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December 5, 2011

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Ringing the bell at Donglin Temple

DONGLIN Temple attracts thousands of people on New Year's Eve. VIPs pay thousands of yuan for a chance to strike the temple's bell and pray for an auspicious year, writes Chen Ye.

With the new year approaching some people may already be planning to take part in annual bell-ringing events at different temples.

In China, ringing the bell during the new year countdown is a way to bring good luck. Traditionally people pray for peace, good luck, wealth and health (not necessarily in that order) when they strike the bell.

"As usual, on the New Year's Eve, people in Jinshan District will gather at Donglin Temple to celebrate the new year by ringing the bell," said Wang Keqi, vice director of the Jinshan Tourism Bureau. "The first strike and the 108th strike cost 29,999 yuan (US$4,722)."

Donglin Temple offers 108 VIP tickets and price ranges from 2,012 yuan to 29,999 yuan this year.

With a VIP ticket people get to ring the bell personally and receive a special gift. VIP ticket holders also get a bowl of yue nian (cross year) noodles cooked by the temple's eminent monks.

"Special" strikes like the 99th, the 88th, the 66th and the 33rd strike respectively cost 9,999 yuan, 8,888 yuan, 6,666 yuan and 3,333 yuan.

Prices range for other VIP strikes as well with the cheapest at 2,012 yuan. This price was set because the district government and the Jinshan Tourism Bureau hope 2012 will be an auspicious year.

"VIP tickets are already on sale," Wang said. "One of my best friends just booked the 9th strike."

He said the hottest topic in his friend's home is about who should represent the family to ring the bell on New Year's Eve, because the VIP ticket only allows one person to strike the bell. Everyone in the family wants the honor of striking the bell.

Guest tickets at 299 yuan each allow others to strike the bell after the VIPs are finished.

There are also 5,000 entrance tickets for people who want to enter the temple and watch the bell-striking activity. These tickets cost 30 yuan per person.

Donglin Temple was originally built in 1308, and is considered one of the top tourist destinations in Jinshan along with Fengjing Ancient Town, Chinese Farmers' Painting Village, City Beach and Langxia Ecological Park.

The temple, built to worship Guanyin, also known as the Bodhisattva associated with compassion, was totally rebuilt between 2004 and 2007.

"We reconstructed the temple to a high standard and only a small part of the original structure remains," Wang said.

The site is dominated by overpowering structures: one a white stone hall topped by gilded domes, the other is Guanyin Pavilion, which is built into an enormous red artificial hill.

A Buddha head stands on the top.

The temple's main doors are made of copper. They are 20 meters high and more than 10 meters wide. There are 999 images of Buddha carved on the door.

At more than 1,200 square meters, it is said the Guanyin Pavilion is the biggest in Asia dedicated to the Bodhisattva.

Donglin Temple also owns the biggest indoor Guanyin statue at 27 meters in height with a 2-meter-high lotus base.

Wang said people like to celebrate the bell ringing activity at the temple because of the statue of the "Zenzai good luck boy" in the courtyard.

"The Zenzai good luck boy is made by cloisonné enamel, and it rotates 360 degrees," said Wang, "There are eight copper fish around the Zenzai and they can announce eight different blessings when people toss a coin into their mouths.

"We believe Donglin Temple is a fascinating place for religious people and at the end of this year, the brand-new Chuanzi Park, which is near the temple, will open to the public freely."

Chuanzi Park

Chuanzi Park is built in honor of the Chuanzi Monk. The park displays all of Chuanzi's poems and writings.

Chuanzi Monk originally came from Sichuan Province. After 30 years of strait-laced temple life, the monk decided to leave the temple, where he had already learned everything from his master. He believed only by living in nature could he realize the truth about Buddhist philosophy.

So he started his trip by boat. When he reached Zhujing Area in Jinshan he was attracted by the scenery and decided to stay.

He used his boat to transport farmers around the area. When he was alone he preferred to fish.

He basically spent the rest of his life on the boat, which is why he gained the name Chuanzi Monk (chuan means boat in Chinese).

The monk wrote 39 famous poems about the life of fishermen, with whom he spent much time.

Chuanzi Park will open on December 31 so that tourists can stop there and at Donglin Temple.

Tourism bureau vice director Wang recommended two tour packs for people who want to visit Jinshan in winter - Donglin Temple-Chuanzi Park-Fengjing Ancient Town-Chinese Farmers' Painting Village or Donglin Temple-Chuanzi Park-Langxia Ecological Park-City Beach.

Additionally, the annual Zhangqiao Lamb Festival is now being celebrated in Zhangqiao Village, Jinshan.

People can purchase one-day tour tickets from a travel agency or check the website:

Donglin Temple

Address: 150 Donglin Street, Zhujing


Admission: 30 yuan per person

Chuanzi Park

Address: near Donglin Temple

Admission: free


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