Zhaoqing Temple is a center of Phoenix Hall worship, which incorporates Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist beliefs into a single folk religion. With its front hall devoted primarily to Confucius and its rear hall to Wun Heng (General Guan Yu), it is the only temple in southern Taiwan that is dedicated to both the martial and literary arts. The temple was originally founded in 1965 and moved to its present site in 1973. Work on the temple was completed in 1987.
The main hall of Zhaoqing Temple, Dacheng Hall, is devoted to Confucianism. Within the shrine, visitors will find no statues of Confucius or his disciples. Instead, a large tablet in the central shrine is used to represent Confucius (551-479 b.c.), also known as the Great Sage. The choice of tablet is made because the purpose of a Confucian temple is to honor the teachings of the Great Sage rather than to worship Confucius himself. In a reflection of the official and secular nature of Confucian temples, the doors to the hall are studded with door nails rather than being decorated with images of guardian door gods.
The Four Sages
The central tablet is flanked by four others representing the Four Sages— Yanzi, Mencius, Zengzi and Zisi. All four, like Confucius, are historical personages. Yanzi, or Yan-hui, was Confucius’ favorite disciple. Zengzi (Zeng Shen) was the author of the Great Learning, one of the Four Books of Confucianism. Zisi (Kongji) was Confucius grandson. He studied under Zengzi and wrote the famous Doctrine of the Mean. Mencius studied under Zisi, and is considered by many to be second only to Confucius as a philosopher and teacher.
The 72 Worthies
The shrines flanking the central shrine are dedicated to the 72 Worthies. These are the 72 disciples of Confucius who truly mastered his teachings. Some of these ancient scholars are written about in the Confucian Analects, and the famed Han Dynasty historian Sima Qian wrote biographies of many more in his Records of the Grand Historian, which was completed around 94 B.C. As with Confucius and the Four Sages, these scholars are honored with spirit tablets.
In imperial China, the imperial examinations were administered at Confucian temples, and many served as schools and centers of intellectual thought and discussion. Thus, Confucian temples have always been associated with learning and literacy. Even today, parents bring their children to the temple before their college entrance examination to pay respects and seek the blessings of these ancient scholars.
Confucius’ Birthday Rites
On September 28 each year, a ceremony is held to celebrate Confucius’ birthday. Many of the traditions of this ceremony have remain unchanged for over 2000 years.
The ceremony generally begins at 5:00 a.m. A group of musicians plays ancient songs while a group of 36 schoolchildren line up in six rows of six students each and perform a highly ritualized dance. Holding pheasant feathers in the left hand and red bamboo rods in the right, they act out a series of 96 gestures and movements in unison as the music plays. The movements are carried out slowly and deliberately, with a clear pause between each one. The ceremony originally included the sacrifice of a goat, a pig, and an ox, but today most temples replace these with pastry in animal shapes.
These rites were begun at the express order of the first emperor of the Han Dynasty, Han Gaozu, when he visited Confucius tomb in 195 B.C. In a sign of the high honor in which Confucius is held, they are patterned directly after the ritual carried out for the emperor himself.
Yushan Hall and Phoenix Hall Worship
The rear hall of Zhaoqing Temple is a Phoenix Hall. Phoenix Hall worship is a Taiwanese folk religion that mixes Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist elements. A primary activity of Phoenix Hall worship is regular spirit writing rituals in which planchette writing is used to communicate the teachings of various gods from all three religions. At Zhaoqing Temple, the ritual is held on the 3rd, 13th, and 23rd days of each lunar month. During each spirit writing session, a medium holds a mahogany planchette over a shallow tray filled with sand. The spirit guides the medium’s hand either to answer followers’ questions or to write texts expounding religious doctrine and instructing followers. Essentially, the gods are like teachers giving lectures and the practitioners, known as disciples, are their students. Disciples publish, discuss, and study the texts they receive from the gods to attain moral and spiritual salvation. The goal is to free themselves from impurities that have accumulated over several lifetimes and return to an original, pure state of being. In this way, the disciple can then ascend to a higher plane, transcending this world of forms and suffering and joining the ranks of the gods.
The Gods in Yushan Hall
The main altar in Yushan Hall enshrines the three holy benefactors Wun Heng (Holy Emperor Lord Guan), Fu Di, and The Kitchen God . The central and most important of these is Wun Heng. In life, he was Guan Yu, China’s most revered military general, who died in 220 A.D. After his death, Guan Yu’s reputation grew until he was eventually deified. He is worshipped today in Taoism, several folk religions, Buddhism, and even popular Confucianism for his loyalty, courage, and integrity. With his red complexion and large halberd, Guan Yu is among the most recognizable of the gods.
To the right of Wun Heng is Lord Fuyou, the deified form of Lu Dongbin, a famous poet and Taoist practitioner from the late Tang dynasty (around 800 a.d.). Lu Dongbin was known for his good deeds and for helping the poor. He is the leader of the Eight Immortals.
To the left of Wun Heng on the main altar is The Kitchen God, the Director of Destinies in Taoist cosmology. The Kitchen God is responsible for allocating, increasing, or decreasing lifespans.
