Sanxia is a traditional district located in northern Taiwan, easily accessible from Taipei. It has become known in recent years mainly because of its Qingshui Zushi (Qingshui Master) Temple, which is unique among all the Chinese temples of the world for the painstaking and time-consuming dedication to classical temple arts that is manifested in its modern reconstruction work.
The town, originally named Sanjiaoyong after its location at the confluence of three rivers, was given its present name of Sanxia (Three Gorges, also the name of its main river) in 1920. Nestled where fertile plains meet mountain foothills, and blessed with convenient inland river transport, Sanxia offered excellent conditions for development in the early years of Taiwan's settlement by the Chinese. It quickly became an important goods distribution center and a base for the production of camphor, the growing of tea, and especially the dyeing of cloth. As transport shifted elsewhere and the use of river transportation declined, however, Sanxia gradually lost its importance as a commercial center.
Even as the town lost its economic importance, though, its cultural value remained undiminished, mainly because of Qingshui Zushi Temple. With its unparalleled combination of religion and art, this temple is the epitome of exquisite carving and complex structure as well as dynamic center of Chinese religious worship. These features have also made it a powerful attraction for tourists from all over Taiwan and the world.
Sanxia Old Street refers to the south section of Minquan Street in New Taipei City. Its length is about two hundred meters, and its architecture dates back to the early days when the Republic of China was newly established. Walking along Sanxia Old Street is like walking into a time tunnel; the arched red brick hallways, the traditional architecture, the beams, columns, ancient wooden plaques, the squat maidens walls and the figure carvings upon the buildings are all very unique. Walking along this ancient street brings a feeling of nostalgia for the good old days, and makes visitors want to linger. Sanxia Old Street is best preserved the along the Minquan Street, Heping Street, Ren'ai Street and Zhongshan Road. Minquan Street was the commercial center in the past, and the commercial stores and alleys that date back to the time of Japanese Occupation are still in good condition. Both the town and its street underwent modification during the Japanese Occupation; streets were expanded, rooftops, walkways, and drainage systems were also re-organized, and it was transformed into a stately, modernized street. During the time of Sanxia's heyday, the street was lined with shops that sold dyes, manufacturing materials, and tea, and western-style houses were also being built quickly. Nowadays, only the red brick buildings with arched hallways and Baroque styled architecture remain to tell of their past glory.
The characters carved upon the ancient buildings in the street show the first and last names of the occupants, or their occupations, or the names of the store. The character is most frequently seen here, showing that there were many dye shops; the plaques hanging above the entrance of shops also had the shop's name, as well as the proprietors names carved into them. This was a much-used method of propaganda in those days. A section that jutted out from the wall of a building, and had different shapes carved upon it, was termed a mountain wall or a building these sections were usually higher in the middle, and flatter on either sides. The ornate figures upon the mountain walls had significance attached to them as well; a vase symbolized safety and an octagon was used to ward off evil. Red brick was the main material used for the side of the buildings facing the street; pebbles were less used, and cement was not used until recently, for renovations, was used for the interior walls of the buildings. Because the merchants who lived along the Street in those days were all well-to-do folks, the architectural style and the building materials used were the cream of the crop; many materials were imported, and some of the residents employed architects from as far as England. The protruding sections on the roof of the buildings and the carved patterns under the windowsills on the second floor of the buildings enhance the beauty of these constructions. The patterns are widely varied and extremely interesting to study.