West Central District, Tainan City

One Response to “City God Temple”
  1. tainancity says:

    I’ve been reading recently about chicken-beading oaths that were once sworn in City God temples. In past generations, people who had disputes that couldn’t be settled would sometimes turn to the gods to prove their case. They would swear an oath to the City God and then cut off a chicken’s head. Even the courts sometimes turned to the celestial judges at these temples during appropriate times.

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