On the altar table in front of the central altar are effigies of General Guan Ping and General Zhou Cang, two subordinates of Guan Yu. Cheng Huang, the City God, is enshrined in the smaller shrine on the right. This celestial judge determines whether the souls of the dead will be sent to one of the levels of Hell for punishment and rebirth or will be released from the earthly cycle. Finally, Fu De Zheng Shen (the Village God) is enshrined on the left.
Order of Worship at Zhaoqing Temple
1. Face outwards to the large censer and pay respects to the Jade Emperor and the Emperors of the Three Realms (the Emperor of the Skies, the Emperor of the Earth, and the Emperor of the Seas).
2. At the central altar of the Main Hall, pay respects first to the tablet representing Confucius and then to the Four Sages (Yanzi, Mencius, Zengzi and Zisi)
3. Pay respects to the 72 Disciples at the altars on either side of the main altar.
1. At the central altar, pay respects first to Wun Heng (Holy Emperor Lord Guan), Fu Di (Master Pure-Yang), and The Kitchen God , as well as to General Guan Ping and General Jhou Cang.
2. Pay respects to the City God (to the right of the main altar).
3. Pay respects to Fu De Zheng Shen (to the left of the main altar).
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is celebrated from the first to the ninth day of the ninth lunar month to commemorate the descent of the gods of the South Dipper and North Dipper to the earth and the birthdays of the Nine Emperor Gods. It is also known as the Lidou Rites.
Devotees taking part in the rites must submit their full names and their Eight Characters of Birth in preparation for the ritual prayers. During the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the Taoist priests, sutra chanting team, and the offering team will chant these names and pray to Heaven for blessings for them every day.
Devotees fast throughout the duration of the Lidou Rites, and reverently prepare offerings of fresh flowers and fruits to bring to the temple. They also practice the Five Precepts of Taoism: have a good heart, read good books, follow good examples, speak good words, and do good deeds. By doing good deeds, one sows happiness, and thereby reaps great blessings.
The temple is known as a five-entrance temple because its front hall has five entrance gates. According to tradition, imperial palaces had five gates, the residences of scholars and officials were allowed three gates, and commoners had only one. Thus, only shrines whose main deity had been granted the title of emperor or empress were allowed to have five gates. The Chinese character for “five” is a homophone of the character meaning “meridian,” so the term meridian gate is also used.
Meridian gate also refers to the central gate, which is only used by the deities for entering and exiting the temple. Ordinary people may not use this entrance.
In ancient times, only emperors and high-ranking officials were allowed to use the meridian gate. The modern-day equivalents are the president, premier, or the deity carried in its palanquin. Except on special occasions, a bronze-colored barrier is placed in front of this entrance to remind members of the public not to use it.
The Azure Dragon
The Azure Dragon is sometimes known as the Blue Dragon or the Green Dragon, and is one of the Four Guardians in Chinese mythology (the others are the White Tiger of the West, Vermillion Bird of the South, and Black Tortoise of the North). Under the Five Principles system, the Azure Dragon represents the East. Its corresponding Chinese element is wood and its season is spring.
Of the Twenty-Eight Lunar Mansions (similar to Western zodiacal constellations, but based on the progress of the moon through the nighttime sky over the course of a lunar month), the seven astrological mansions of the eastern sky (Jiao, Kang, Di, Fang, Sin, Wei, and Ji) are under the custody of the Azure Dragon.
Taoists call the Azure Dragon “Mengjhang.” Some Taoist scriptures refer to it as Emperor Lord, Holy General, Divine General, or Demon-Vanquishing General. In Taoist temples, the Azure Dragon and White Tiger serve as guardian deities of the eastern and western halves of the temple.
The White Tiger
Like the Azure Dragon, the White Tiger originated from ancient star worship. It is also one of the Four Guardians. Taoists call the White Tiger “Jianbing,” while Taoist scriptures have also referred to it as Emperor Lord, Holy General, Divine General, and Demon-Vanquishing General. Of the Twenty-Eight Mansions, the seven astrological mansions of the western sky (Kuei, Lou, Wei, Mao, Bi, Zih, Shen) are under the custody of the White Tiger.
The temple uses planchette writing for divination purposes. This practice is in keeping with the way of the Gods according to Confucian tradition. The sages, immortals, and Buddhas of the five faiths represent the heavens as they descend to the world as phoenixes and express their wishes through words revealed on sand-covered tables. The words are clearly written, dispelling any doubt, and are manifested through a medium, the chief planchette writer, supporting a planchette made from willow or peach wood carved in the form of a phoenix.
The Phoenix Hall is the sacred hall where spiritual teachings are revealed through planchette writing. It is a sacred place where the true spirits of sages, immortals, and Buddhas from the three realms manifest and transcend realms. It is also a shrine and the place where the way of the Gods is carried out according to Confucian tradition. The gods of the five faiths fill the void and possess the chief planchette writer, guiding the planchette through him to write messages and communicate with the mortal world. The God of Culture and Literature advocated this method, while Holy Emperor Lord Guan ordered its promotion. The chief planchette writer therefore shoulders the heavy responsibility of the rise and fall of the phoenix hall, and must carry out this duty with a loyal heart and a resolute will.
The sages, immortals, and Buddhas of the three realms repeatedly descend and enlighten regardless of religious persuasion. They help the world and benefit the people while spreading China’s inherent morality.
No. 118-3, Anxi, Jiali Dist., Tainan City 722002, Taiwan (R.O.C.)