China is a vast country with a rich culture and shaped by many different religious practices and philosophies. Chinese temples, in particular, stand out due to their enthralling architecture.
Some temples are nestled on mountain peaks, and others are in the midst of the metropolis. If you plan to visit China, it’s worth visiting at least one of these temples.
But one thing you should keep in mind is that each temple is governed by different rules, so, before you visit one, you need to learn a bit about them first.
1. Know the Type of Temple You Want to Visit
According to the Travel China Guide, temples symbolize the rich culture and long history of China and are considered valuable treasures. Most of these sacred sites also act as living quarters and a place of practice for nuns and monks.
There are many different religions in China, but the common types of temples found in the nation are Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist. Confucianism and Taoism, in particular, are native-born religions.
Of course, houses of worship or temples of various religions differ. Buddhist temples include pagoda, temple, and grotto, which are called Ta, Si, and Shiku in Chinese, respectively.
Confucian temples, such as Yonghe Temple (Harmony and Peace Palace Lamasery), Kong Miao, and the Temple of Heaven are called Gong, Miao, or Tan in Chinese. Taoist architecture, on the other hand, is variously called Guan, Gong, or An in Chinese.
2. Familiarize Yourself with the Popular Sites
Besides mountains, Buddhist grottoes, and religious sites like the Leshan Giant Buddha temples, are a significant part of China’s Buddhist culture and heritage. There are several popular temples in China with traditional Chinese architecture, magnificent layouts, and can be visited by men, women, and children.
Many of them even dated back many centuries ago. Some of the best temples listed by Frommer’s, include:
- Yonghe Gong (Beijing): Also known as the Lama Temple, the golden-roofed building is decorated with several impressive incense burners spread throughout the temple with a 20m-tall (60.ft.) sandalwood statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha, fills the last complex.
- Temple of Heaven (Beijing): The circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, one of the finest accomplishments of Ming architecture, is almost as popular a symbol of Beijing as the Tian’an Men.
- Yungang Shiku (Shanxi): Regarded as the earliest Buddhist caves carved in China, this temple shows a movement from central Asian and Indian artistic models to greater reliance on Chinese traditions.
- Maiji Shan Shiku (Tianshui): This haystack-shaped mountain of soft red rock, surrounded by breathtaking green foliage, is China’s prettiest cave-temple site, and the only temple where statuary has been supplemented to the cave walls rather than carved out of them.
- Kong Miao (Qufu): One of China’s greatest classical architectural buildings, this striking temple in Confucius’ hometown is the largest and most splendid of the hundreds of temples around the nation honoring the sage. Markedly enlarged since it was initially established in 478 B.C., it has a series of buildings and gates aligned on a north-south axis and decorated with imperial flourishes like dragon-entwined pillars and yellow-tiled roofs.
3. Observe Proper Behavior
In general, Chinese temples are open to everyone. Not only are they beautiful structures but they also have a very calm, pleasant, and soothing atmosphere.
Observing a few simple rules about proper behavior or learning what to do and not to do when visiting temples and other religious areas will make your stay in China more memorable. Some of these rules include:
- Removing hats and shoes when entering a temple. Visitors should also seek a pile of shoes as an indication.
- Speak in low voices and electronic devices should be turned off.
- Inappropriate conversations should be avoided at holy sites.
- Visitors are not allowed to point with fingers or touch statues in the temple.
- If you are sitting and suddenly a monk or a nun enters a room, you should stand up to show respect.
- Never touch a monk or a nun (including handshaking). Instead, simply bow as a sign of greeting in temples.
- Eating is forbidden at a sacred site.
- There is often a donation box found in every temple. Sometimes, food, candles, and other items are also found near a donation box. Visitors are not allowed to touch these items.
- Donations are also welcome and somewhat expected.
- Most temples do not permit photography taken with a flash. Some complexes forbid taking photos or videos. Always ask the monk or guard responsible if it’s allowed to take pictures or a video before doing so.
4. Purchase a Bundle of Incense
One common custom when visiting a holy Chinese temple is to buy a bundle of incense. These are often sold just outside the temple.
Visitors may buy a package of incense, light them and hold these items in both hands while they pray. There are usually incense holders where worshippers can place their incense after praying.
Burning incense at temples is usually practiced to help make the place sacred and help cleanse the air. The smoke coming out from the incense is believed to produce the perfect setting for a favorable atmosphere by filling the air with pleasant aromas.
Some Buddhists also believe that the incense smoke creates a soul connection between worshippers and the Buddha. The incense burns itself into ashes while filling the air with fragrance which is also seen as a reminder that humans should burn themselves, to offer and sacrifice themselves for society.
Guests may join in worshipping or praying at temples. However, these actions should be genuine and should not be done in a mocking manner.
If you’re looking for natural and authentic incense to be used for praying at the temple, you can check them out by visiting JinPaper.
5. Know When to Visit
China Highlights says that the best time to visit a sacred site in China is at dawn. During this time, temperatures will still be cool, and nuns and monks will usually be returning from their morning prayers. Most religious sites are open year-round and from dawn to dusk.
6. Respect the Customs
When visiting a temple, both men and women should wear tops that cover their shoulders. Shorts, pants, and skirts should reach below the knee.
Dressing for religious sites in China can be casual. Women typically wear jeans and heels while men can wear either slacks or jeans. Tank tops, short-shorts, and clothing that reveals too much skin are not allowed in the holy complex.
Most temples have a gate opening on the south side of the building. Visitors should only enter from the southern entrance and exit through the northern entrance.
Open doors mean that guests are free to wander the complex. However, if there are closed doors, guests should not try to open them. Closed doors are usually meant only to be entered by individuals who work at the temple.
Moreover, visitors should not enter a holy site with their left foot first and exit with their right foot first. Finally, the traditional way to greet a monk and a nun is to place both hands together as in prayer and conduct a small bow.
China has simply too many exquisite and colorful temples to count and no visit to the Middle Kingdom is complete without visiting at least one of these magnificent structures. As with every travel etiquette, tourists should learn how to respect the place they’re visiting. Make sure to follow the tips above to make the most of your stay in the most stunning and attractive religious structures in China.