Jing'an Temple

Top choice in Shanghai

With the original temple dating back to AD 1216, the much-restored Jing'an Temple was here well before all the audacious skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls. Today it stands like a shimmering mirage in defiance of West Nanjing Rd’s soaring modern architecture: a sacred portal to the Buddhist world that partially, at least, underpins this metropolis of 24 million souls.

While the tinkle of wind chimes and burning of incense can't compete with the blaring horns outside, the temple still emits an air of reverence.

Constructed largely of Burmese teak, the temple has some impressive statues, including a massive 8.8m-high, 15-tonne silver Buddha in the main Mahavira Hall with 46 pillars; a 3.87m-high Burmese white-jade Sakyamuni in the side halls; and a five-tonne Guanyin statue in the Guanyin Hall, carved from a 1000-year-old camphor tree. It still rattles away to the sounds of construction, while in the bunker beneath the main hall is an unfinished space, housing 18 glittering luóhàn (arhats), but little else. The complex has been designed to incorporate shops and restaurants around its perimeter – including a fantastic vegetarian restaurant at the rear – which stretches around the block, and the metro runs right underneath. The ¥50 admission charge is steep, however, for such a modest and thoroughly modern place of worship.

Khi Vehdu, who ran Jing'an Temple in the 1930s, was one of the most remarkable figures of the time. The nearly 2m-tall abbot had a large following as well as seven concubines, each of whom had a house and a car. During the Cultural Revolution, the temple was stripped of its Buddhist statues and transformed into a plastics factory before burning to the ground in 1972.

Good times to visit include the Festival of Bathing Buddha (on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month) and at the full moon.

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