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Centuries-old temple beckons as respite for mind and body

FOR most city people, saunas, discos, hikes, skiing and one-day excursions to the villages in Shanghai's suburbs are good ways to spend the weekends and holidays.

Few seem to consider taking a quiet spiritual tour to one of the city's sacred, solemn places hidden in the outskirts, a long-lost traditional custom.

Located in the Sanlin Town in the south of Pudong New Area, the Taoist Chongfu Temple dates back more than 890 years and is the ideal place for urbanites to get away from the busy city life for a while and enjoy a soothing spa for the mind among the curling incense smoke and comforting Taoist music.

A popular legend says the location of this temple is on the tail of a dragon that crouches in Shanghai. The dragon's head is in the Longhua Temple in Xuhui District and its body lies along the Yan'an Elevated Road that traverses the city from the east to the west. The Chongfu Temple was built long before Sanlin Town was established. It goes back to the time of the Three Kingdoms (220-280 AD) when the temple was an ancestral temple commemorating Lu Xun, a hero of the Wu Kingdom (222-280 AD).

At that time, Pudong was just a tiny fishing village on the banks of the Huangpu River.

Legend has it that an evil dragon made waves and created devils in the village. Its head lay in Sanlin and its eyes were in the two ancient wells in Diandang and Qigan villages. To suppress the dragon's evil powers, the people built the temple.

In 1119 during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the ruling Emperor Zhao Ji, a pious Taoist, granted the name "Chongfu" (literally meaning "wishing for good blessings" in Chinese) to the temple.

In 1553 in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Sanlin was invaded and almost burnt down by Japanese intruders - it was a miracle that the Chongfu Temple remained intact. Villagers believed that the temple was blessed by the gods and they raised funds to renovate it in 1559.

The temple's incense burners kept glowing for centuries, worshipped and revered by locals. After 1911, however, the temple went downhill. After decades of revolutions, social turmoil and war, it was nearly gutted.

Statues were stolen or damaged and the old ginkgo tree in the courtyard died. During the cultural revolution (1966-1976), the two huge stone posts in the main hall, famously decorated with elegant carved serpentine dragons, were torn down.

But in the late 1980s the temple got its second life. Devout followers sponsored a renovation project and gave the dilapidated sacred shrine a face-lift.

In 1994, followers renovated the Zhenwu Hall; three years later, the Lingguan and Guanyin halls were repaired; in 2001 with the financial support of the believers, the main hall was expanded to an 18-meter-high, two-story building with an investment of more than 800,000 yuan (US$117,095). In 2003, a new 750-kilogram bronze bell was installed.

Today the temple has three jins (a jin is a courtyard with a hall and rooms running off it) with 40 rooms, covering about 2,000 square meters.

The entry hall in the first jin, Lingguan Hall, is dedicated to Wang Lingguan, the protector god of Taoism. The righteous and forthright Wang was appointed as the "Aboveboard Picketer God in General" by the God of Heaven to maintain order and eliminate evils in heaven and on Earth.

The statue shows the three-eyed Lingguan, with a red face, long beard, wearing golden armor, holding a Taoist document in his left hand, a whip in his right hand, and riding a fiery wheel.

On his left are the statues of Zhao Gongming and Ma Tianjun; on the right Wen Qiong and Yue Fei. They are the Four Protector Marshals of Taoism.

Walking into the second jin you find the Cihang Hall, which enshrines the Cihang Master, or the South Sea Guanyin Bodhisattva in Buddhism, who, it is said, sends children to women who find it difficult to become pregnant after marriage.

The third jin is the two-story main hall Sanqing Hall for Qin Yubo, the god of Shanghai (he is also enshrined in the City God Temple in the downtown Yuyuan Garden).

In ancient China, a Taoist temple was a center of folk activities, not just a place for religious services.

The three-day temple fair that is held in the middle of the third month of the Chinese Lunar calendar in the Chongfu Temple has been a grand gala in Pudong area for centuries.

The fair, with the temple as its base, spreads to Yangsi Old Street in the north and Sanlin Old Street in the south.

During the festival, the 1,500-meter street is packed with visitors, vendors and pilgrims. Stalls selling bamboo crafts, candles, homespun clothes, agricultural tools, traditional Chinese medicines and silk stand shoulder to shoulder. Most of the vendors have traveled from Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province and Suzhou in Jiangsu Province.

The fair also attracts crowds of fortune tellers and folk artists of making flour dolls, performing shadow plays, martial arts, acrobatics, and juggling.


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