Buddhism in Shanghai is a religion practices by many Chinese, yet beyond religion, it plays a role in the culture and history of China. During the days of the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism grew rapidly as the most accepted religion of the time and it was adopted as the official religion by the rulers. Years of Confucian Teaching and Daoism cannot compete with the two main forms of Buddhism that emerged: Mahayana Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism. Though during the Communist take-over everyone was encouraged towards atheism, the philosophical roots of Buddhism remained in the hearts of the people who believed and it had already deeply influenced Chinese culture through Buddhist arts and statues, teachings and architecture.
The Jade Buddha Temple, one of the most popular temples in Shanghai was built originally in 1875-1908 during the Qing Dynasty. The temple was named “Jade Buddha” because two sacred Buddha, made of white jade,was gifted to the temple by a wealthy follower of Buddha, Chen Jun-Pu, from Burma. The story has it that monk, Hui Gen was on a pilgrimage to Burma and on route met Chen Jun-Pu who gave five Jade Buddha statues; two of the statues were specifically for the to be constructed temple located in Jian-wan. Chen Jun-Pu had the statues shipped to Shanghai and with the help with HuiGen, he was able to raise the necessary funds to construct the temple. Unfortunately, after Hui Gen’s work to have the Jian-wan temple built, the temple was severely damaged during the revolt of the Qing Dynasty. As luck would have it, the two statues found a safe home during the revolt.
Years later in 1918-28, another devout Buddhist follower gave a donation that allowed for the construction of a new temple- the present day temple at its location- to house the two white jade Buddha. The two Buddha, the first being “Sitting Buddha” is 190cm in height decorated by agate and emerald; the second being the “Recumbent Buddha” is 96 cm in length whose posture is leaning on the right side. Besides the original statues, another Recumbent Buddha was donated to the temple from Singapore in 1989 and this statue is 4 meters long, must larger than the original Recumbent Buddha.
In addition to the lure from the sight of the white jade Buddha, the architecture of the temple is also noteworthy. The Devajara Hall, Mahavira Hall and the Jade Buddha Tower are the dominant halls that make up the temple. Beside the main structures are the Kwan-yin Dian Hall, the Amitabha Dian Hall, and the Zen Tang Hall, the Dining Room and the Recumbent Buddha Hall which are all unique in style. You can also find thousands of the teachings of Buddha in the Jade Buddha Tower, which all carry significant cultural and religious value.
Even if you are not a practicing Buddhist, experiencing a tour of the Jade Buddha Temple is a must when you are in Shanghai. Hopefully, you will sense the tranquility of the peace that is translated through the serene temple environment. The hours of operation for the temple are 8am -5pm daily; 5:30am – 5:00pm on Lunar New Year’s day and the 1st/15th day of lunar month.