The China trip is more than just meetings with local policy makers and shapers. We also had free time to explore the historical and cultural aspects of China. During our stay in Shanghai, a group of us visited Jing’An Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist Temples in China. It’s located in the middle of an urban center, surrounded by global brands like GAP and Ice cream shops. As many parts of the city, almost each inch of the land is around the temple is covered with high-rise buildings.
Our friend Karen who is a graduate student at the University of Michigan met us outside the GAP across the temple walls. She is a Chinese international student, completing her summer internship in Shanghai. She showed up with a gray Michigan sweater and blue and gold Michigan back bag. Her getup made her easy to spot among the sea of people exiting the train station. Having only met her once in Michigan before our trip, I was happy to get to know a fellow Michigan student in her home country.
As we attempted to enter the temple, we along with Karen were asked to pay an entrance fee. Considering that it’s an active space of worship, this was surprising to me. However through my continued travel in other cities in China and Japan, I noticed how common it’s for many of these old temples and shrines to charge entrance fees or sell souvenirs to take advantage of the thousands of tourists coming through each year.
The temple’s name Jing’an has a translation of “Temple of Peace and Tranquility”. Considering how well kept it is, I was surprised to learn that it was first constructed in the 3rd century and rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty. Many of the guidebooks report that during the Cultural Revolution, the temple was converted into a plastic factory, which is a fact that is hard to image looking through the magnificent rooms in the Temples.
Once, we entered the temple. We had the opportunity to pray and pay our respects to the Buddha. Most of us not identifying with the Buddhist religion stayed back and enjoyed the scene as other worshipers light three incense sticks, held the sticks in their hand while raising them up to their forehead and bowing. This was scene quite yet beautiful.
Having spent so much time in the urban and crowded streets of Shanghai, this was an amazing opportunity to find space that allowed my tired eyes an opportunity to rest and reflect and a must-see in Shanghai.