City God Temple of Shanghai
- On November 1, 2018
- By Sarah Bauder
- In General
With a rich history spanning over 600 years, the City God Temple is a major attraction in Shanghai. It is also known by several other names including “Temple of the City Gods” and “Old City God Temple”. Officially, it is the “City Temple of Shanghai”. Exhibiting magnificent architecture, the site is a main Taoist temple honoring the city gods of Shanghai. Part of the walled old city, the temple is adjacent to the renowned Yu Garden and the bustling Yuyuan Tourist Mart.
- City God Temple is located in the Old City of Shanghai, which is the known as the traditional urban centre.
- The temple consists of nine halls, including the Grand Hall (Huoguang Hall), Yuanchen Hall (Jiazi Hall), and Fumu Hall.
- Damaged by fire in 1924, the Grand Hall was rebuilt in 1926 in the ancient Chinese architectural tradition.
- The site occupies over 2000 square meters.
- The temple serves the Zhengyi Dao sect of Taoism
History of the City God Temple
The site of the City God Temple originated as a temple honoring Jinshan, an island off of Shanghai. During the Ming Dynasty in 1403, Emperor Yongle converted it into a temple venerating the gods of the city. He erected a statue of the famous Han Dynasty chancellor, Huo Guang, in the front hall. In the back hall, Emperor Yongle enshrined a statue of Qin Yubo, the god of the city. Qin Yubo was a scholar and government official who worked under the Yuan and early Ming Dynasties. Upon his death in 1373, the Hongwu Emperor appointed him the City God of Shanghai.
By the Qing Dynasty, the City God Temple became more popular. Residents from the Old City, in addition to the surrounding areas, came to the site to pray. The temple reached its pinnacle during Daoguang era from1820 to 1850. By this point, it encompassed the total area of 8.2 acres. The temple’s popularity led to businesses being set up on surrounding streets. As a result, a bustling commercial district formed in the area.
During the Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945, the Old City of Shanghai was occupied by Japanese troops. Thus, worshippers were denied access to the temple. As a result, residents built a new temple and corresponding market in the Shanghai International Settlement. After World War II, the new temple lost popularity and eventually was demolished in 1972.
During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, the temple was not used for religious purposes. For some time, the main hall even served as a jewelry store.
In 1951, possession of the temple was given to the Shanghai Taoist Association and converted into a Taoist centre. The association made several changes to the site, including removing aspects of Chinese folk religion and focusing on Taoism instead. The site was converted back to a temple in 1994.
City God Temple underwent a complete renovation and restoration in 2005 and 2006. It reopened to the public, with resident Taoist priests.
Culture of the City God Temple
City God Temple Chinese name is “Chenghuangmiao”, and commemorates Shanghai’s urban status. It is dedicated to three city gods: the aforementioned Qin Yubo and Huo Guang, and Chen Huacheng. The latter was a general during the Qing Dynasty. Chen Huacheng defended Shanghai during the Anglo-Chinese War and died in battle against the British in 1842. Many locals visit the temple, making incense offerings to their favourite city god in hopes of good fortune in return.
The Grand Hall: Comprised of nine halls, the main hall of the temple is the Grand Hall (Huo Guang Hall). The ornate building is 48 ft. high, with a width of 63 ft. The Eight Immortals of Taoism in Chinese mythology, are carved into its archway. According to legend, each immortal’s powers can be transferred into a “power tool”, either creating life or destroying evil. The Eight Immortals are revered by Taoists, and likewise, also a popular component in secular Chinese culture.
Yu Garden: Located beside City God Temple, Yu Garden (or Yuyuan Garden) translates to “Garden of Happiness”. It is the most famous garden in Shanghai, and a major tourist attraction. First built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty, Yu Garden was the largest of its time. Designed in the Suzhou style, the exquisite garden is divided into six areas occupying a five-acre area.
Yuyan Tourist Mart: The area surrounding the City God Temple has grown into a thriving market. The district has been incorporated into Yuyan Tourist Mart, which manages the numerous shops and eateries in the area. Many of the shops sell traditional handicrafts and artwork.
The area surrounding City God Temple offers many cultural activities including Chinese acrobatic performances, tea ceremonies, and calligraphy lessons. Several traditional festivals are celebrated, such as the lantern show during the Lantern Festival, and the Double Ninth Festival. The City God Temple and surrounding area are must-see spots for visitors wanting to experience Shanghai’s folk customs and cuisine.
- City God Temple is open from 9 AM to 4 PM, Sunday to Saturday.
- When shopping in the market area, be prepared to bargain to get a good price on some items.
- The area can become very crowded, and visitors are reminded to be aware of your belongings.
- If you want to beat the crowds, visit on a weekday.
- Visit the renowned Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, but be prepared for a lineup.