Traditional temple

Mythical Beasts: Dragons and Temple Architecture in Taiwan – News

Mythical Beasts: Dragons and Temple Architecture in Taiwan – News – RTI Radio Taiwan International

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  • September 18, 2022

  • Naomi Hellman
A beautiful, colorful dragon called a chiwen decorates the end of the main crest of a temple roof in Taipei’s Wanhua District (Photo: Naomi Hellman).

Animal figures and floral patterns are characteristic of Taiwanese temple roofs. Ornamentation is part of a tradition that has existed since at least the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). These unique characteristics are particularly auspicious and represent various blessings such as happiness, longevity and good fortune.

Among the decorative elements, the dragon ornament is a powerful symbol that usually features prominently at both ends of the main ridge of the temple roof. Symbolizing power as well as protection, the dragon appears to ride the waves and is invariably associated with water. Thus, his image adorns the tops of buildings, which are constructed of wood, to invoke protection against fire and lightning.

The dragon is called chiwen, which is a term that literally means “owl” and “mouth”. Although its origins are generally unknown, the word suggests that the creature may have taken on the appearance of some type of bird. In many temples in Taiwan, however, the dragon wears a more fish-like form that highlights a connection to Guangzhou. Leaving questions of mythology aside, the dragon remains an important component of traditional Taiwanese heritage.


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