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 Longhua Temple

Located on Longhua Road at the south of Shanghai Municipality, Longhua Park is famous for its ancient Longhua Temple, Longhua Pagoda, the Evening Bell-Striking Ceremony and peach blossoms.

First built in 242 during the Thre Kingdoms Period (220-280), Longhua Temple is the oldest temple in Shanghai. Due to damages caused by several wars, most of the buildings at Longhua Temple were reconstructed during the reign of the emperors Tongzhi and Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Apart from its long history, Longhua Temple is also the largest temple in Shanghai. It occupies an area of over 20,000 square meters and its architectural proportion is about 5,000 square meters. Along the 194-meter-long axis are Maitreya Hall, Heavenly King Hall, Grand Hall, Hall of the Three Saints, Jade Buddha Hall, Abbot's Hall and the Sutras Keeping Hall, which contains the three treasures of the temple, including the Tripitaka (Da Zang Jing ), gold seals and Buddhist statues. Along the two sides are the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, both equipped with the same hexagonal windows and curved eaves. The whole courtyard was built strictly according to traditional Buddhist symmetry and relates to the Chinese concept of beauty.

A venerable copper bell, two meters in height, 1.3 meters in diameter and weighing five tons, resides in the three-storied Bell Tower. The Evening Bell-Striking Ceremony on December 31 is regarded as one of Shanghai's eight great attractions. Ringing in the New Year with the melodious, heavenly sound of the bell is an interesting and memorable experience.

The seven-storied, 40.4-meter-tall Longhua Pagoda stands in front of Longhua Temple; its brick body and wooden staircases make up the main structure of the pagoda. Each storey is smaller than the one below, and all of its levels are encircled by balconies and banisters. Bells in each corner of the octagonal eaves ring cheerfully as the wind passes through. Although Longhua Pagoda has been rebuilt several times, it has retained the style of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

In late spring, when peach trees at Longhua Park are in full bloom and the temple fair (March 3 of the lunar calendar) is under way, Longhua comes to life.

Longhua Pagoda
The tall, yellowish structure towering above the trees at Longhua Park is Longhua Pagoda.

Chinese pagodas, called "ta" or "treasure pagodas" ("bao ta "), were first found in India. With the spread of Buddhism into China in the first century AD, it was recorded in the Buddhist scriptures that when Buddha Sakyamuni died, his disciples cremated his body and took a portion of his remains, for which they built pagodas. This is how pagodas originated. From then on, when high priests or senior monks passed away, people built pagodas to house their remains. Such pagodas were generally known as "monks' graves".

Chinese pagodas have different artistic styles. Most of them are square or octagonal, and some are cylindrical or bell-shaped. They usually fall into the following categories: tower pagodas, sealed-eaved pagodas, arcade pagodas, lama pagodas, throne pagodas and pavilion pagodas. Longhua Pagoda belongs to the first category, with seven 40.64-meter-high storeys and an octagonal shape with eight corners.

But why do most pagodas have seven storeys? One explanation, according to Buddhist scripture, says that there are seven treasures in the world -- namely, gold, silver, glaze, pearl, agate, rose and the tridancna (a giant clam). Most pagodas are therefore built with seven storeys to house the seven treasures.

Longhua Pagoda is a wood-and-brick structure, with a brick body (originally from the Song Dynasty). In 1892, the 18th year of Qing Emperor Guangxu's reign, the balustrades on the lower storeys of the pagoda were damaged in a fire. Later, they were replaced with cement structures, losing their original appeal. In 1953 the government rebuilt the pagoda and restored its original look. The 131-foot-tall Longhua Pagoda at Shanghai's largest temple offers great views of the city and surrounding countryside.

On top of the pagoda is a calabash-shaped structure with an iron plate over it, popularly known as "a treasure bottle". The spire, known as "cha", is 8 meters tall and weighs over 10 tons. In China, ancient wood-and-brick pagodas usually had a "cha" or spires. On each corner of the "cha" is an iron chain -- four in all -- connecting the four corners of the pagoda to keep the "cha " in position; they are called the "wind-resistant chains".

Some may ask why the pagoda seems to be separated from the temple. In ancient times, when Buddhism was very popular in China, the pagoda was the main structure located in the middle of the temple compound. Later, when more halls were built to enshrine Buddhist statues and Buddhists came to worship at the shrines, the halls and the pagoda were considered of equal significance. The pagoda was usually located in front of the halls. By the Tang Dynasty (618-907) the halls gradually became the main building of a temple and the pagoda was located beside the main hall or enclosed in a separate courtyard. Longhua Temple mainly enshrines Buddha statues, with the pagoda attached to it.

