Zhuxi (Chu Hsi) Temple
Zhuxi Temple (Zhúxī Sì 竹溪寺)
The origin of this temple is surrounded more by legend than facts. Legends talk about a beautiful Buddhist temple on the south bank of the south river in Tainan. It was on a hill surrounded by gorgeous natural landscape. Bamboo grew all along the small river that ran next to it. This bamboo along the stream was such a marker that people began calling the temple Zhuxi (more often written Chuhsi when referring to this temple). Zhúxī (竹溪) literally means bamboo stream. The mention of this ‘bamboo stream temple’ in a poem from the 1660s is claimed to be proof of its early existence.
It is not really known when this temple was first built. Some people claim it’s from early 1660s in the years just after the invasion by Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga). Some others claim the temple was already there, and even suggest that it was Taiwan’s first temple (I wonder how many other temples are claiming the same thing). Much of the speculation on it being the first temple in Taiwan is based on how aged the building appeared when the Qing arrived and documented the temples on the island in 1683. At this time, the Qing noted the importance of the temple and decided to add a college next to it, which was completed in 1689. Further documentation shows it was either renovated or reconstructed in 1789, 1794, 1886, and 1913. The 1913 reconstruction created a western-influenced building that rather looked like a European colonial building. That temple fell into unrepairable conditions by the 1970s. Major reconstruction occurred over an 8-year period from 1976 to 1983, giving the temple its current appearance. They’re still adding to this compound, and much of the area in front of the main hall feels incomplete.
This temple might or might not be the oldest in Taiwan, but it certainly doesn’t look like it these days. It feels very new and is among the largest temples in the area. It is a grand Buddhist temple and monastery with several buildings and pagodas on the compound housing the activities and shelter for monks and nuns. Its emerald-green roofs hang over red trim and white marble, as well as a quietness and openness that exude a completely different feeling than the Taoist temples in the area. There isn’t much left of the previous temples except for one of the pagodas, and an old brick and wood gate on the hill above the temple. They both look like they were part of previous constructions of the temple. What best remains from its history is beneath the surface, but also exists in the scenic area background that inspired the name Bamboo Stream. The Tainan Athletic Park surrounds the temple, allowing for a lot of natural space, flowering trees and quiet seclusion to separate the temple from the busy city that exists outside of the sports park. It’s not pristine nature, but it isn’t bad for being in the middle of a dense city. It is worth viewing as a quiet escape from the pollution of urban life.
I can’t track down an exact address, but there are several ways to get there. I recommend taking the leisurely walk along the stream starting from Jiankang Road next to the Martyrs Shrine (or across from McDonald’s if that’s a better landmark for you). You could also drive up Zhuxi Street. This takes you to the back of the temple where the large pagoda is located. Or you can head through the bulk of the athletic park along Tiyu Road. You’ll find the temple across from the track and field stadium.