Do you know what the hottest souvenirs are in Tainan now? Koxinga beer and chips. A unique way, only found in Tainan, to beat the heat and satisfy the munchies. But before we head over the snack shop, let's take a trip around this historical site with Tainan City's audio guided tours.
Features of Koxinga Shrine
Welcome to the Koxinga Shrine. We start our tour here, in front of the imposing statue of Koxinga on his horse. Koxinga, better known in Chinese as Zheng Cheng Gong, or simply Cheng Gong, was the founding father of the ancient capital of Tainan, reclaiming the city from the Dutch in the 17th century. To commemorate his contributions, local residents built a temple after his death. A special shrine was then built in the 19th century during the Ching dynasty. It was then reconstructed and renovated in the 1960s and has remained unchanged since then. Although the Koxinga Shrine is a popular tourist attraction in Tainan, there is no English sign indicating what it is. You will know you've arrived arrived when you see the imposing statue of Koxinga on his horse. It is an impressive sight, easily visible from Kaishan Road.
Let's walk a little further down the road. We'll come to a beautiful archway, through which we can enter the open garden space. The Chinese garden is a wonderful place to wander through. Trees offer shade, and the area is a quiet respite from the frantic pace of city life on the nearby streets. Long, covered, half-open buildings surround the garden. Within the buildings are various exhibits with descriptions in English and Chinese.
The “Zhong-Gan-Yi-Dan” Stone Gate (Torii)
As we head east along Kai Shan Road, towards the shrine, we come to a stone gate. An inscription on it in Chinese characters reads“Zhong-Gan-Yi4-Dan3”, which means “unquestionable loyalty and righteousness.”These words were meant to honor Koxinga for his integrity and complete loyalty to the Ming, who ruled China for over three hundred years. He was committed to overthrowing the ruling Qing and restoring the Ming to government. Koxinga also managed to push out Dutch colonists, and thus set the stage for modern Taiwan. Incredibly, it was the Qing government who created the shrine to this man who opposed them.
The Pair of Bodyguards: Gan Hui and Wan Li
Let's head into the shrine. At the entrance stand the two statues of Koxinga's bodyguards, General Gan and General Wan. Gan has a seal-holder, showing him as a civil authority while Wan with his sword represents military command. These two generals also held the title of earl when Koxinga was Prince of Yanping Prefecture. Wan met his demise in 1658 against a group of archers, while General Gan was killed in 1659 after refusing to surrender to opposing forces.
The East and West Wings
Moving further in the shrine, we are greeted by the wings painted in red on both sides. These areas of the shrine stand as tribute to Ming loyalists who were killed by Qing soldiers. In total, 118 are honored. The Ming Dynasty in China lasted from 1368 to1644, when forces from Manchuria in the north-east defeated the ruling government and began the Qing Dynasty, lasting until 1912.
Among those honoured is Shen Guangwen, the founder of Taiwanese literature. He was supported by Koxinga who supported the poet and educator by providing him with a house and land.
Chen Yonghua: Koxinga's Great Strategist
When speaking of the feats of Koxinga, we must mention Chen Yong-hua, Koxinga’s greatest strategist. He was admired by Koxinga for his eloquence, vision, and strategic ability. After Koxinga’s death in 1662, Chen served under his successor, Zheng Jing, as an imperial secretary of the army.
Chen had many great achievements during his career. He instituted a farmer-soldier conscription program to produce enough food for the population. He created the first Taiwanese temple for those seeking office or to take government exams. Chen also improved local education, housing, and cross-border trade with other Asian countries. In addition, he taught sugar-making, salt-making, and masonry to help the local economy.
Koxinga's Conscription System
Once the Dutch colonists were driven out of Taiwan, Koxinga took over and instituted policies to further the welfare of settlers from China. He established two schools: one for those who passed an entrance exam and one for descendents of Ming loyalists and fallen soldiers.
Koxinga held food production as a top priority and thus began a farmer-soldier conscription program. Land was expropriated from aboriginal Taiwanese and all military personnel and their families were ordered to move to designated plots and cultivate the land. The program included use of rainwater to increase yields and therefore feed more people.
The Sacred Kaishan Sedans
In the ritual object room of Koxinga Shrine, there are two sacred sedan chairs on display. One is a modern style and the other is similar to a tori, or Japanese temple gate. These sedans are ornately carved of local cedar or hinoki, and require a very high degree of craftsmanship passed down from father to son for generations.
During the Japanese occupation period, followers of Matsu would put a sedan into use during a festive religious event held annually. The figurine of Kaitai Shengwang was moved from the temple of the same name into a sacred sedan and paraded around the community. The Japanese joined in the parade with their own sedan from Kaisan Jinja. Together, the Taiwanese and the Japanese honoured Koxinga by pushing and pulling the vehicles.
The Main Hall Dedicated to Koxinga: A Han-Chinese Hero
In the main hall of the shrine, there is a statue commemorating Koxinga. This current one was sculpted from white cement by Yang Yu-yu after the Japanese left. A previous statue was made in 1875 but was destroyed during the end of Japanese occupation. It was then moved to Matsu's Pagoda in 2005, and then returned to the shrine in 2008.
Shrine of Queen Dowager Weng (dedicated to Koxinga's mother, Tagawa)
Behind the main hall of Koxinga Shrine is the Shrine of Queen Dowager Weng, known in Japanese as Tagawa Matsu. She gave birth to Koxinga in 1624 in Hirado, Japan. When he was seven years old, his father, Zheng Zilong, sent him to a Confucian school in Fujian, China. During this time, Tagawa stayed in Japan until 1645, when she was sent back to China. In 1646, Zheng Zilong surrendered to Qing armies. Tagawa committed suicide. This event prompted Koxinga to seek vengeance by fighting against the Qing.
The Garden and Koxinga Parlor
In 1963, the shrine underwent reconstruction. A tranquil garden was created, including a stream, bamboo groves, and a pond in the shape of one of the islands of Kinmen. There are winding paths, flame trees, and olive roofing. In March, the garden is full of cherry blossoms, creating a vision of pink all around.
Koxinga Parlor is a great spot for a break. After wandering the grounds, this snack bar offers delicious local fruit juices, shaved ice, and other Taiwanese treats. Many of the food items are not written in English but pictures do offer an idea of what is available.
Now let's get back to the very first question: what does Koxinga have to do with the chips and beer that carry implications for success? Koxinga's Chinese name, Cheng-kong, means“success”in Chinese, which translates to positive energy and a promising future. The pun therefore gives these souvenirs profound meanings beyond their creative packaging design. The chips and beer are sold exclusively in the five major historical sites in Tainan in limited supply, Koxinga Shrine being one of them. So hurry up to our souvenir shop! Supplies are limited. If you're lucky enough, maybe you can get both of them and earn dual blessings from Tainan's guardian god!
No.152, Kaishan Rd., West Central Dist., Tainan City