Worshiping in Shanghai can assume very different facets. For a start, there is a sanctuary devoted to Confucius, and although his philosophy is truly to be admired and studied, he’s not really a god. However, in China, far from being a clerical state, the word “temple” is used with a wider meaning. What’s the purpose and raison d’être of Shanghai Confucius temple?
The beautiful Confucius Temple situated in Wen Miao Road (Wen Miao Lu, 文庙路), in Huangpu District, not far from Xintiandi, was founded with the purpose of studying Confucius philosophy. Moved to four different locations, in 1855 it finally ended up where it is now. The temple is very big, with many areas, each of which devoted to different activities: worshiping (so they do worship Confucius!), studying and one to completely immerse in nature surrounded by the typical Chinese gardening style.
In China everything is possible, so also every religion is possible, as long as it stays such, a religion, without the possibility to interfere in political matters. The most widespread creed is Buddhism, and the country is studded with temples.
What’s the raison d’être of a Confucius temple in China?
Certainly, his philosophy has had, and still has, a great influence in Chinese mentality and civilization. I’m a big fan of Confucius myself, I think his theories of a constant contact with nature are among the most powerful and important men can follow in order to respect and preserve the planet, hence a visit to a sanctuary devoted to him was absolutely a pleasure.
Both during the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century and the ten years of Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the Confucian Temple was heavily damaged, and its reconstruction was finalized and made official in 1999, in honor of the sage’s 2550th birthday.
After passing the entrance main gate (which was closed when I went so I got in through a tiny side door), visitors find themselves in a wide courtyard before the temple itself. At the entrance of the temple there is a big statue of Confucius along with the small area where functions are performed, be them daily prayers, special festivities, funerals or remembrance celebrations.
Inside, it’s decorated with ancient (or ancient-looking) drums, and traditional Chinese characters cover the walls. The worship area is just in front of another Confucius statue, with the typical cushion for the worshipers to kneel. It doesn’t really look like the typical Buddhist temple, I found it more modest, and definitely not with all the amount of flowers, fruits and food in general I saw in other Chinese temples.
In fact, it looks more like a place for studying: if you face the main temple, on your right hand-side, is the entrance to the part devoted to scholars and researchers, an area with the unmissable lake and pagoda to inspire peace and tranquility.
I loved browsing around the different halls and pavilions, stumbling on statues, carvings, natural rocks in proper Chinese style, and traditional paintings.
I would recommend without hesitation a visit to the Confucian Temple to whoever goes to Shanghai, it might be a little hard to find as Wen Miao Road is a very small street off the bigger South Xizang Road (Xi Zang Nan Lu, 西藏南路), but definitely worth it. The nearest metro station is Loaximen (老西门) on line 10 and it’s in a very central and vibrant area.
I paid 5 Chinese yuan for the entry because I had a student card, otherwise it’s 10 yuan for everybody, around 1 GBP or 1.5 USD, more like an offering rather than a proper entrance fee.