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Popular temple opens doors as usual without smoke, vendors

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The doors to Taipei's iconic Xing Tian Temple (行天宮) opened as normal at 4 a.m. Tuesday, but gone for the first time was the smoke from burning incense that had filled the halls and corridors of the popular religious site for almost a half century.

The temple, which attracts an estimated 6 million visitors every year, announced Sunday its decision to remove incense burners and tables for worshipers to place offerings of food for deities in order to reduce pollution and waste.

In its announcement, the temple cited the words of late founder Master Hsuan Kung.

“If you come to the temple to worship, it doesn't matter if you don't prepare flowers or fruits or if you don't buy incense. A person with a good heart gives off a natural fragrance of morality, and Enzhugong (恩主公) likes that the best,” he was quoted.

Enzhugong refers to any deity worshiped at the temple, but is generally associated with Guan Gong, a 3rd-century heroic general-turned-deity and the main god of the temple that opened in 1968.

Reactions from Worshipers and Venders

A woman surnamed Yang, who has come to the temple regularly for 40 years, approved the new measure and said that traditions should change with the times.

“Xing Tian Temple has never had a burner for spirit money, and the gods' blessings remained all the same even when the number of incense (used per visit) was reduced from three to two,” she said.

On the first day of the smoke- and offering-free policy, some worshipers unaware of the change showed up with fruits and other edible goods, but most agreed the changes were for the better and said they will follow the temple's suggestions.

Along with the dissipating smoke, the number of vendors selling incense sticks and popular offerings such as rice cakes — usually the first to greet visitors at the intersection where the temple sits — was also visibly reduced.

Some of the vendors chose to stay at the street corners they have manned for years but opted to sell flowers instead. A vendor surnamed Tsai said she had made no sales all morning.

A nearby shop selling all sorts of edible offerings also saw business plummet. The owner said she will consider selling other merchandise or closing shop, as the temple was unwilling to budge when she tried to talk administrators out of the ban.

Taipei Mayoral Election Candidates

Sean Lien (連勝文), the ruling Kuomintang's candidate for Taipei mayor in the Nov. 29 election, visited the temple Tuesday morning and said he supports its decision to make the change.

He suggested vendors affected by the new measure can consider negotiating licensing deals with the temple to sell souvenirs instead.

Lien's main rival, independent candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), said in a Facebook post Monday that despite the impact on vendors, changes to religious practices should be made for environmental and health reasons.

Ko also suggested selling souvenirs as an alternative, adding that the government should get involved to help transform businesses in the area.

Other Temples Follow

Along with the well-known Xing Tian Temple in downtown Taipei, the new policy was also rolled out Tuesday at the two temples under the same administration located separately in Taipei's Beitou District and New Taipei's Sanxia District.

Incense burning will still be allowed at all three temples, but only during shou jing (收驚) (a type of exorcism) rituals — one of the most popular services offered by Xing Tian Temple.

Spokesman Lee Chu-hwa (李楚華) said Monday that the temple began promoting the idea that prayers can be heard without incense or offerings when it reduced the number of incense burners from five to two in 2003.

1 Comment
August 27, 2014    kingsolomon@
Let us pray and ask the gods that Taiwan will have the political will to ban smoke-belching and polluting two-stroke scooters and motorcycles from operating in the streets of Taiwan. These noisy and foul-smelling contraptions belong to third world and backward countries. Taiwan should promote its electric bikes instead of this garbage.
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Many followers pray with their bare hands at Xingtian Temple, yesterday. Although Xingtian Temple has already removed the censers and altars, many people still visited. (CNA)

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