Nanyao Temple is one of the many Mazu worship centers that can be found in the Taichung, Changhua, and Nantou region. During the Qing Dynasty, the temple’s Mazu pilgrimage to Ponkan, a village in Chiayi County, was the largest pilgrimage in Taiwan. The temple’s buildings are a hodgepodge of Min-nan, Japanese, Baroque, Greek, and northern Chinese architectural styles. Zhangzhou’s master wood craftsman Tan Ing-pin (1864 – 1944) was commissioned to oversee the construction of Guanyin Hall (the rear hall) during the Japanese colonial period. The Japanese-style structure has a Western colonnade and a Min-nan hip-and-gable roof with double eaves, making it unique among Taiwan’s temple buildings. The works of many contemporary master craftsmen can be found inside the temple’s halls, including the caisson ceiling and other large-scale woodwork by master carpenter Wang Shu-ga and the woodcarvings resulted from the competition between Quanzhou’s master woodcarver Yang Xiu-xing and other woodcarvers from the nearby village of Tianzhong. These works make Nanyao Temple the most exquisitely decorated temple in Changhua City.
Nanyao Temple is dedicated to Mazu. It was constructed in the 18th century. The site where the temple stands today was originally referred to as “the kiln (yáo) outside the city’s south (nán) gate,” and so the temple was subsequently named Nanyao Temple. According to a historical stele and literary references preserved in the temple, after Changhua was established as a county in 1723, a kiln worker named Yang Qian who hailed from Ponkan in Zhuluo County (now Chiayi County) moved to the area for work. He brought with him incense from a Mazu temple in Ponkan, and placed it at his workplace for protection. The smoldering incense began emitting different colors at night, which nearby residents interpreted as the spirit of Mazu. Local landowners then raised funds to commission a pottery statue of Mazu. In 1738, believers donated a plot of land, and a small thatched hut was built as a shrine to house the statue. In November of the same year, another fundraising effort was launched to build what would become today’s Nanyao Temple and finance five statues of the goddess. The temple was rebuilt several times during the Qing Dynasty. Master Tan Ing-pin was contracted to build Guanyin Hall in 1916. His outstanding apprentice Liau Sik-sing (1899 – 1985) also took part in the construction. In 1920, Quanzhou’s master architect of the Huian Xidi school of architecture, Ong Ek-sun (1861 – 1931), and his nephew Wang Shu-fa oversaw the renovation of the front hall and the main hall. Nanyao Temple was designated as a county historic site in 1988.
1The Architectural Style of Guanyin Hall
Guanyin Hall is the most unique building in the Nanyao Temple complex. Foreign influence can be seen in its structure, workmanship, and design. The hall combines Japanese and Greek Baroque influences with traditional Taiwanese temple elements. It has a hip-and-gable roof with double eaves (a second roof raised on top of a sloping roof, symbolizing respect); three dormer windows projecting from the roof; a wrap-around balcony with balustrade under the eaves; a straight roof ridge; and a black, Japanese-style façade. It also has woodcarvings in a pattern of chrysanthemums, another sign of Japanese influence. Western architecture greatly influenced the design of the hall, as the balustrade was constructed in the style of a Western parapet wall and the design of the colonnade was based on Greek Doric columns. The interior of the hall has a copper ceiling, a carving of the Eighteen Arhats in a Western-style frame, and Japanese shrines. This fusion of decorative elements is not found in any other temple. The idea of creating a harmonious mixture of Chinese, Western, and Japanese architectural styles became popular around 1920, and is one of Nanyao Temple’s most charming characteristics. In most temples, the main hall is the biggest hall. However, Nanyao Temple’s Guanyin Hall is larger than its main hall. This is because it was originally designed to be the main hall, but its unusual appearance did not conform to conservative folk customs. As a result, a new main hall was built in front of Guanyin Hall.
2Pottery Mirror Frames
Guanyin Hall has large mirrors in Western-style frames created in pottery on its right and left walls. No other temple in Taiwan has decoration of this type. Locals say that craftsmen installed the mirrors during construction of the hall, but the reason they did so and the purpose of the mirrors cannot be verified. The frames have medallions in the form of Japanese-style chrysanthemums. This type of frame is only found at the Guanyin Hall of Nanyao Temple.
Guanyin Hall has a coffered ceiling—a flat ceiling with a chessboard-like pattern. This type of ceiling is called “píngqí” in the Yingzao Fashi, a technical treatise on architecture and craftsmanship written during the Song Dynasty. It was very fashionable during the period of Japanese rule. Longshan Temple and Hsinchu City God Temple also have coffered ceilings.
4The Sanchuan Hall’s Woodcarvings
The Sanchuan Hall was built after the completion of the main Hall. Master Wang Shu-fa was commissioned to design the hall. Craftsmen of the Quanzhou Xidi school were skilled in large-scale woodwork and caisson ceilings. Smaller-scale woodwork was commissioned to Yang Xiu-xing, a woodcarver from Quanzhou, along with woodcarvers from Tianzhong, a nearby village. The hall features two sets of design (duìchǎngzuò) in which different masters cooperated to design the opposite sides of the building. Although the two sides are complementary, each has its own style. The carvings include characters from folk tales, and are extremely lifelike. Yang’s works can also be found at other famous temples such as Taipei’s Longshan Temple.
5The Japanese-Style Dragon Columns
Nanyao Temple’s halls have three pairs of exquisite, Japanese-style dragon columns located in front of the Sanchuan Hall, the main hall, and Guanyin Hall. The inscription on the pair in front of the Sanchuan Hall states that members of a Mazu association donated them in 1930. The octagonal columns were carved from bluestone. A single dragon encircles each column and holds a pearl in its four claws. The columns are also decorated with characters from the 16th century Chinese novel Investiture of the Gods.
Nanyao Temple’s Mazu associations take turns organizing the annual pilgrimage to Chiayi’s Xingang Fengtian Temple. In recent years, the ancient pilgrimage path has been restored. The pilgrimage is a major religious event in central Taiwan and takes place during the second or third lunar month.