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West-Taipei Life Festival centered on Wanhua’s century-old history

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Photo from Bopiliao Historic Block
Li Zi-yong (李子勇) (second from right), the sixth generation owner of the Longshan Buddha Shop (龍山佛具), guides visitors through the special exhibition Cultural Diversity of Wanhua at the Bopiliao Historical Block.

By Yali Chen
The 2020 West-Taipei Life Festival (城西生活節) featured a special exhibition, open-air films, performing arts, lectures, guided walking tours, and workshops to highlight the art, culture and history of Taipei’s Wanhua District.
This event, which kicked off at the district’s Bopiliao Historical Block (剝皮寮歷史街區) and ran until December 6, is an important annual event for the west side of the historical block.
Formerly known as Bangka or Monga (艋舺), Wanhua was once one of the busiest commercial ports in northern Taiwan, and many century-old businesses and shops originated in this area. With its rich historical and cultural heritage, Wanhua is considered the historical origin of Taipei. Nowadays, the neighborhood’s labyrinthine alleys and lanes hold eateries selling a variety of traditional foods and a wealth of popular temples.
Bopiliao Historical Block is one of the key attractions in Wanhua District. First known as “Fupiliao” (福皮寮街), the block is basically an old street with a long history dating back to 1799. The 18th-century buildings have been restored and were reopened to the public in 2009.
Today, Bopiliao serves not only as a popular attraction for domestic and foreign tourists but also as a site that reminds and educates locals about their cultural traditions and history. The area has traditional shop buildings from the Qing Dynasty (1683–1895), buildings constructed during Japanese rule (1895–1945), and buildings put up during the early post-war period.
In the Qing Dynasty, there used to stand an important military base at the end of this old street. Bopiliao has witnessed the development of Wanhua District and is now a precious educational resource on Taipei history and culture.
Now in its second year, the festival has impressed visitors with a wide variety of cultural activities that help to gain a better understanding of Taipei’s early history, and Bopiliao functions as an important cultural platform.
“The theme of this year’s festival is day-to-day life and traditional beliefs in Wanhua,” said Charlene Chao (趙釧玲) director of Bopiliao Historical Block.
The festival was divided into five sections and included more than 25 activities. Chao hopes that festival visitors learned about the “three treasures of Wanhua”—venerable temples, the old-time shops, and traditional local delicacies.
Temples, Beiguan, and traditional crafts

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Photo from Bopiliao Historic Block
Taipei City Deputy Mayor Tsai Bing-kuen holds a pineapple to announce the kickoff
of the 2020 West-Taipei Life Festival. The pineapple symbolizes luck and wealth.

The Cultural Diversity of Wanhua (千變萬華) special exhibition spotlights temple rites, beiguan performances, Ba Jia Jiang (“Eight Generals,” gods of the underworld), religious and cultural artifacts, traditional craftsmanship, century-old businesses, and local shops.
Taipei City Deputy Mayor Tsai Bing-kuen (蔡炳坤) said that the three major characteristics of the Wanhua District are its rich history, temples, and day-to-day culture. He suggested visitors come and take part in this year’s festival, see the exhibition, and enjoy the old-time local snacks.
The exhibition offers a glimpses of four temples: Longshan (艋舺龍山寺), Qingshan (艋舺青山宮), Bangka Qingshui Zushi (艋舺清水巖祖師廟), and Taipei Tianhou (台北天后宮).
Built in 1738, Longshan Temple is one of the largest and oldest temples in Taiwan. It has stood the test of time and lasted through several natural disasters and wars. The temple has been renovated several times since it was built. Now it is a thriving historical site with beautifully decorated buildings that serve as places of worship for devotees.
While most temples in Taiwan, as in the rest of the world, are dedicated to a single deity or religion, Longshan Temple contains a wonderful mix of the Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian faiths. Taiwan has always been inclusive in its attitude towards religion, and Longshan Temple is the embodiment of that inclusive spirit.
The Grand Worship of Bangka

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Photo from Bopiliao Historical Block
Opening ceremony of the 2020 West-Taipei Life Festival on Nov. 19 at the
Bopiliao Historical Block.

