Located next to the Yuyuan Garden and also known today as the Yu Garden Market, the City God Temple (Chenghuang Temple) was built in the fifteenth century during the Ming Dynasty. Originally a temple built to honor the Han statesman Huo Guang (68 B.C.) The City God Temple is a Taoist temple which is composed of many halls such as the Grand Hall, Middle Hall, Bedroom Palace, Star Gods Hall, Yama Palace, Xuzhen God Hall.
The temple had an area of more than 10,000 square meters including two gardens: West Garden (Yuyuan Garden) and East Garden. The City God Temple has a great influence on the residents of Shanghai. The religious festivals of the temple are considered to be the festivals for all Shanghai people.
Especially when the Sanxun festival (a day when the City God start to inspect his people) comes, nearly all people will come to the Temple to burn incense and worship the God, while all shops inside or close by would hang red lanterns to celebrate the festival. In addition, some folk arts, like cockfight, penmanship performance and acrobatics, are fairly attractive.
In the name Cheng-huang (城隍) in Chinese, the first word cheng (城) means city wall which was a defensive rampart in ancient China and the second word huang (隍), literally means moat, also an method of protecting a city in ancient China. Chenghuang was believed to be able to provide sacred protection to a city's physical defenses, particularly its surrounding wall and moat.
Later the meaning of Chenghuang became more generalized, and the meaning extended to the office itself of such a deity, rather than the presumed office-holder. In later times, it was official standard appoint the spirit of the government official in charge of the city to a 3 year term as City God, upon his decease
In ancient China, people always saw the temple in walled cities many walled cities as the immortal god or the spirit to protect the city. The City God Temple in Shanghai was known as the Jinshan God Temple. The temple is dedicated to the spirit of Jinshan, or "Gold Mountain", an island off the coast of Shanghai.
During the Qing Dynasty, the temple was very popular among people. Residents of the old city as well as nearby areas worshiped the temple for good fortune, prosperous life and peace. The temple reached its largest scale in the Daoguang era. Because of the large population of worshiping the temple, it led to many businesses being set up in the area, turning the surrounding streets into a busy marketplace.
During the Cultural Revolution in new China era, the government forbade people to believe in there were god, the temple was closed down and used for other purposes. For many years, the main hall was used as a jeweler shop. The institution made changes to the temple, removing statues representing folk underworld personalities such as Yama(阎罗王), the judge of the dead, and placing an emphasis on Taoist spirituality instead.
Worship of the City God
Official religion and popular religion existed in traditional Chinese culture. In official religion, worship of the City God was according to the dictates of written legislation and was to be performed by officials and degree holders. The associated activities were designed to help legitimize the state in the eyes of the common people and preserve local social status distinctions.
The prescribed sacrifices for a city god are described in the "Auspicious Rites" section of the Da Qing Tongli, the Qing Dynasty manual for rituals. The official worship of a city god was held in temples. The ceremonies are a solemn and dignified event, always contained several steps. The preparations for the god were the sacrificed animals and food to show the loyal carefully inspected by the religious officials to make sure that they are good enough for the city god.
People come from everywhere to show worship to him or her and ask for specific favors such as safeness, health, marriage, longevity and so on. The most common favor requested in these prayers is good health. The local people will have a celebration to honor the birth of the city god. These ceremonies often attract huge crowds of people and involve theatrical performances, sales of refreshments, fireworks, noises of gongs and drums, and incense burning.