Temple leader’s ceaseless efforts key to Dadaocheng revival

Located in the old Taipei neighborhood of Dadaocheng, the Taipei Xia-Hai City God Temple is widely recognized as one of the city’s must-visit attractions, arguably attributable to its manager’s decades-long efforts to not only preserve the temple but to revitalize the surrounding community.

“When I travel abroad to promote tourism to the temple, I always invite people running businesses in the neighborhood to come along,” Tracy Chen (陳文文), 69, who has served as manager of the temple for 26 years, told CNA in a recent interview.

For example, she said, when she hosts travel exhibitions in other countries to introduce the temple to international tourists, she also takes the opportunity to showcase local specialities in Dadaocheng, such as pastries, cakes and tea to potential visitors.

According to Chen, some people believe that the city god helps their businesses flourish.

“But it is the ancestral workmanship that has left a rich cultural milieu here that makes the temple an attractive destination.” Chen shouldered the duty of managing the temple in the wake of the sudden death of one of her brothers in 1994, making her the sixth-generation leader of the family-owned place of worship built in 1859 in Dihua Street, in what is now Datong District.

The temple was listed as a historical monument in 1985 by the Ministry of the Interior and touted as one of the “big three temples of Taipei,” along with Baoan Temple in the same district and Lungshan Temple in Wanhua District.

Although it is small, occupying an area of just 152 square meters, it has the highest statue density in Taiwan, housing more than 600 other deities in addition to the city god, his wife, and the renowned matchmaking god, according to Chen.

Initiatives to revamp the area One of Chen’s many initiatives to revamp the Dadaocheng area, which saw its heyday as a major shipping port on the banks of the Tamsui River in the mid-19th century, is a twice-per-month group tour designed for people to explore the history and culture of the area.

Since the project, named “Wandering Dadaocheng,” was first launched in June 1997, more than 500 tours have been conducted, with experts in architecture and historical relics leading visitors on strolls through the history-drenched alleyways to understand Taipei’s past and experience the mix of old and new.

It was much to the surprise of the temple’s management that the project has been so warmly welcomed since it was launched, not just by historians but by ordinary citizens.

The public enthusiasm for preserving the area aroused by the tours has contributed to keeping local residents’ collective memory of their community alive and thus has become a major push behind a series of public and private refurbishment projects for its revival, Chen said.

To date, more than 70 buildings in the community have been awarded listed building status by the Taipei City government, according to Chen.

“Through the decades of efforts, we are proud to say that the Dadaocheng community is recognized as the best-preserved historical town (in the nation),” she said.

According to a survey released in October 2018 by the city government’s Department of Information and Tourism, Dadaocheng took third spot in the rankings of the most-loved tourist attractions for international visitors to Taipei in 2017.

The old district is famous as a place where century-old buildings in different styles have been repurposed into shops selling products with time-honored workmanship, including tea, Chinese herbal medicine, textiles, dried goods and snacks, and calligraphy brushes, alongside trendy venues for cultural-creative industry startups.

“I was really touched when I recently came across a travel guide book in a hotel in Japan that juxtaposes Taipei Xia-Hai City God Temple with Taipei 101,” Chen said. “That makes me feel that our efforts have not been in vain and that we have to keep them up.”