Cao’an Manichaean Temple

Temple in Quanzhou

This quirky temple is dedicated to Manichaeism, a religion originating in Persia in the 3rd century, combining elements of Zoroastrian, Christian and Gnostic thought, which reached China in the 7th century.

The well-restored stone complex you see today is a rebuild dating to the Yuan dynasty (14th century). The most remarkable relic in the temple is the ‘Buddha of Light', a sitting stone statue in the main hall, which is actually the prophet Mani, founder of Manichaeism, in a Buddhist disguise.

Manichaeism was considered an illegal religion during the Song period and the religion had to operate in the guise of an esoteric Buddhist group. Take a closer look at the statue, and you’ll find its hairstyle (straight instead of curly), hand gestures and colour combinations are distinctly different from most representations of the Buddha.

The temple is 19km south of Quanzhou. From the long-distance bus station in Quanzhou, board a bus to Anhai (安海, Ānhǎi; ¥12) and tell the driver to drop you off at Cǎo’ān Lùkǒu (草庵路口). Then look for the English signage saying Grass Temple and it’s a 2km walk uphill. The road is not well marked so taking a taxi is a recommended alternative; a taxi from Quanzhou is around ¥65.