A Time-honored Island
By Tricia Chen, The China Post November 18, 2009, 10:21 am TWN
Magong, a small city situated on the west of main Penghu Island is a friendly place, easy to get around and offering much to those who take the time to explore. Let's together uncover Magong's hidden local culture.
Once in the city (assuming you flew the 50-minute journey from Taipei to Magong's domestic airport), grab a cab into town and get ready to go back in time four centuries to Magong City.
Magong Old Streets
A 10-minute stroll takes visitors to the very first commercial village in Penghu, full of numerous "firsts" of Magong City. The first road known as Jhongyang Street was established when the Han Chinese arrived in Penghu during the 17th century. The street was originally named Dajing – literally meaning "big well" – after the famous Four-Eyed Well in the area.
The Four-Eyed Well is not only the oldest well in Magong, but also in Taiwan. All local inhabitants depended on this precious water source for decades. It's not known what exact year the hole was dug, but it has been widely guessed to be during the Yuan Dynasty, from 1271 to 1368. The well is about 3 meters deep and an approximately 2 meters in diameter. Four circular openings cut from a big stone slab sit atop the well, resulting in its name.
The village was once old and weathered, with dingy streets lined with Ming and Ch'ing Dynasty-style buildings that had wilted over time. The area was then renovated, brightening up its previous dark look. Longtime residents said the village's fresh look now attracts a lot more tourists, while preserving cultural elements. Visiting the aged village is like standing in an historic Chinese movie set.
Also situated in this area is a cultural heritage site known as the Shihgong Temple, which worships Navy Commander Shih Lang. Sent by Emperor Kangxi during the Qing Dynasty to fight the Koxinga Army, Shih was considered to be an important figure in Taiwanese history. The temple was built in memory of his contribution to the Qing government. In his temple sits a Wanjyun Well – literally "well of ten thousand soldiers" – symbolizing hope. Apparently, when Shih landed on Magong with his troops, they lacked water, he prayed to it until one day an abundant supply of clean water appeared, saving thousands of soldiers – hence the name.
When visitors approach the end of the village, an even older, more respected edifice appears – Tianhou Temple.
The Empress of Heaven Temple
Tianhou Gong – literally, "Empress of Heaven Temple" – is the longest-existing Mazu temple in the country of the 1,000 or so temples devoted to the goddess, built even before the Dutch landed there in 1604.
Like a guardian angel for Taiwanese people, Mazu is the indigenous goddess of the sea, who initially blessed fishermen and sailors but later became the one people pray to about health, career, relationship and other concerns. Mazu's mortal name is Lin Mo-niang, and she was known as the excellent swimmer who wore red garments and stood on shore, guiding fishing boats home, even in harsh weather.
Locals said Commander Shih Lang once visited the worship place after leading his Navy to victory over Koxinga's army in 1682. According to legend, Shih took the wetness of the Mazu statue's face and robe as a sign that the goddess had been out in the sea contributing to his victory, so he requested that Emperor Kangxi title Mazu as Empress of Heaven when he returned the following year – hence the name of the temple.