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Due west from the centre there is less to see, with a sprinkling of sights too far apart to walk between. Aside from Shanghai Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, this area of the city is home to the Longhua Si and Yufo Si, two of Shanghai’s most important religious complexes.Read More
The Longhua Si (龙华寺, lónghuá sì), and its associated tenth-century pagoda, is one of Shanghai’s main religious sites. The pagoda itself is an octagonal structure about 40m high (until the feverish construction of bank buildings along the Bund in the 1910s, the pagoda was the tallest edifice in Shanghai), its seven brick storeys embellished with wooden balconies and red-lacquer pillars. After a long period of neglect (Red Guards saw it as a convenient structure to plaster with banners), an ambitious re-zoning project has spruced up the pagoda and created the tea gardens, greenery and shop stalls that now huddle around it.
Though there has been a temple on the site since the third century, the halls are only around a century old. It’s the most active Buddhist site in the city, and a centre for training monks. On the right as you enter is a bell tower, where you can strike the bell for ¥10 to bring you good luck. On Chinese New Year, a monk bangs the bell 108 times, supposedly to ease the 108 “mundane worries” of Buddhist thought.
The pretty temple buildings of the Yufo Si, the Jade Buddha Temple (玉佛寺, yùfó sì), have flying eaves, complicated brackets and intricate roof and ceiling decorations. It’s a lively place of worship, with gusts of incense billowing from the central burner, and worshippers kowtowing before effigies and tying red ribbons to the branches of trees, decorative bells and the stone lions on the railings.
The star attractions here, though, are the relics. Two jade Buddhas were brought here from Burma in the 1882, and the temple was built to house them. The larger, at nearly 2m tall, sits in its own separate building in the north of the temple, and costs an extra ¥10 to see. It was carved from a single block of milky-white jade and is encrusted with agate and emerald. The second statue, in the Western Hall, is a little smaller, around 1m long, but easier to respond to. It shows a recumbent Buddha, at the point of dying (or rather entering nirvana), with a languid expres- sion on his face, like a man dropping off after a good meal.
The central Great Treasure Hall holds three huge figures of the past, present and future Buddhas, as well as the temple drum and bell. The gods of the twenty heavens, decorated with gold leaf, line the hall like guests at a celestial cocktail party, and a curvaceous copper Guanyin stands at the back. It’s all something of a retreat from the material obsessions outside, but it’s still Shanghai; religious trinkets, such as fake money for burning and Buddhas festooned with flashing lights, are for sale everywhere and the monks are doing a roaring trade flogging blessings.