Contact Us
Century International Hotels



TAIWAN A glimpse of Chinese religious traditions
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Lisa Fetsis
Date: 2001-09-10
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - Clouds of incense float through the crowded Hsingtien Temple as businessmen in gray suits mix with children in flip-flops and elderly women bowing and mumbling prayers.

The temple is one of Taipei’s most popular places of worship and a perfect example of why Taiwan is one of the world’s best places to observe Chinese religious traditions.

For centuries, the Taiwanese have practiced a rich blend of Buddhism, Taoism and folk beliefs brought here by ethnic Chinese settlers. Many of the traditions have been interrupted in China during decades of communism, which once tried to stamp out the religions.

Hsingtien Temple is on the corner of a busy intersection in downtown Taipei. Dragon sculptures appear to dance down the eaves of the sloping red-tile roof. A wall with tall red doors seals off the courtyard, which is open to anyone who wants to go in.

Inside the temple, three rectangular tables are loaded with offerings: fancy cans of tea, mangoes, pineapples, bananas and migau, a sweet pastry made of sticky rice.

Most people pray in the main hall to the temple’s god, Kuan Kung, who sits behind a black and gold altar and looks a bit frightening with his scowling red face, five tufts of whiskers and sword.

Framing the altar are two large black pillars engraved with intricate gold designs of various shapes, including those of large dragons winding their long tails around the columns.

A series of small lanterns are hung in front of the deity, to be lighted once evening falls. About 100 candles lit by worshippers adds a mystical atmosphere that surrounds the temple courtyard.

Housewife Chou Ying-hua carried a worn cloth handbag over her shoulder as she prayed for help from the Kuan Kung.

“My husband was let go from his job two months ago, and he is now considering a joint venture with two friends,” said Chou, who is in her 30s. “We are here to ask for advice, if it is wise to go ahead with this business venture and if it will be successful.”

Many Taiwanese would say that Chou was praying to the right god.

Kuan Kung is the patron god of businessmen, although during his life he was a general who did more killing than selling.

He lived during the Three Kingdoms period (A.D. 162-219) when three emperors fought to control China. Kuan Kung was once captured but he kept his oath to his emperor, Liu Bei, and would neither surrender to nor aid the enemy. His exploits are described in one of China’s most famous novels, “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” or “San Kuo Yen Yi.”

Kuan Kung was also famous for creating an accounting system, which later won him the respect of business people.

Visiting temples is easy in Taiwan because most are open to the public and not closed to people of different religious faiths.

Often, the two major religions – Buddhism and Taoism – can be worshipped in the same temple.

The Hsingtien Temple’s caretakers, or shifu, are mostly elderly women and they’re easily identified by the bright blue, long-sleeved aprons they wear.

They are often kneeling and reading scripture ay the far end of the courtyard, or performing shoujing, a kind of exorcist ritual usually practiced on small children. The process involves taking three incense sticks and waving them over a person’s head, back and chest to remove evil spirits.

Parents may also bring an article of the child’s clothing to be worn by the child immediately after it has been blessed by the temple caretakers.

Caretaker Hui Kuo has a graduate degree in social work but spends much of her time at the temple helping people.

“People feel comforted through the act of worship, and are able to experience a sense of peace when they come here,” said Hui, in her late 30s. “The strength that they gain from feeling spiritually fulfilled here helps them to overcome the hardship in their lives.”

Unlike most Christian practices in the West, Chinese religions often promise immediate responses to prayers. A common way for worshippers to get an answer from the gods is by throwing divining blocks, pieces of wood or bamboo carved in the shape of a quarter moon with one side flat and the other convex.

The flat side symbolizes the Yang, and the convex side the Yin.

If the blocks land with one Yin side up and the other the Yang side up, they are considered to be “holy blocks” and indicate a “yes” answer.

If both blocks land with the convex, or Yin, side up, these are called the “angry blocks” and mean that the god is irritated with the questioner.

When the blocks land with both flat, or Yang, sides up, this means the god is laughing at the questioner and are called the “laughing blocks.” (Associated Press)


Indonesia Thailand USA Europe Canada Hong Kong Philippines