Shanghai's Longhua Temple: Pagoda & History

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, explore an important and beautiful Buddhist monument in the city of Shanghai: The Longhua Temple. Learn about the history of this religious compound, its layout, artwork and traditional architecture as well as its importance.

The Longhua Temple

The Longhua Temple is a Buddhist religious complex located in Shanghai, China. It is dedicated to Maitreya Buddha, the future incarnation of Buddha. This monument is famous for its traditional 10th-century pagoda, its peach tree garden and the Fair held there each year. The Longhua Temple is a landmark in Shanghai, not only for its artistic and architectural value but also for its spiritual importance.

Longhua Temple in Shanghai
Longhua Temple in Shanghai

History of the Longhua Temple

The history of this shrine starts in the 3rd century CE, when Sun Quan, Ruler of the Kingdom of Wu (one of the three kingdoms in the Chinese territories at that time) allegedly took possession of cremated remains believed to be from Maitreya Buddha. Supposedly, the king ordered the construction of thirteen pagodas all over his territories, in order to house the relics. The Longhua Pagoda, located on the Longhua Temple's grounds, is considered to be one of them. The selection of this area was further enhanced by the legend of a dragon that supposedly appeared there. In response to this legend, the temple was named Longhua, which means Luster of the Dragon.

The Longhua Temple complex was destroyed as a result of constant wars that occurred between the 7th and the 10th centuries. It was then rebuilt in the year 977 when it acquired most of its current characteristics. The structure was built following the traditional architecture of that time, now known as Song style; named after the Dynasty that ruled much of today's Eastern China between the 10th and 13th centuries. It has since undergone several restorations.

The Longhua Pagoda

The Longhua Pagoda is considered the main building of the complex. It is a tower, rising over 120 feet from the ground and is a distinctive example of the Song Dynasty style in architecture. The tower was built using red bricks as the main construction material and wood in a lesser amount. It consists of seven floors, with each level decreasing from the base up. The structural system consists of a brick cylindrical core that is surrounded by a wood stair.

Some characteristics of the Song style seen in the pagoda are the octagonal layout of each floor and the use of roofs on every level to cover the balconies. The outer ends of those roofs, known as eaves, are curved upwards and decorated with bells. Each floor features a balcony with ornamented handrails and the walls and railings are painted with red and yellow colors. Most of the outer decoration has been restored over time and nowadays the tower can't be visited as it is considered fragile.

The Longhua Pagoda
The Longhua Pagoda

Other Areas of the Longhua Temple

The temple is mostly known for the Longhua Pagoda and the peach gardens. However, the compound has several other structures.

The complex was conceived following a layout similar to that of many other monasteries of the Chan tradition of Buddhism. This basic arrangement consists of five main halls located along an axis, which runs from north to south.

Halls and Interior Courtyard
Halls and Interior Courtyard

These five halls are the Heavenly Kings Hall, the Grand Hall of the Great Sage, the Abbots Hall, the Three Sages Hall and the Maitreya Hall. Each one houses different religious figures and decorations.

The statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, which are Buddhist figures related to good luck, are found inside the hall with that name. The Hall of the Great Sage houses a statue of Buddha and an ancient bell from the 16th century. The Three Sages Hall has a statue of Buddha and two figures of Buddhist incarnations. The statue of Maitreya Buddha is inside the Maitreya Hall and there is also a Budai, another representation of Maitreya. The Abbots Hall is used for meetings, lectures and gatherings.

Buddha Statues in Longhua Temple
Buddha Statues in Longhua Temple

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