Nanshan Temple: History & Buddha Statue

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, we will explore the Nanshan Temple located in southern China. Learn about the history of this religious complex and its main architectural characteristics. Also, discover the most relevant religious statues housed within it.

The Nanshan Temple

In Chinese history, the Nanshan Temple is really new. In fact, it only dates from the late 1990's. However, the history behind it started over 2,000 years ago. This temple was built in a beautiful setting on the seacoast and has become known as the Temple between the sky and sea.

The Nanshan Temple is a Buddhist compound located about 25 miles west of the city of Sanya, on the island of Hainan, in southern China. Nanshan, which means Southern Mountain, is part of the Buddhism Culture Park-- one of the three parks that make up the Nanshan Culture Tourism Zone. The other two parks are the Blessing and Longevity Park and Hainan Custom Culture Park. The Nanshan Temple is China's southernmost Buddhist shrine. It is famous for housing a massive gold statue of Buddha and a statue of a Buddhist deity, over 300 feet high, built upon the sea.

The Nanshan Temple
The Nanshan Temple

History of the Nanshan Temple

The island of Hainan has been an important place for Buddhism since its arrival to China. This area is considered to be holy and is devoted to Avalokitesvara, who is considered an incarnation of Buddha in some traditions and a Bodhisattva in others. In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is someone who achieved a very high level of knowledge and enlightenment and seeks to enlighten all those around him.

Avalokitesvara, also known as Guan-Yin, is often represented as female. She had twelve wishes during her life, and one of them was to live near the South China Sea. Today, Hainan is a holy site and considered the home of Avalokitesvara.

Construction of the Nanshan Temple was completed in April 1998 to mark the 2000th anniversary of the arrival of Buddhism to China. With the rapid urban growth on the island, the temple quickly became popular and receives many local and foreign visitors each year.

The Nanshan Temple Complex

The Nanshan Temple compound consists of a huge park with many structures scattered over the terrain and connected by different pedestrian paths. The main entrance to the complex is through a gate, built following the style of traditional Chinese architecture from the 5th and 6th century. From there, a long, open avenue runs from north to south, crowned by a large statue of Avalokitesvara, built on an artificial island on the sea. On the sides of this path, there are several Buddhist halls and statues, as well as small shops selling incense, religious objects, and vegetarian food.

Entrance gate to the Nanshan Temple
Entrance gate to the Nanshan Temple

The statue built on the artificial island is the Guan-Yin of the South Sea, often known just as the On-sea statue. It consists of a representation of Avalokitesvara with three sides, standing on top of a lotus-shaped throne. One side of the statue faces the park and the other two face the sea, as a symbol of blessings and protection. Construction began in 1999 and finished in 2005. A concrete pedestal with three terraces was built for the statue. The religious figure was made mostly out of copper and is painted in white and gold. The base of the statue is connected to the avenue through a long bridge and is open to visitors.

Guan-Yin of the South Sea
Guan-Yin of the South Sea

The park extends to the west of the Sea Statue, running along the coastline. About half a mile away, we find the traditional structures of Buddhist temples, including a pagoda. These were built as modern replicas of traditional Tang dynasty architecture, which developed between the 7th and 10th centuries. The pagoda is a tower of 7 stories in the traditional octagonal layout. The two main halls are the Doushuai Adytum, where seven important statues are located, and the Hall of Ceremony, which houses three statues of Buddha.

Pagoda of the Nanshan Temple
Pagoda of the Nanshan Temple

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