If you are a lover of history, Tainan will fit nicely into your itinerary. Regarded as one of Taiwan’s oldest cities, it is a great place to soak up the country’s rich folk cultures ranging from culinary delights to surviving traditions. In our short two days stay at Tainan, we spent some of our last few hours in the city searching high and low for the legendary Temple of The Five Concubines – Wu Fei Miao (五妃廟). We eventually found the petite temple in the middle of a quiet neighbourhood park.
Unlike most temples, this place of worship does not houses gods and deities. Lady Yuan, Lady Wang, Xiugu, Sister Mei and Sister He, the five concubines of Zhu Shugui, Prince of Ningjing resides in its premise. In 1683, Qing Dynasty forces attacked the remnant of the Ming Loyalists in Taiwan. When Zhu Shugui knew the eradication of Ming Dynasty was inevitable, he gathered his concubines and announced his plans to take his own life. Although given the choice to hide their identities and live on at a nunnery, all five ladies decided to die honourably with the prince and hanged themselves one after another in the central hall of their palace (Current Grand Matsu Temple near Chikan Lou). Before committing suicide, Zhu Shugui buried his concubines at Kuidoushan (Cassia Bud Hill) where they remained till today.
One of the unique characteristics which made the temple stand out from the rest of traditional Chinese temples was its door gods. Portraits of generals are usually used as such guardians in hope of attracting good luck and fending off evil spirits. However, the guardians to this well maintained temple were court ladies holding fruits and drinks in place of arms.
In its interior, portraits of two court eunuch faced the altar of the five concubines. They seem ever attentive to take care of their mistresses’ needs. When the doors are closed, they will stand right beside the court ladies to guard the serenity of the five imperial ladies’ final resting place.
In case you have yet to realise, the actual tomb is just behind the altar. Out of sheer admiration for these five imperial ladies, the locals erected a tomb stone bearing the inscription 宁靖王从死五妃墓 in 1746 and built the temple facade to honour their noble act of self-sacrifice.
We managed to get a sneak peek of the tomb through small openings in the temple’s narrow side lanes. But out of respect, no photos of the tomb stone and tomb were taken. There was also a small shrine near the right of the tomb which signified the burial ground of two eunuchs who killed themselves after Zhu Shugui’s suicide.
It is not usual for Chinese to go for a walk near a burial site. But the fact that the area has been designated into a neighbourhood park seems to suggest that the locals have long embraced these five ladies as heroines who have earned their place amongst the gods and deities. I enjoyed the quiet, dignified ambience in the neighbourhood park and tragically romantic tale of the tomb’s owners. But being a rather superstitious Chinese, I cannot imagine living just right across the road from this historical grave.
If you are making a stop at Tainan during your round Taiwan tour, you should definitely pay a visit to this unique, historical temple.
Wu Fei Miao (五妃廟) – Temple Of The Five Concubines
Address: 201 Wufei Street, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan
Opening Hours: 8:30am – 9:00pm Daily
Admission is free.
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