Longhua Temple: A Glimpse Into Shanghai's Rich Past

Updated 2014-01-20 10:47:31
Longhua Temple's pagoda was the tallest structure in Shanghai for centuries. [Photo: Wikipedia]

A common complaint that people have about Shanghai is that it lacks history, but every place in China has roots that run deep - there for those who seek them out; Longhua Temple is one obvious example. The oldest and most majestic temple in Shanghai, it has a history that goes all the way back to 242 A.D. Over the centuries, however the temple has been renovated and rebuilt a few times, the last extensive restoration being completed in 1954.

The temple, as it is now, is typical of the Song Dynasty's Ch'an Buddhism, which focused on meditative, or Zen, states of mind. The temple grounds are expansive, covering 20,000 square meters. Buildings are elegantly laid out in standard symmetrical formation, the drum and bell towers facing each other at the entrance.

The central seven-story pagoda is a highlight of the temple, an impressive vertical structure that dates back to 977 A.D. King Sun apparently ordered its construction for his mother. For centuries, King Sun's monument stood as the tallest structure in Shanghai.

In the Room of 500 Golden Statues, you can find 500 golden (colored) Buddha statues, each one unique. The rows of Buddhas stoically face each other from opposite sides of the room, regardless of the monks and visitors standing between them.

One can hope that so many glowing golden Buddhas can help make atonement for the tragedies that have occurred over the years. When the Kuomintang was purging those suspected of being communist, thousands of executions took place on these very sacred grounds. Later, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese used the temple grounds as an internment camp where even civilians from Allied countries were forcibly held and kept under harsh conditions.

But all that is history now, and the area's more painful memories have been relegated to Longhua Martyrs Cemetery, tucked away behind the temple.

On a more cheerful note, the fourth hall houses an inexpensive vegetarian restaurant that offers basic, but tasty, meals between 11:00 and 14:00, a nice place to fill one's belly before or after exploring the rest of the temple grounds and halls.

Longhua Temple address: No. 2853 Longhua Road, just west of Longhua metro station.

Entrance fee: 10 yuan

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