2017 Taipei Lantern Festival Highlight – Xibenyuan Temple Revivified
The ruins and renovated structures of the Xibenyuan Temple heritage site, located on Zhonghua Road, will enjoy a veritable resurrection during the Taipei Lantern festival this year, with a light display used to reproduce the historical elegance of the venerable temple complex. Artist Chen Kai-huang has designed this neighborhood as an “Art Gallery of Light,” showcasing a key conceptual highlight of this year’s Taipei Lantern Festival – Tradition X Innovation. The Lantern Festival experience of the past is being overturned in telling the “Westside Story” of the city’s west district.
According to Commissioner Chien Yu-yen of the Department of Information and Tourism, Taipei City Government, more than 10 well-known artists have been invited to lend their talents to this year’s Taipei Lantern Festival, and are recasting the west district as a grand street theater for the festival period. In particular, Chen Kai-huang, a professor at the Graduate Institute of Trans-Disciplinary Arts at Taipei National University of the Arts, has taken the ruins of the fire-destroyed Xibenyuan Temple and recreated the Xibenyuan Temple’s Grand Hall and Imperial Mausoleum, calling the work “Our Time.” This is enabling the visiting public to once again view the temple as it originally appeared. At this time the reconstruction of all the temple’s main structures has been completed, and the special lighting being used for the Lantern Festival will present the complex in all its original glorious beauty.
Commissioner Chien states that, ever since the great fire that burned down Xibenyuan Temple in 1975, the people of Taipei have had high expectations for the reconstitution and renovation of the structures that formed the collective memory of the old west district, including Ximending’s Xibenyuan Temple, the West Gate, and the China Plaza. Thanks to the skills of the aforementioned artists, at this year’s Lantern Festival the public can witness the reappearance of the temple, the starting point in our dedicated work to reproduce the Taipei of old.
Xibenyuan Temple is named after the Nishi Honganji temple in Tokyo (the characters used are the same, the pronunciation of course different). This involves a poignant tale of life’s vicissitudes. The Xibenyuan complex is today fronted by Zhonghua Road, on its west side, with Changsha Street and Guiyang Street on its ends. Its original mission was to propagate the Japanese Buddhist faith in Taiwan, with a missionary facility built on the site, and in 1901 the site was formally entitled the “Taipei Mission,” with the building of a temple commenced. In 1923 the Imperial Mausoleum and Clock Tower were completed. In 1924 the abbot’s residence was completed. In 1932 the Grand Hall and remainder of the complex were completed.
After WWII, the Chinese Nationalist government took control of Taiwan from the Japanese. Part of the temple complex was turned over for use as an educational facility, another for use as local police headquarters. After the February 28 Incident in 1947, political prisoners were imprisoned on the site. In 1975 a disastrous fire took most of the complex, leaving only the Clock Tower and the Tree Heart Hall. In 2006 the Taipei City Government declared the complex an official city heritage site, inclusive of such burned and destroyed historical remnants as the Rinbansyo (abbot’s residence), Grand Hall, and Imperial Mausoleum.
The Egg Yolk Area “Our Time” artwork created by Professor Chen’s team, which features recyclable eco-friendly materials, restores this precious Japanese-style temple, erected in 1923, to its original form. The complex is at the center of the Egg Yolk Area light-show neighborhood showcase, the park area remodeled as an alluring “Art Gallery of Light.” People’s traditional ideas on festive lanterns are being thoroughly upturned, with cultural-arts reimaginings of heritage architecture that will provide a Lantern Festival feast of the senses radically fresh and novel. The main structure of the work is now complete, ready for opening with the Lantern Festival, the beauty of the past brought back to life with the magic of light.
The 2017 Taipei Lantern Festival theme is “Westside Story, Taipei Glory.” Through the festival’s 9-day run, much more of the unique and glorious history and stories of Taipei’s west district will be told. For more information on the wide-ranging program of activities and lantern-viewing enjoyment, visit the official 2017 Taipei Lantern Festival website . There will be continual news updates, so be sure to check in regularly. Let’s all come together to make this Taipei west city version of this magical annual festival celebration an unforgettable one!