Tzushr Temple

Northern Taiwan

The centre of religious life in Sansia, the Tzushr Temple honours Qingshui Tsu-Sze, a Song-dynasty general worshipped by the people of Anxi, Fujian, for his power to protect their tea industry. First erected in 1769, the present structure hails from a late-1940s restoration that is still not finished.

In 1947 Tzushr Temple was in near total decay, as were many temples around Taiwan after WWII. Professor Li Mei-shu, scion of a wealthy and politically active family, was given the task of supervising the rebuilding. Li, a trained art professor, was the perfect man for the job. In addition to his formal training, which included a stint in Japan, Li had been a careful observer of temple crafts as a child. Li supervised reconstruction with an obsessive attention to detail and introduced numerous innovations, including bronze doors and wall relief and the use of gold foil over woodcarvings.

After Professor Li's death in 1983, however, the temple committee attempted to go the cheap route with the rest of the reconstruction. The master craftspeople were let go one by one, and a construction company was hired to oversee work. The ensuing public lambasting halted work, and these days everything still seems on hold.

Some standout features to look for include the 126 hand-carved stone pillars (the original design called for 156) and the astonishingly beautiful plafond (decorative ceiling), which recedes into a vortex. On every sculpted surface you'll find traditional motifs and auspicious symbols (such as bats, storks, frogs, crabs, cranes, peonies, pines, vases and turtles) and illustrated stories from history and mythology. Buy a copy of the Shan-hsia Tsu-sze Temple Tour Guide booklet (NT$200) at the temple for more details, or call for a private tour (in Chinese only).

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