The Dog Temple

The Chief Dog Statue at the Entrance
The Chief Dog Statue at the Entrance

When I first arrived in Taiwan, I had a position as an assistant professor at Tamsui Oxford University College. I was given a Chinese name by the head of my department: Chi Ai Ya, which means "Pray Love Asia". I had a little wooden stamp with my Chinese name carved into it, called a chop. Every time I had to fill out a form -- and believe me, there were many forms to fill out -- instead of signing it, I would stamp my name in red, using my little wooden chop. The first few weeks were spent going from government office to government office, in search of all the required documents that would allow me to live and work as a resident alien. Tamsui is in Taipei County, but some of the government offices I had to visit were in other cities besides Tamsui and Taipei. You might say that just getting to the point where I could be allowed to stay in one spot required extensive travel. In fact, I even had to fly to Hong Kong in order to make a proper entry into the country, once I did have some of these papers.

The day before I left for Hong Kong, some of my colleagues took me to a temple called Shi Ba Wang Gong (18 Lords Temple). The impression that this temple made on me is stamped in my mind in bright red, as if made by a tiny wooden chop.

The Dog Idols Smoked Cigarettes
The Dog Idols Smoked Cigarettes

Shi Ba Wang Gong is located on the northern coast of Taiwan. The temple's exterior isn't all that impressive, as it is in an area full of shops and stands. We were taken there by the Taiwanese girl friend of one of the English professors in our department, and she swore by the place. She confided to me that women, especially, find solace in this temple. When we went in, I was captivated by the imposing bronze statue of the Dog who is the chief deity of the Temple. Our hostess purchased some incense to burn, and she gave each of us a red napkin to rub inside the dog statue's mouth for good luck. We saw many couples who came in to ask blessings of the dog upon their unions.

The temple was a busy, noisy, happy spot, where many activities were taking place at once. We went up to a little attic room, where many smaller dog statues, made of clay and colored black, were smoking cigarettes. The cigarettes were real and were left there as offerings by worshipers.

In one alcove one could read one's own fortune by drawing numbers. The numbers indexed little printed fortunes that, once read, were returned to their spot. Our hostess very solicitously interpreted our fortunes. You could tell when someone had drawn a bad fortune, by the way she tried to minimize its importance. If the fortune was good, she was truly happy for us.

The Smaller Dogs in the Attic Light Up
The Smaller Dogs in the Attic Light Up

I have heard several different stories about the origin of the temple. According to one story, seventeen lords and a dog went sailing together and were shipwrecked. The dog saved the lives of all the people, but lost his own. He was deified, and now he watches out for all people. A different story has it that all the seventeen drowned, and the dog, who survived, stayed on the shore mourning them, until he died of loneliness. Either way, the number 18 (shi ba) that appears in the name of the temple counts the dog and the seventeen humans together as the eighteen lords in the story. I like the feeling of inclusiveness that this implies.

If you are ever in Taiwan, I recommend visiting the Temple of the Eighteen Lords.

(c) 2008 Aya Katz

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Comments 5 comments

Assi Degani 8 years ago

Dear Aya,

the word solicitously is misspelled in your text. You can correct it for further readers. I have read the stray dogs story and the rescuing Romanian dog story and the other where the mother dog took a baby and put him together with her puppies.

I have changed my internet supplier. In some days I'll stop getting via the old e-mail address.


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Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Axi, for the copy editing and the input. I will change the typo right away. Thanks for keeping up with my hubs and helping to make them better!

Feylias 7 years ago

From an out-of-print guidebook:

Temple of the 18 princes

This is one of the two temples in Taiwan dedicated to a dog. The Temple of the 18 Princes, on a cliff overlooking the north coast, is the burial place of a dog and 17 fishermen who perished together in a shipwreck over 100 years ago. The temple is popular with taxi drivers, prostitutes, gangsters, and gamblers--people who feel spurned by more orthidox deities. They drive to the temple in droves after the bars and nightclubs close to reverently place cigarette butts--not incense--in front of the statue that marks the grave. "He likes anything bad," confided one devotee. Worshippers buy a red cloth at the temple and use it to rub the granite statue's head. These red cloths, miniature statues and medallions with the dog's picture are frequently found in taxis, cars, and trucks. Several of Taiwan's businessmen are said to have made their fortunes after visiting the shrine. Gamblers have hit a lucky streak, prostitutes have found honest husbands, and unemployed workers have found jobs. According to legend a local fisherman saved the dog from a wooden junk that splintered in a storm. Seventeen bodies later washed up onshore, and as the villagers dug a grave by the coast, the dog jumped into the ditch to die with his masters. A lantern was hung over the grave to commemorate the dog's loyalty, and for years fishermen used the lantern as a guide in rough weather. The temple, only built in 1961, was enlarged in 1975 and began staying open 24 hours. To get to the temple, take the Chinshan bus at Tamsui.

Feylias 7 years ago

Wikipedia doesn't have much at all on it, and seems to have a story unlike any of the others I find.


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Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Feylias, thanks for the additional information. The wikipedia seems to think that the temple's origin is older than the founding of the temple in Taiwan. What do you think?

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