Wǔchāng Temple 武昌宮 is a prime example of disaster tourism in Taiwan. Located in the township of Jíjí 集集, this temple collapsed in the devastating 921 Earthquake. Rather than demolish the remains of the temple it has been left pretty much as it was in 1999. It acts as a powerful reminder of the scale of the terrible disaster that befell Taiwan fifteen years ago—and as a lucrative roadside attraction.
In classic Taiwanese style the ruins of the temple are draped with many long strings of LED lights, puncturing whatever solemnity might be experienced here and replacing it with a carnival atmosphere. This was especially true on my first visit when there was a big blow-up rubber duck resting idly in the parking lot next door. As if a collapsed temple isn’t enough of a draw—they had to jump on the duck mania bandwagon as well.
There are several plaques outside the ruins of the temple describing its history and the various miracles that now draw pilgrims (and their money) from far and wide. Wuchang Temple was originally built in 1923 to worship a high-ranking Taoist deity and underwent expansion in 1990. Disaster struck not long after renovations were complete and the old temple now remains as you see it in my photos.
The quake that struck Wuchang Temple ushered in a dramatic reversal of fortunes that is abundantly obvious should you turn your attention to the opulent new temple built across from the ruins of the old. I was pressed for time and didn’t manage to shoot any good photos of the new building but you’ll see what I mean if you ever visit. It is one of the ritziest temples I have seen anywhere in Taiwan outside of Fóguāngshān in Kaohsiung 高雄.
The disaster isn’t the only thing that has motivated worshippers to donate as much as they have—miracles have also played a role. Now, my Chinese is not up to the task of directly translating or even completely understanding what was on the plaques—but I had a little help from a Taiwanese friend. If you’ll pardon the broken game of telephone I can relate what I understood of the miracle of Wuchang Temple. (And if you have any corrections please feel free to leave a comment below—I don’t claim to be an expert in these matters and I’m happy to learn something new!)
First, you must understand that the statues or idols of the gods in Taiwan are considered to be physical embodiments of the gods themselves. They aren’t just a hunk of wood or plastic—they have lives of their own. They go on tour to visit their friends in other temples, they watch puppet shows and other more lascivious forms of entertainment, and they enjoy offerings suited to their heavenly needs.
Now, for the miracle on Mínshēng Road. After the collapse a rescue party was dispatched to retrieve the idols from the ruins of the temple. Fighting their way through the rubble, workers came upon the gods with shock and surprise, discovering that their beards had grown very long in the earthquake! This omen was considered miraculous, and the gods were soon moved to temporary corrugated metal huts across the road to await the construction of a new, hopefully more permanent dwelling place.
Visiting Wuchang Temple is a snap whether you drive or take public transit in Taiwan. I’ll let Google do the heavy lifting here—but for anyone into taking the train, a day trip out to the Jiji railway line is highly recommended. Be sure to get out of Jíjí 集集 and visit Chēchéng 車城 as well—the main drag in Jíjí 集集 is surprisingly over-developed and you may appreciate seeing something a little more authentic should you make the journey.