Controversial New Pagoda at Jing’an Temple

Controversial New Pagoda at Jing’an Temple
By Susie Gordon ,

It might not yet be open to the public, but Jing'an Temple's brand new pagoda has recently been unveiled to mixed reactions. The 63-meter gilded addition to the 2nd century place of worship has divided Shanghai residents: some see it as a gaudy eyesore, while others find it beautiful. One thing's for sure, it's unmissable.

The pagoda is the second stage of a renovation project that began at the temple in 2004. The first stage involved the addition of 17,000 square meters of floor space through the construction of two 12 meter high buildings either side of the main gate. These now contain a peace bell cast to celebrate the new millennium, and a cow skin drum. The first stage of the renovations also included the five story Precious Hall of the Great Hero made of Burmese teak wood. The whole project cost an estimated 40 million RMB (4.82 million USD).

From the modern renovations right back to the original design from the 13th century, Jing'an Temple adheres to Buddhist architectural principles. The new pagoda has an odd number of levels, and the elaborate gilded finial takes the shape of a lotus. The sacred lotus figures heavily in Buddhist teachings, and is a symbol of enlightenment, rebirth and transcendence. The Buddha is said to have slept on a lotus flower for six months of the year, and the mythical land of Shambhala in Tibetan Buddhism is often depicted as a meadow of flowering lotus blooms. Once the pagoda is completed and opened to the public later this year, visitors will be able to climb to the top.

The temple at Jing'an (which means peace and tranquility) dates back to 247 AD. Its original location during the Three Kingdoms Period was close to Suzhou Creek; it moved to its current location on Nanjing Xi Lu in 1216 during the Song Dynasty. The temple is older than Shanghai itself, since the city only gained official status in 1292.

Jing'an was Shanghai's richest Buddhist temple until the nascent People's Republic outlawed religion in 1949. It was overseen by the Abbott of Bubbling Well Road (the former name of Nanjing Xi Lu) who was a colorful character. He was famous for keeping seven mistresses and employing a White Russian bodyguard. The temple is the headquarters of the Mi sect of Buddhism, and has the largest sitting jade Buddha in China. The modern pagoda has been built to house sacred relics and texts, but as yet the temple management hasn't released any information as to what exactly it will contain. 

Until the official opening of the pagoda later in the year, Shanghai gets to enjoy the newly unveiled gilded finial, and its residents have some time to make up their minds as to whether it's an improvement or a giant gold folly.

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