Fri, Sep 21, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: The sweet little town of Shanhua

The historic town in Tainan features Qingan Temple, a large sugar production factory and monuments devoted to educator Shen Kuang-wen

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Qingan Temple is Shanhua’s most historic place of worship.

photo by Steven Crook

Like many places in Taiwan, Shanhua (善化) has had more than one name in its history. The first recorded was Bakaloan, a toponym used by the local Siraya indigenous people, and written 目加溜灣 by Holo-speaking Han settlers.

The Dutch East India Company in 1635 seized this corner of what’s now Tainan and endeavored to Christianize the inhabitants. After the Dutch were thrown out, the Kingdom of Dongning — the statelet established by Zheng Chenggong (鄭成功, also known as Koxinga ) and his band of Ming-dynasty loyalists — decreed that the settlement would be known as Shanhua. However, when Taiwan became part of the Qing Empire, the place name was changed to Wanlishe (灣裡社).


One man who lived here for a major part of the Dongning era is now revered as a pioneer of classical Chinese education in Taiwan. Shen Kuang-wen (沈光文) was born in China’s Zhejiang Province in 1612, but after the collapse of the Ming dynasty in 1644 he was forced to flee southward. After living for a while in poverty, he sailed to Taiwan a few months after Zheng Chenggong’s death. Hagiographies that have him arriving in Taiwan as early as 1649 have been shown to be wrong.

Shen’s efforts to promote literacy and Han civilization have earned him a place on the altar inside Shanhua’s most historic place of worship, Qingan Temple (慶安宮). The temple stands on the town’s busiest thoroughfare, right where — so it’s said — a Protestant church existed during the Dutch period. This site hosted a Confucius Temple at the beginning of the 18th century, then a shrine dedicated to Wenchang Dijun (文昌帝君), a god of culture and literature and the patron deity of those about to sit academic examinations.


Qingan Temple is 1.7km from Shanhua TRA Station. To reach Shanhua Sugar Factory by public transportation, take an Orange Main Line bus heading toward Tainan’s Madou District (麻豆).Only a handful of Orange 2 buses each day go anywhere near Hucuoliao Painted Village.

That structure was wrecked in an earthquake in 1861, and the name Qingan Temple first appeared four years later when its replacement was completed. The principal deity nowadays is Mazu (媽祖). In the hall behind her, Guan Yu (關羽) occupies the central position.

In front of Guan Yu, there are five soot-covered non-identical effigies of Wenchang Dijun. On the left, and slightly closer to those offering incense, another and somewhat less begrimed statuette represents Shen.

There are a couple of other reminders of the scholar elsewhere in the town. Shanhua Junior High School has a Kuang-wen Building (光文樓). Just north of Shanhua Taiwan Railway Administration Station, and clearly visible from trains, the Shen Kuang-wen Memorial (沈光文紀念碑) was dedicated in 1978. It’s believed Shen, who died in 1688, was buried hereabouts.


Even before Shen’s arrival in Shanhua, sugar had emerged as an important part of the local economy. The Dutch incentivized farmers to grow sugarcane because the commodity fetched a good price in Japan.

Sugar remained a key cash crop after the Europeans left, but physical remnants of the industry that existed before the Japanese colonial period are few and far between. Earlier this year, however, Tainan City Government’s Cultural Affairs Bureau announced an important discovery in Shanhua. During excavations ahead of a house construction, a set of six “stoves” used to produce sugar more than 150 years ago was found. Whether they will be preserved in situ or moved elsewhere has yet to be decided.

In 1946, when the incoming Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government created Taiwan Sugar Corp (TSC) to take control of the island’s sugar industry, Taiwan had 42 sugar factories and refineries. Several of them had sustained damage during World War II; the US Air Force targeted sugar-industry sites because they supplied ethanol to the Japanese military. Before the war, Taiwan was the world’s no. 4 source of sugar, and cane plantations covered a fifth of the island’s farmland. In the early 1950s, sugar exports accounted for 73.6 percent of the country’s foreign-currency earnings.

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