Ancient Chinese society used rites to regulate the form and scale of buildings; it was the requirements of rites that had created ritual structures like altars, temples, and shrines. The formation and development of these structures were considerably influenced by people’s reverence toward the gods in the altars, temples, and shrines. Such ritual architectures come in two categories: for gods of nature and for gods of humanity. Different gods receive different sacrifices and offerings, and the form and scale of their buildings differ with one another according to the statuses of their deity.
The presiding deity that Baoan Temple enshrines is Baosheng Dadi. Being a great Taoist saint of the Song dynasty, he was bestowed an emperor’s title and therefore entitled to the rites befitting an emperor. This 3,000-ping temple ground marks the nation’s largest temple for Baosheng Dadi. The temple is oriented to the south. The main structure in the middle includes Sanchuan Dian (the triple gate Front Hall), the Main Hall, and the Rear Hall. On the sides are the East/West Wing and the Bell/Drum Tower. All combined, they form a complete, three-hall “回” shape. The Main Hall is the tallest; next in sequence are the Rear Hall, the Front Hall, and the East/West Wing. Such hierarchy is in line with Confucian rituals and Taoist formations. At the courtyard pond, there sits a Buddhist swastika-shaped bridge. Adding the screen wall built in 1961 to the mix, we have an embodiment of feng shui: “backup in the rear, guards on both sides, and a screen in the front.”
Baoan Temple’s architectural style also reflects early settlers’ ancestral backgrounds. For instance, the rooftop adopts the traditional Sanchuan (triple gate) wooden structure; the roof ridge belongs to the southern Fujian style; the floor and wall surface are covered with wide, thin red bricks and tiles. In Sanchuan Dian and the Main Hall, the dragon-head components protruding from the hanging decorative items represent the style from the Tong’an, Zhangzhou, and Quanzhou regions. These architectural features are all historically significant. The temple structure also displays delicate architectural work of arts, such as woodcarvings, stone carvings, colored drawings, clay sculptures, and chien-nien (cut and glue) figurines. Both arts and religion can inspire people to become reverent.
Also called the Front Hall. Its front is five-bay wide (the space between two pillars is a bay). The three middle bays are made into three doors; the left is Longmen (the dragon door), and the right is Humen (the tiger door). At the entrance of the door sit a pair of benevolent animals. There is one gate on the either side; therefore a total of eleven bays. This is a wooden structure that contains two main, cross beams and three short, decorative, hanging columns. The xieshan (gablet) double roof – along with the four-pillar, quasi-double roof and the gable roof – have shaped Baoan Temple’s multi-layered, eye-catching overhanging eaves. On the door lintel, there are carvings of two dragons and two phoenixes. At the four joints of beams and pillars, there are carvings of flying dragons and horned fish. On the main beam, there are design patterns of the evil-repelling Tai Chi and the Manifested Bagua. In addition, on the “wood brackets,” there are carvings of Ba Xian (the Eight Immortals), Ci Fu Tian Guan (the Official of Heaven Bestows Fortune), and Qi He Xian Weng (the Immortal Old Man Riding on a Crane).
Located in the center of Baoan Temple, the Main Hall is one grand-looking building. It stands alone with a front of five bays and a gablet double roof. Its rooftop features a seven-story pagoda and fine cut-and-glue figurines. This wooden structure has three cross beams and five short, decorative, hanging columns. The lofty roof occupies the majority of the field of view. As for the exterior of the building, the Main Hall is meticulously done and the style of it is rather stately. Altogether, there are 36 columns; 20 of which are for the surrounding corridors. Although seemingly completely square and symmetrical, the left side and the right side are actually slightly different in details. Such is the outcome of the 1917 (Year 6 of the Taisho Period during the Japanese Era) renovation, when the two masters Chen Ying-Bin and Guo Ta each took one side and did their best works in a contest of sorts. The platform in the front courtyard of the Main Hall is the site for god worshipping, Taoist practices, and religious rituals. The building materials here are different from those of other temples. For example, the huge decorative hanging columns have replaced the gorgeous caisson ceiling. The woodcarvings on the rear shelf are also rather unique. Instead of wood brackets, the horizontal beam that supports the eave head is a “silly barbarian shouldering a huge log;” which helps to reinforce the structure. The “silly barbarian” has a comical image of a bald head and a big belly. There is also the story-telling “character” woodcarving on the panel that supportss the cross beam; the detailed, lively depiction here is well worth appreciating.
This structure features a single gable roof, with a front of nine bays. The wooden structure has three cross beams and five short, decorative, hanging columns – the same as that of the Front Hall and the Main Hall. Huge, plain cross beams and decorative hanging columns are used to present the strength and beauty of the wooden structure. The Rear Hall features graceful, wood-carved flying phoenix at the joints of beams and pillars. For tenons that come in the forms of wood-carved flowers and plants and the lion stands, the craftsmanship is also very polished.
Located on the two sides of the Main Hall, the East/West Wing feature red biscuit-fired roof tiles and white gable walls, which stand out relatively unadorned. The Bell/Drum Tower are built on top of the East/West Wing. Their roofs are of the gablet double-roof style. The square-shape towers are rather unique, comparing to the conventional hexagon towers in Taiwan. The East Wing Bell Tower and the West Wing Drum Tower feature works of masters Chen Ying-Bin and Guo Ta respectively; they present different styles for woodcarving designs and colored-drawing patterns. On the exteriors of the Bell/Drum Tower, there are horizontal tablets inscribed with “jing fa” (tolling at the sight of whale) and “tuo-feng” (lizard-skin drums roll in harmony) respectively. The network of wood brackets underneath the eaves of the Bell Tower interlinks with one another; this is highly demanding woodwork. On the seat of the bracket, there is the wood-carved “squirrel and pumpkin,” which symbolizes many offspring. Underneath the eaves of the Drum Tower, there are nicely carved “water lily” on short hanging columns, “flying phoenix” at joints of beams and pillars, and “one-footed dragon” on the wood brackets. Such are the different looks of the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower.
The rear section of Baoan Temple used to be a garden once served as shelter for the homeless. In 1980, a four-story building was erected here; Daxiong Hall and Lingxiao Hall occupy the third floor and the fourth floor respectively. The entire building was completed in 1983. It is a northern Chinese palace-style structure with gold glazed roof tiles and a double roof. The building covers about 400 pings of ground. The first floor is called Yunzhong Hall; the second floor is the library.