City God Temple

Written by Sally Guo Updated Sep. 1, 2021

City God Temple (Chenghuang Temple) is located next to Yuyuan Garden, also known as Yuyuan Market. It was first built in the 15th century during the Ming Dynasty as the City God Temple. It was originally built as a temple to honor the Han statesman Huo Guang (68 B.C.).

It is a Taoist temple consisting of many halls. Such as the Great Hall, the Middle Hall, the Bedchamber, the Hall of the Star God, the Palace of Yan, and the Xuzhen God Hall.

The temple covers an area of more than 10,000 square meters. It includes two major gardens, West Garden (Yuyuan Garden) and East Garden. The City God Temple has a great influence on the residents of Shanghai. The temple's religious festivals are considered to be the festivals of all Shanghainese.

Especially when the Sanxun Festival (the day when City God starts to inspect the people) comes, almost all people come to the temple to burn incense and worship God. Red lanterns are hung inside the temple or in nearby stores to celebrate the festival.

In addition, folk arts like cockfight, penmanship performance and acrobatics, are fairly attractive.

City God Temple
City God Temple

History

Cheng-huang (城隍) in Chinese, the first word "Cheng" refers to the ancient Chinese defensive rampart of the city. The second word"Huang" is the literal meaning of a moat, which was also an ancient Chinese method of protecting the city.

Cheng Huang was believed to provide divine protection for the physical defense of the city, especially the walls and moats surrounding it.

Later, the meaning of "Chenghuang" became more generalized. And it extended to such a divine office itself, rather than to the presumed holder of the office.

In later times, it was the official standard to 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, this temple was very popular among the people. Residents of the old town and nearby areas worshiped this temple. They came to pray for good luck, prosperity, and peace in their lives.

This temple reached its largest size in the Daoguang era. The large population worshiping the temple, led to many businesses being set up in the area, turning the surrounding streets into a busy marketplace.

Shanghai Old Street
Shanghai Old Street

During the Cultural Revolution in New China, the government banned people from believing in a god. The temple was closed and converted to other uses.

For many years, the hall was used as a jewelry store. The institution made changes to the temple. The statues representing world figures, such as Yama (阎罗王), the dead judge under the folk were removed and the focus was placed on the Taoist spirit.

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 sacrifices prescribed for a city god are described in the "Auspicious Rites" section of "Da Qing Tongli". Da Qing Tongli is the Qing Dynasty's ritual manual. The official worship of Chenghuang was held at the temple.

The ceremony is a solemn and dignified event that always consists of 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 all directions to show their worship to him or her. They ask for specific favors, such as safety, health, marriage, longevity, etc.

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 large numbers of people. They include theatrical performances, refreshment sales, fireworks, the sound of gongs and drums, and the burning of incense.

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