Putuo Shan has been attracting Buddhist pilgrims from all over northeast Asia for at least a thousand years, and there are many tales accounting for the island’s status as the centre of the cult of Guanyin (观音; guānyīn), the Boddhisatva of Compassion. According to one, the goddess attained enlightenment here; another tells how a Japanese monk named Hui’e, travelling home with an image of the goddess, took shelter here from a storm and was so enchanted by the island’s beauty that he stayed, building a shrine on the spot. With the old beliefs on the rise again, many people come specifically to ask Guanyin for favours, often to do with producing children or grandchildren. The crowds of Chinese tourists carry identical yellow cotton bags which are stamped with symbols of the goddess at each temple, sometimes in exchange for donations.

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