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Jing'an Temple: History, Bell & Buddhas

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, discover the Jing'an Temple in Shanghai, China. Learn about the history and architecture of this traditional building in the middle of a modern city. Also explore some of the artwork in it, including its famous bell and Buddha statues.

The Jing'an Temple

The Jing'an Temple existed even before the city of Shanghai was established, and today it is among the best-known places of worship in this Chinese metropolis. During its long history, the temple has been destroyed, rebuilt and renovated many times, and it is famous for its big bronze bell and its Buddha statues.

The Jing-an Temple
The Jingan Temple

The Jing'an Temple is a Buddhist religious building located west of downtown Shanghai, in China. The temple is found in the heart of a modern district of the city, which is named after it. It sits right in front of a park that provides some fresh air and light to the temple, and it also helps to keep some of the traditional atmosphere, in spite of the amazing urban growth around it.

History of the Jing'an Temple

The Jing'an Temple has been modified several times throughout its history. The shrine was first built in the year 247 CE, during the Kingdom of Wu, which was one of the three kingdoms in the Chinese territories of that time. Back then, it was located close to the north shore of the river that runs through modern Shanghai.

In 1216, the temple was moved to its current location, probably because of the constant floods. It was rebuilt in the western part of the city and has been an important and busy place ever since. The temple underwent several restorations during the 17th century and was completely rebuilt during the late 19th century, following the style of traditional Chinese architecture.

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s the temple was used as a plastic factory, and in 1972 a fire almost destroyed the entire building. Intense restoration and reconstruction efforts were undertaken a few years later, and finally in 1990 the temple was reopened to the public. In recent years, the northernmost area of the temple was rebuilt, including the pagoda.

Architecture of Jing'an Temple

The temple is composed of the main courtyard, which is enclosed by two side pavilions, the main hall and the entrance hall. The main access to the temple is from the southern part, and the entrance hall creates a transition from the busy street into the quiet courtyard of the religious complex.

The main hall of the temple is located on the northern side of the courtyard. The central room of the building is devoted to Gautama Buddha, the main figure of Buddhism. The woodwork of this hall is outstanding. It has a wooden structure, with massive teak pillars and carefully carved beams. The ceilings are also decorated with carved wood panels.

The Main Hall
The Main Hall

To the right of the main hall, we find the Guan-Yin Hall, devoted to the Buddhist figure Guan-Yin, who achieved a vast knowledge and enlightenment and is also known as Avalokitesvara. On the opposite side of the main hall is the Jade Buddha Hall, housing a large statue of the deity.

The two secondary pavilions are located on each side of the courtyard. The Hall of the Three Saints and the Hall of Virtuous Works are part of the different worship rooms of the temple. There is also a room known as the Hall of Heavenly Kings. It houses the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, common figures in Buddhism associated with protection, prosperity, and favorable weather and harvests.

A smaller, narrow courtyard is located behind the main hall and is enclosed by the pagoda tower, the main hall and secondary buildings. The tower, known as Jing'an pagoda, is located on the northwestern corner of the temple. It has seven stories and a square base. Each level has its own eave, which is the part of the roof overhanging from the wall, a decorative element that's common in traditional Chinese architecture.

The new pagoda
The new pagoda

Art and Relics of Jing'an Temple

One of the most important relics housed inside the Jing'an Temple is the Hongwu Bell. It is a large bronze bell, cast during the times of the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th centuries) and believed to have belonged to the Emperor Taizu. He was known as the Hongwu Emperor, so the bell was named after him.

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