An eerie monastery in Shalu

Wansheng Zizhu Monastery 萬聖紫竹寺

Wànshèng Zǐzhú Monastery (萬聖紫竹寺) is an unusually austere temple located on the seaward slope of the Dadu Plateau (大肚台地) in Shalu, Taichung. At first I assumed it was abandoned, for there was absolutely nobody around when I visited. The main hall is in an obvious state of disrepair and the two flanking buildings remain unfinished. After wandering into both altars I left with more questions than answers. Apart from the Putuoshan White Temple it isn’t at all like most other temples I’ve seen in Taiwan.

Wansheng Zizhu Monastery 萬聖紫竹寺
A gleaming white anomaly flanked by two half-finished buildings.
An eerie monastery in Shalu
Walking up the wide stairway to a mysterious temple in the hills of Shalu.

Further research into this mysterious temple has revealed a number of interesting details. First of all, this particular temple has been around since the early 1980s. The builders ran out of money before the flanking buildings could be completed—and clearly they haven’t been able to raise the necessary funds in the intervening decades.

On the ground floor at Wansheng Zizhu Monastery
An unusually spartan hall of worship.
Gods in the wilderness
Gods of the plastic wilderness.

This temple is part of a Chinese salvationist religion known in English as Zailiism and in Chinese as Zàilǐjiào (在理教, “teaching of the abiding principle”) or simply Lǐjiào (理教). Founded in the 17th century but persecuted as an “evil religion” in imperial China, it exploded in popularity in the early years of the Republic of China and eventually claimed nearly 5,000 temples and 14 million adherents according to this article. Renewed persecution after the rise of communism drove the founders to flee to Taiwan in 1949. Nowadays Zailiism claims 186,000 adherents in Taiwan and has, since the 1990s, resumed operations in China.

Unfinished business at Wansheng Zizhu Monastery
There wasn’t much to see in either of the unfinished buildings, only bare concrete and building supplies.
The distinctive rooftop of Wansheng Zizhu Monastery
A better view of the distinctive rooftop of the monastery.
Sunbeams against the top of Wansheng Zizhu Monastery
An unusual design for the windows on the top floor of the monastery.
A window at Wansheng Zizhu Monastery
Cracked paint and decaying wood around a window on the top floor of the monastery.
An altar to minimalism
An altar to minimalism.
Wansheng Zizhu Monastery from the heights
The back of the monastery from the small access road leading up to the Dadu Plateau.

Zailiism venerates Guānyīn (觀音), one of the most commonly worshipped gods in Taiwan, and blends Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism like most other Chinese folk religions. My admittedly inexpert impression is that these salvationist religions have a somewhat Protestant character, eschewing the more vibrant and ritualistic fixtures of temple culture in Taiwan for a more minimal aesthetic and ascetic lifestyle. Followers of this religion are instructed to avoid smoking, drinking, and recreational drugs altogether.

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