Thu, May 19, 2011 - Page 13 News List

Taiwanese culture with Chinese characteristics

Noah Buchan participated in a three-day ‘Confucius workshop,’ which turned out to be a lesson on how Chinese culture manifests itself in modern-day Taiwan

By Noah Buchan  /  Staff Reporter

Cheng Chih-yuan describes how to properly brew tea.

Photo: Noah Buchan, Taipei Times

I was half expecting Experience the Art of Life and Learn the Confucian Spirit (體驗生活藝術—心領儒家精神), a workshop hosted by Taipei Confucius Temple (台北市孔廟), to consist of rote lessons on how to obey one’s parents and kowtow to superiors.

Organized by the Taipei City Government, the workshop is part of a broader plan to transform the Dalongdong (大龍峒) area, where the temple is located, into a tourism hotspot for visitors to soak up Taiwanese culture with Chinese characteristics, or as one organizer put it, “how different aspects of Chinese culture … manifest themselves in today’s [Taiwan].”

Always on the lookout for ways to improve my knowledge of Taiwan’s culture, and with the course offered gratis, how could I resist?

(Details of a similar two-day workshop to be held on June 4 and June 5 can be found below.)

Later I learned that the free, three-day course limited its focus on Confucius to the morning of the first day. Fortune-telling with the I Ching (易經, also known as the Book of Changes), palm reading, Chinese medicine, tea appreciation, meditation and drumming were among the subjects covered at the workshop, which was conducted in Chinese with English and Japanese interpretation from May 6 to May 8.

Day One

I was 15 minutes early when I walked through heavy wooden doors into a chamber behind the temple where the workshop began at 9am. Thick pillars extended up to a colorful, intricately carved ceiling. Terra-cotta tiling lined the floor. A large screen at the front and the occasional ringing of mobile phones were the only hints that I hadn’t been transported back in time to China’s ancient past.

A polyglot crowd from Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Poland and Canada languidly assembled at long wooden benches and rectangular tables. After introductions — name, length of stay in Taiwan and reason for coming — all participants were given a navy Chinese-style shirt with Mandarin collar to wear for the next three days.

Following a brief introduction to the thought of Confucius — honor your parents, respect education — Tung Chin-yue (董金裕), a professor at National Chengchi University, presented a video that outlined the rites held at the temple every Sept. 28 to celebrate “Master Kong’s” (孔夫子) birthday.

Tung said the ritual consists of 33 sequences and includes drumming, sacrifices, chanting and bowing. It began 2,000 years ago following Confucius’ death when a regional ruler established his residence as a temple, and went national during the Han Dynasty. The ritual was halted in China after the Chinese Civil War and was officially re-established at Taipei Confucius Temple in 1970.

Just as attention spans were wavering and people were fidgeting in their seats, we moved outside for a tour of the temple grounds with Wu Wen-hsiang (巫文祥), a volunteer guide. He discussed the history of the temple, which dates back to the Qing Dynasty, its layout (modeled after the original Confucius Temple in Qufu, Shandong Province, China) and architectural style (southern Fujian Province).

Wu kept his presentation interesting by constantly asking questions. Correct answers would bring a cheer and a prize — souvenirs from Taipei’s Flora Expo.

Following a simple but tasty lunch of “local delicacies” (noodles, fried tofu and Taiwan beer), we returned to the temple for an afternoon of the I Ching.

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