Longhua Temple legend
According to Buddhist scriptures, Budhisattva Maitreya, a disciple of Buddhist Sakyamuni, will practice Buddhism in Tusita Heaven for 4,000 years, or 584 million years on earth (one day in heaven is equal to 400 years on earth). After the full term, Maitreya will be reincarnated to succeed Sakyamuni and become a Buddhist under the Longhua tree (where the name of the temple was derived).

According to folklore, the temple was specially built by Sun Quan, King of the Wu State during the Three Kingdoms Period, for his mother's visits. After Sun Quan's father died, his mother was so brokenhearted that she stayed in her room all day weeping. Sun Quan was very worried. One day, when Sun Quan went to see his mother in her palace, which was located on Beigu Hill (present-day Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province) by the river, overseeing a vast and beautiful panorama, he noticed the Yangtze River glittering under the setting sun. Sun Quan was so enchanted by the spectacular view that he convinced his mother to go sightseeing instead of staying alone in the palace all the time? Together, mother and son sailed towards the mouth of the Yangtze River.

Sun Quan was told by the local people that Hang-up River nearby was built by Lord Chunshen of the Warring States Period (475-221BC) and that its scenery was very charming. So, the pair sailed to Hang-up, finding the area very lovely, just like the locals said. On a clear day, one could see where the river joined the sky, constituting a dazzling image; on rainy days the waves roared and stormed the sky, also presenting a magnificent sight. Sun Quan's mother was so drawn to the place that she decided to stay on. After several months she felt so relaxed and in such good health that she refused to leave. Since his mother was a pious Buddhist, Sun Quan erected a temple in her name to express his thanks to heaven.

By the end of the Tang Dynasty, the temple was destroyed in a war. According to legend, when King Qian Chu of Wu Yue of the Song Dynasty anchored his boat for the night in Huangpu River, he suddenly noticed that the temple was on fire. He immediately ordered his men to save the temple. By 977, the temple was rebuilt, and it now boasts a 1,000-year history. In 1064, during the Song Dynasty, the temple was renamed Kongxiang Temple. The name Longhua was restored during Emperor Wanli's reign (1573-1620) in the Ming Dynasty. In the early years of Emperor Tongzhi's reign in the Qing Dynasty, the temple underwent extensive renovations to take its present shape.

 Inside Longhua Temple

** Maitreya Hall

The first hall at Longhua Temple is Maitreya Hall. Overhead is a horizontal tablet with three Chinese characters, "Long Hua Si " ("Longhua Temple"), which were inscribed by Zhao Puzhu, chairman of the Chinese Buddhists' Association. 

Entering the hall we come face to face with the statue of a plump, smiling monk -- Bodhisattva Maitreya. Some say his smile is contagious: "One smiles with Maitreya, forgetting all their worries." The word "Maitreya " in Sanskrit means "the benevolent," and Maitreya is the "Future Buddha" -- a successor to Buddha Sakyamuni. However, the bodhisattva here is a Chinese bodhisattva -- an incarnation of Maitreya. It is said that he was a monk during the Five Dynasties Period (907-960) named Qizhi, who always carried a wooden staff and a cloth sack over his shoulder. Qizhi often went around town and through the busy streets to beg for alms. As a jovial character, who was always laughing and smiling, Qizhi became known as the "cloth sack monk". In 916 he came to Fenghua in Zhejiang Province and sat on a millstone in the east corridor of Yuelin Temple where he passed away, leaving a message that said he was the incarnation of Maitreya. Later, people regarded him as the incarnated Bodhisattva Maitreya and made a sculpture in his honor to be enshrined in the first hall of a Buddhist temple

The two three-storeyed buildings with upturned eaves are the bell and drum towers rebuilt in 1894 during the reign of the Qing Emperor Guangxu. The bell tower in the east houses a giant bronze bell, two meters high and weighing 6,500 kg. When the bell rings at night, people within a few miles can hear it. The "Evening Bell at Longhua" is one of the eight great attractions in Shanghai. At night on every New Year's Eve, the "Striking Longhua Bell" ceremony is conducted here.

** Heavenly King Hall

The second hall at Longhua Temple is the Heavenly King Hall. The inscription on the horizontal tablet overhead was written by a famous calligrapher named Sha Menghai. In the hall are four tall and imposing sculptures of the four Buddhist heavenly kings, each of them guarding a part of the world. According to Buddhist teachings, there are four continents in the human world, each guarded by one of the four kings.