Qingshan Temple on Guiyang Street is dedicated to the Lord of the Green Mountains (青山王), also known as Ling An Tsun Wang (靈安尊王). The temple was designated a grade-three national historic monument in 1985, and every year it celebrates the birthday of its principal deity.
A series of pilgrimages and religious events are held annually from the 20th to the 23rd day of the tenth lunar month. Collectively the events are called “the Qingshan King Rituals,” more commonly “the Grand Worship of Bangka.”
The Grand Worship attracts hordes of people every year and is one of the three major temple fairs in Taipei City, the others being the birthday celebration for the Xiahai City God in Dadaocheng and the Baosheng Emperor procession.
“The exhibition is held to showcase Taiwan’s precious intangible assets,” said Chao. “The last three days of the exhibition this year coincide with the century-old celebration of the Qingshan King Rituals. We encourage visitors to take part in the folk activities after they see the exhibition.”
Built in 1787, Qingshui Zushi Temple is a member of the “Big Three,” the three major temples in Bangka (艋舺三大廟門). Together with Longshan Temple and Taipei Tianhou Temple, Qingshui Zushi Temple has for centuries served as an important place of worship, helping to preserve the traditions and cultural heritage of Chinese immigrants to Taiwan.
Dedicated to Master Qingshui (清水祖師), the Bangka Qingshui Zushi temple is also one of the three major temples in the greater Taipei region (台北三大廟門), the others being in New Taipei City’s Sanxia and Tamsui districts.
Ximending Mazu Temple

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Photo from Bopiliao Historic Block
The Cultural Diversity of Wanhua exhibition features the culture and history of the Longshan Temple, Qingshan Temple, Bangka Qingshui Zushi Temple, and Taipei Tianhou Temple.

Taipei Tianhou Temple, also known by locals as the Ximending Mazu Temple (西門町媽祖廟), is dedicated to Mazu, goddess of the sea and protectress of seafarers.
Mazu worship has been a popular aspect of life in the country for hundreds of years, with over a thousand temples and shrines dedicated to her. Mazu worship is said to be the “glue” that binds together the island’s various ethnic groups.
The exhibition explores the temples’ rich histories through texts, images, and cultural relics. It also highlights the stories of century-old Buddha shops, incense shops, and embroidery shops, as well as the Wanhua’s Fortune Telling Street.
Established in 1897 by Huang Can (黃燦), the Lao Ming Yu Incense Shop (老明玉香鋪) on Guiyang Street has been passed down in the Huang family for four generations. With more than 20 different types of Chinese herbs as its base ingredients, the shop uses natural, chemical-free fragrances and pigments.
While the shop owners might consider themselves “ordinary,” their lives serve as a record of the district’s history, Chao said.
Tie a Chinese Knot

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Photo from Bopiliao Historical Block
Visitors to the Cultural Diversity of Wanhua exhibition.
The festival included a series of guided walking tours around the area. Local guides headed tours starting at Bopiliao and visiting the four temples, enabling participants to enjoy the historical and cultural ambience and the local food.
Four outdoor movie screenings took place, including Ah Chung (忠仔) from 1996 and The Soul of Bread (愛的麵包魂) from 2012.
The theme of Ah Chung, the first feature film by Taiwanese filmmaker Chang Tso-chi (張作驥), is Ba Jia Jiang—a special local ceremony for eight protector deities who guard temples during religious events.
The Soul of Bread is a romantic comedy that exudes a small-town charm. It describes a love story between a baker who proposes to his childhood sweetheart by playing the Third Prince (三太子哪吒)—a Taiwanese religious folk icon who can be seen at temple festivals and street parades.
There were also a wide range of hands-on craft workshops, such as temple painting, Chinese artistic knotting, and Ba Jia Jiang face makeup (painted mask).
A Chinese knot is tied from a single length of cord and can be woven into many shapes. Knot weavers use a wide variety of colors, but most commonly deep reds as red signifies good fortune. Workshop participants learned to weave unique Chinese knots for themselves.
Founded in 1845 by Tsai Han (蔡漢), the Fu Da Tong Tea Shop (福大同茶莊) on Guiyang Street has been in the Tsai family for five generations. Visitors wanting to explore tea culture and have a nice chat with the fifth-generation owner Tsai Xuan-fu (蔡玄甫) could go to the tea serving area at Bopiliao on December 5, where Tsai shared lots of knowledge and stories about tea and folk beliefs in Wanhua.