Taoist Symbolism in Taiwan

Lately, one of my favorite past times in Taiwan has been visiting local Taoist temples, which can be found in almost every nook and cranny. I rode my bike to the main Taoist temple here in Shu-lin to take some photographs of the magnificent artwork featured on every available surface within the compound. I am literally entranced by these temples and spent hours today wandering around admiring the multi-colored hues of mythical creatures and local deities. It’s like looking at a story book in real life. Each day, I’ve devoted more and more time to getting to know all the mythical faces, creatures and sacred objects that are the essense of Taoism. I’m completely and utterly captivated.

 Dragon

All of them are special and unique and lately, I’ve been making a real effort to seek out these wonderful places of worship just to learn the stories that each one tells. It has inspired me to do more research into the wonderful world of Taiwanese folktales and legends. In addition to being places of devotion, temples in Taiwan are magnificent displays of art. There are sculptures, paintings, lanterns, statues and ceramics encompassing one breathtaking and unique space. These majestic works of art are primarily for guiding worshippers on the path towards spiritual enlightenment, but anyone can go to experience these most unusual and defining works of art in Taiwan.

These magnificent dragons encircle a flaming pearl. Dragons are revered as gods throughout China and Taiwan. You can find dragon images almost everywhere you look. Dragons represent cosmic energy, as well as imperial wisdom, which is why they are often used to represent the Emperor. There are several enchanting stories about dragons and pearls. Sometimes the pearl is depicted as the moon. It is thought that dragons are obsessed with the moon because they believe it is a giant pearl. Several stories tell of dragons going insane from trying to remove the moon from the night sky. The pearl is also thought to represent a dragon’s wisdom, hence the term, ‘pearls of wisdom’. If you’d like to learn more about dragon mythology, this website has some wonderful stories.

This is just one of the local deities that can be found at the entrance of one of the local temples here in Shu-lin City on Bao-An Jie. I counted eight in total. Perhaps they are the Eight Immortals? I don’t really know enough about this legend to make an educated guess. What I do know is that each temple has its own special gods and guardians that provide protection to the area in question.

I came across a lovely hand-carved stone peacock on the back of one of the walls. It isn’t immediately discernible to the public eye unless you are specifically looking for it. Then I started to notice peacocks and the image of the phoenix everywhere.  Peacocks represent dignity and beauty. They are often associated with grand ladies. The dowager Empress of China, Tzu-Hsi, was a fervent admirer of peacocks.

The symbolism and stories associated with these temples are simple and romantic. They offer a wonderful glimpse into the heart of Taiwanese culture and religion. These temples are just one of many things that make Taiwan truly special.

Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carriekellenberger/.

8 thoughts on “Taoist Symbolism in Taiwan

    rlao

    (February 7, 2007 - 6:20 pm)

    Very nice. Funny how a co-worker yesterday were asking me about Taoism as we were discussing religions and I mentioned to him that I have the same last name as the founder of Taoism. Thank for the piece. It has been a long time since I was in Taiwan. Next time I will pay moer attention.

    globetrotteri

    (February 8, 2007 - 1:06 pm)

    I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I really enjoyed writing and researching it. When I first started visiting the local temples in our area, I have to admit, I couldn’t really discern anything with a glance. Taoist temples are a riot of color, shape and chaotic beauty. Now I’m starting to pick out more noteworthy details.

    Sherri

    (November 7, 2009 - 6:08 pm)

    Its been 2 years since you posted this message. Are you still at Taiwan?
    Its amazing all the temples’ architecture are so special.
    Please keep working on it.
    thank you and have a nice day.

      Carrie

      (November 8, 2009 - 8:47 am)

      Thanks Sherry. Yep, I’m still in Taiwan. Thanks very much for your encouragement.

        Contessa

        (November 23, 2011 - 6:25 am)

        Hi Carrie
        Great to hear your story. I went to Taiwan for a trip and instantly fell in love with the place. I’m interested in Daoism and cyckeways and noticed that Taipei is good with both of these. I teach engineers and planners about mobility and cycleways and would very much like to bring this to Taiwn. Do you know of any avenues?
        Thanks
        Contessa

          Carrie

          (November 23, 2011 - 11:11 am)

          Hi Contessa,

          Thanks for your message. I wish I could point you in the right direction, but I don’t know where you could start to look for positions in your field. Perhaps you could check tealit.com?

    […] The founder of Taoism is supposedly Lao Tse, who lived around the same time as Confucius, 604-531 BCE. However, it is not clear if Tao was actually a real person or a legend, nor a mixture of a few thinkers. Some believe he was an actual person seeking a way to avoid aspects of society like warfare, but others feel he was just mythical. Taoism began as a philosophy, but was turned into a state religion in 440 CE; it is one of the great philosophies of China along with Buddhism and Confucianism. Taoism had been oppressed during the strict communist control periods from 1949-1960, and during the cultural revolution from 1966 to 1976. Many temples and texts were destroyed. However, there is more tolerance and practice of this belief ever since 1982. There are about 20 million Taoists, mainly based in Taiwan. […]

    Misha Sonkin

    (January 22, 2014 - 3:05 am)

    Dear Carrie,
    We were in Taiwan for a month and travel around the island. It was wonderful! I’ve got a lot of pictures. I am writing my memory about it. And I’d like to describe some of the details I saw in the temples: lions, deities and so. Do you know a good website where I can find description of these details?
    Sincerely Misha Sonkin

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