The Eastern King, King of Protection for Buddhism, named "Dhrtarastra" in Sanskrit, is dressed in white. He is holding a knife in his left hand and a spear in his right. (In some temples the Eastern King is holding a bow and arrow.) The Southern King, King of Developing Merit, named "Virudhaka", is dressed in blue, with a sword in his hand. The Western King, King of Far Sight, named "Virupaksa", is dressed in red and wields a spear in his left hand and a rope in his right. (In some temples he is holding a sword.) The Northern King, King of Virtue, or "Vaisremana", is dressed in gold and has a miniature pagoda in his left hand, a trident in his right, and is stepping on a demon. These statues are typical of the four heavenly kings of ancient Chinese Buddhism, especially in Buddhist paintings during the Tang Dynasty. After the Song and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, especially during the Ming and Qing dynasties, Buddhism among China's Han nationality was further integrated and became rife with Chinese superstition, including the four heavenly kings. They became the four Buddha warrior attendants guarding the gates to the Buddhist heaven. The Eastern King, sculpted in the Yuan Dynasty, is holding a pipa (a stringed instrument with a fretted fingerboard) in his hand; the Northern King, sculpted in the Ming Dynasty, is holding an umbrella; and the Western King from the Qing, is holding a snake-like animal. These images have now become popular present-day representations of the heavenly kings. In the Chinese myth "Ordaining the Gods," the four heavenly kings are described as the four great generals, indicating the Han influen

In the middle of the Heavenly King Hall are two statues. The one facing the Grand Hall is of the Bodhisattva Skanda, who was originally one of the eight generals under the Southern King and was known for his outstanding bravery among the total 32 generals. In Chinese Buddhist legend, since Skanda guards the holy Buddhist ground, he is therefore the god of guardians for every temple built. His statue usually has two images: one standing erect with joined palms and holding a club in his arms; the other has a club in his left hand with one end touching the ground, while his right hand rests on his waist and his left foot protrudes slightly forward (in the military: "at ease"). The club in his hand is a magical club that can subdue demons and eliminate worries. This Bodhisattva Skanda also possesses many Han elements. Behind him is the statue of the original Maitreya in Tusita, which is unlike the one in the first hall.

** Grand Hall
Next is the main hall, which is known as the Grand Hall, or the Grand Hall of the Great Sage. With accessory halls on both sides, it is the main structure in every Buddhist temple that enshrines the statue of Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. "The Great Sage" is a title of honor for virtue and power, indicating Buddha's great strength. Only Buddha can subdue the four demons: the demon of five hells, the demon of death, the demon of the heavenly son and the demon of worries. Four Chinese characters "Da Xiong Bao Dian" ("Grand Hall of the Great Sage") were inscribed on the horizontal tablet overhead by the famous Chinese calligrapher Dian Yuan. The tablet above this one has the Chinese characters "Long Hua Shi Fang" ("Ten Directions of Longhua"), inscribed by Tang Yun, a famous Chinese painter and calligrapher. The 10 directions are, according to Buddhism, the south, west, east, north, southeast, southwest, northeast, northwest, upper and lower.

In the hall are three Buddha statues. In the middle is the Buddha "Vairocana" with joined palms, which means "illuminating all over" in Sanskrit. He is known as Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. The statue of Sakyamuni usually comes in three postures. The first is a seated meditative position, with his left hand resting on his left foot, indicating his determination for deep meditation; his right hand stretches downwards, indicating that before he became Buddha, he had to sacrifice himself for all living creatures (something that could only be witnessed by the great earth). Such a statue is called "the enlightened image". The second posture is similar to the first, except that his thumb and forefinger on the right hand form a circle, indicating that he is preaching. This posture is called "the preaching image". The third is the standing Buddha, with his left hand hanging down to the ground and his right arm lifting up to sky, slightly bent at the elbow; the relaxed arm indicates that "all will be well" and the uplifted one suggests Buddha's ability to relieve people from suffering. This statue is called "the Chandana Buddha Image". On the left of the Buddha Sakyamuni is Bodhisattva Manjusri riding a lion. Manjusri is always depicted on a lion, which indicates wisdom and might. On the right of the Buddha is Bodhisattva Samantabhadra riding a white elephant. Samantabhadra is always seen on an elephant, indicating luck, reason and virtue. Both bodhisattvas are assistants to Sakyamuni. In Buddhism, the two bodhisattvas represent wisdom, reason and virtue. Longhua Temple and the Jade Buddha Temple are both Buddhist temples belonging to two different sects: The Jade temple belongs to the "chan " or "zen" sect, while Longhua Temple belongs to the Tiandai sect. That is why the two temples enshrine different statues.

