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Monday, October 27, 2008

A Visit to Dapeng

[This essay was originally posted to a blog on Weebly. In transferring it I have updated and made corrections where necessary.]

My wife Lila and I decided to make a quick get-away this weekend, so we stayed in Dameisha, a beach resort just outside of Shenzhen, the city where we live.

Our ultimate goal, though, was a Ming-period naval fortress out on Dapeng peninsula, beyond where we stayed.

Near the fort is a rather interesting little temple. I suspect that it was built as a folk temple, housing many of the more popular figures in what some call "superstitious" Daoism (Taoism). These little folk temples often have great images on wall tiles, as well as charming (if sometimes garish) statuary.

So Dongshansi (East Mountain Temple--it's out the East Gate of Dapeng Fortress) has all the hallmarks of such a temple. And yet, a sort of warehouse-like Buddha Hall has been built down near the road, and the place is staffed by Buddhist monks (though I can't tell yet if they're genuine or not). Some signage indicates a Grand Scheme to build a huge temple compound; I don't expect to see it before the end of my sojourn here. [I was wrong! The little folk temple was essentially gone, and a magnificent full-sized Buddhist temple hade been built adjacent.]

As you browse Lila's pictures below, note the evidence for and against Buddhism: What's Buddhist, what folk? You be the judge. (In addition to the images of the temple, I've given you three of Lila's more interesting pics of the fortress as well. After all, it is one of Shenzhen's "Eight Great Sights.")

Evidence FOR Buddhism at Dong Shan Temple

With the monk (?) in the Buddha Hall

A well-attended (note the incense) Milefo (Laughing Buddha) statue living in a hollowed-out tree

Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion; these statues have been given to the temple rather than be discarded

BUT NOTE: Milefo and Guanyin often show up in folk religion as well. There are large Buddha statues in the Buddha Hall (you can see the lotus bases behind us in the picture on the left); these are the only truly "Buddhist" items in the temple. Even the Eighteen Arhats in the main hall of the upper temple can be found in folk temples; and the main hall itself has only a giant poster of three buddhas, no actual statues.

Evidence AGAINST Buddhism at Dong Shan Temple

The temple, comprising three halls, marches up the hillside in the manner of a "three-hall, two-courtyard" folk temple

This is a folk god of medicine. Note the medicine pot in his right hand, and the scroll (of medical knowledge?) in his left

The statue of Guandi, a well-known deified folk hero, also has a Buddhist name, Jielan; but even the attendant monk didn't know that

NEUTRAL evidence regarding Buddhism at Dong Shan Temple

The young Chinese man who accompanied us couldn't read classical Chinese characters very well. This seems to be a burial pagoda for heads of the temple, but no information on whether they were Buddhist monks or folk Dao priests

Though I associate these incense coils with folk temples, I have seen them in Buddhist temples (they are designed to burn for 14 days, from a new to a full moon or vice versa)

A few scenes from Dapeng Fortress

This tree, just outside the East Gate of Dapeng Fortress, has been famous since ancient times as a "wishing tree." Nowadays, hawkers sell packets that you can throw from the top of the East Gate into the tree. Cheesy, yet beautiful.

One brochure in my files describes this as the "Dapeng Cool Hat."; Lila shot this over my shoulder (stealthily) inside Dapeng Fortress. (Isn't she beautiful?)

This folk temple inside Dapeng Fortress contains an image of the local Earth God (Tudi) and his wife (Mrs. Tudi?) The tile exterior is typical for modern shrine buildings.

That's it! Lila and I have thousands of pictures of temples and other sites in China, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and more. I'll share some from time to time, and we'll be putting together some (virtual) photo albums and "JourneyBooks" in the near future.



Entertaining and instructive. Made me want to go there

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