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May 27, 2017

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Changhua's stately Confucius temple

Despite its size – in terms of population it's one of Taiwan's ten largest cities – and economic importance, Changhua (彰化) isn't a leading tourist destinations. It does, however, have enough attractions to make a day trip from Taichung or further afield thoroughly worthwhile.

The Great Buddha (大佛) statue that stands atop Mount Bagua (八卦山) is deservedly popular. The views from the top of this hillock are often superb. On a clear day it's possible to see the wind turbines that dot the coast of Changhua County.

If you're walking to Mount Bagua from the railway station (a stroll that takes little more than half an hour), you may as well take in some of the downtown's temples. One of the oldest and best known, the Taoist Yuanqing Hall (元清觀), is currently being renovated after a devastating fire in the spring of 2006. It isn't scheduled to reopen to the public until March 2010, but you can see the main Jade Emperor icon in a temporary building next door.

Fortunately, Changhua's most famous shrine is still open to visitors. The city's Confucius Temple (孔子廟) is one of Taiwan's three most important Confucian shrines – the others are those in Tainan (台南) and Taipei (台北).

The temple is open from 8 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. every day except national holidays. Visitors should enter through a side gate on Minsheng Road, between Kongmen Road (孔門路) and Chenling Road (陳稜路), as the main gate on Kongmen Road is opened only on Sept. 28 – the birthday of the Great Sage.

The peeling paint and faded decorations give this timeworn structure a feeling of genuine antiquity. It was founded in 1726, expanded and rebuilt in 1830, partly-dismantled during the Japanese occupation and then restored to its 1830 dimensions in 1978

There's almost nothing in the way of labels or information panels, but hunt around and you should find an informative bilingual booklet that explains the history and meaning of every memorial tablet and architectural feature.

The dragon columns in front of the inner sanctum are outstanding and within the grounds there is a stele (a large stone on which an official announcement has been carved) bearing two languages.

One you'll recognize immediately as traditional Chinese script. The other may baffle you. It's Manchu – the Qing emperors, who ruled the Chinese mainland from 1644 to 1911 and Taiwan from 1683 to 1895, were of Manchurian rather than Han Chinese descent.

The stele orders all visitors, however important, to get off their horses or climb out of their palanquins, and enter the grounds on foot in order to show proper respect for Confucius. There's a very similar stele at the entrance to Tainan's Confucius Temple.

The east and west chambers are currently used as classrooms where elementary-school children can learn about the sage and his teachings.

Judging by the four-character calligraphy tablets hung in the main chamber, several B-list politicians – among them former Judicial Yuan President Lin Yang-kang (林洋港) and the late Hsieh Tung-min (謝東閔), vice president between 1978 and 1984 – have visited the shrine. Not all of the ROC's six post-war presidents made it here. You should, however. It's a place of beauty and atmosphere that rewards those in a contemplative frame of mind.

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