On the two sides of the hall are 16 arhats and 20 heavenly gods. "Arhat " is the ideal attainment of the "Little Vehicle" (Hinayana ) in Buddhism. The following are the three features of arhats: they are rid of the troubles posed by greed, anger, stupidity, etc.; they get support from heavenly and earthly creatures; they are not subject to death or reincarnation. Sakyamuni had a great number of disciples but the 16 arhats were his closest. It is recorded in the Buddhist scripture that Sakyamuni ordered them to remain permanently in the human world to convert people to Buddhism.

Some ask why most of the temples have 18 arhats, while this one only has 16. It is said that at the end of the Tang Dynasty a monk painted the 18 arhats . Later, during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), a famous Chinese literary man named Su Dongbo (1037-1101) came across the paintings and composed "Poems in Praise of the Images of the 18 Arhats", with each poem bearing the name of the artwork. From then on, painters always painted 18 arhats instead of 16, and the tradition was passed down throughout the ages. Longhua Temple is a 1,000-year-old monastery built before Su Dongbo was born, which is why it has 16 arhats .

The 20 heavenly gods were originally the gods of ancient Indian legends. Buddhism also adopted these gods as the heavenly gods protecting Buddhism.

** Jade Buddha Hall
To the west of the Grand Hall is the Jade Buddha Hall, which houses a jade statue of Sakyamuni after he became Buddha. The 1.7-meter-tall statue is carved from a single piece of Burmese white jade and is decorated with jewels. The statue was brought from Burma and donated by Master Priest Yong Xing, chairman of the Bodhi Association in Hong Kong. Out of great concern for the religious development on the mainland, priest Yong Xing personally came to take part in the Buddhist rites. In 1986 he brought the jade statue from Burma to Shanghai to present to Longhua Temple. On October 15, 1987 he and Master Priest Jue Xian came to Longhua Temple to preside over the opening ceremonies of the jade Buddha statue.

** Hall of the Three Saints
The Hall of the Three Saints is the hall of the saints of the Buddhist Western World. In the middle is the Buddha Amitabha, which means "boundless light" and "boundless longevity" in Sanskrit. He is the Buddha of the Buddhist Great Vehicle ("Mahayana ") in charge of the Western Paradise and the chief idol of the Buddhist Jingtu ("pure land") sect. According to Buddhist scripture, after he died and became a bodhisattva he was named Fa Zang, and vowed to fulfill 48 promises. After a long practice, the Buddha Amitabha attained the Buddha hood. Buddhist scripture tells people that if they chant his name and truly believe in him, one day they may reach his "pure land". "Chanting Buddha" means to chant the name "Buddha Amitabha."

On the left of the Buddha Amitabha is Kwan-yin, his assistant. On the right of the Buddha Amitabha is his assistant, the Bodhisattva Da Shi Zhi (Mahasthamaprapta " in Sanskrit), a bodhisattva of the "Great Vehicle" who enlightens the world with his light of wisdom and helps all living creatures in suffering.

Together, the three are worshipped as the "Three Saints of the Western World".

Behind the Hall of the Three Saints is the Abbot's Hall. On the first floor is a sitting room and on the second floor is the abbot's chamber, or "fang zhang" in Chinese ("fang" means "square" and "zhang" means "10 feet"). Fang zhang is where the head monk of a monastery lives, preaches and receives Buddhist visitors. According to Buddhist scripture, although the abbot's room is only 10 square feet, it can hold a whole multitude of people. Hence, all abbots' rooms are called fang zhang .

To the east of the Abbot's Hall is a peony garden where a 100-year-old peony bush grows. It was first planted during the reign of Emperor Xianfeng of the Qing Dynasty and was later transplanted here. The bush reaches full bloom in May every year.

Behind the Hall of the Three Saints is the Sharing Fragrance Vegetarian Restaurant for Buddhist and secular travelers.

To the west of Longhua Temple is Longhua Park.

"Admiring Peach Blossoms at Longhua" is one of Shanghai's oldest folk customs.

In late spring, when the peaches in Longhua Park are in full blossom and the temple fair (on the 3rd March, lunar calendar) is under way, large numbers of visitors and pilgrims will come and the Longhua will become a place of great hustle and bustle.

Admission Fee: CNY 10
Opening Hours: 7:00 to 16:30
Transportation:

By bus: Take bus 41, 44, 733, 734, 864, 809, 933 and get off at Longhua Station. 
By subway: Take Subway Line 3 and get off at Longcao Road Station. Get out from Exit 1 and walk eastwards for 15 minutes to the temple.

Recommended Time for a Visit: 1.5 hours

 

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