- Now, you are at the front gate of the Shanghai City God Temple. The front gate of temple is often called “Mountain Gate”, as the early Taoist hermits built their chapels in the mountain in order to live a life of tranquility and taciturnity. City God Temple’s mountain gate was built in 1535, the 14th year of Emperor Jia-jing’s reign during Ming Dynasty, thus today it enjoys a history of more than 450 years. The structure of mountain gate consists of stone pillars and timber beams. The four golden characters up the gate read “to protect the coastline”, which actually means to protect Shanghai. The characters were originally written by Shanghai county sheriff Fengbin in the Ming Dynasty; however, what you see today is a reproduction based on historical pictures, created in 1994 from which time the City God Temple has once again been open to the public. The two stone lions in front of the mountain gate also have a history of hundreds of years. People believe that patting their heads will bring peace and luck. After being touched by thousands and thousands of visitors, you can see their bodies are very shiny now.
- There used to be a square in front of the mountain gate, Fangbang Middle Road built in the last few years of the Qing Dynasty- used to run through the gate. To the opposite side of the temple gate, there is the screen wall with two flagpoles in the front. Normally we have flags with writings that pray for the peace of the people and for propitious weather that promises a harvest. The screen wall is made of steel gray bricks. On the side to the gate, there’s the picture of a sacred animal, whose name is “Tan”. With a single horn, horse hooves and fish scales, it looks like another kind of sacred nimal “Qilin”. As a sacred animal, “Tan” could eat all kinds of evil, but then it ate too much and became greedy, and began eating pearls and gems. Still hungry, the animal wanted to eat the sun in the sky. On the way in pursuit of the sun, it dropped into s deep valley and could never get out again. The picture of “Tan” on the screen wall warns visitors to the City God Temple that greed is the source of all evil.
- There are three goats on the other side of the screen wall. “Goat” in Mandarin sounds the same as “Yang” which has a positive connotation and is the opposite to the negative “Yin”. “Three goats” refers to “Triple Yang that Brings Prosperity” from I-Ching, the Book of Changes, as one of the 64 diagrams which refer to prophetic implications to the universe. And this diagram here means the Yang, or the positive power is waxing, while the Yin, or the negative power, is waning. Winter has gone and spring is on the way. People’ lives and careers are getting better.
- Now, you have entered the mountain gate of the City God Temple gate, There is another gate in front of you, its name is “Yi Men”, meaning “ceremonial gate”. In the past, this of. This “ceremonial gate” was the second front gate of a government office court, in this case the ancient architects borrowed the element of an office court into Temple as the office of gods. You can see two couplets in front of Yi Men.
- The first couplets reads:
- To do good or to do evil, that is all up to you in the world of the living;
- From the past to the present, no one escapes judgment in the world of the dead.
- City God in Taoism is a group deities at low ranking who protects the city and its people, and also in charge of the residential registration of all the souls and spirit in the area; therefore City God is the first deity whom a spirit has to visits on the way to judgment in the afterlife once a person’s soul leaves the body after death, and the Temple of City God is always a popular venue to educate the notion of comeuppance.
- Another couplet reads:
- What you gained, what lost, there’s no need to calculate;
- Who has done good, who evil, the gods keep the records.
- Taoism believes that Tao is everywhere, and the gods from Tao are everywhere for staking out and making records of all the people for their behaviors, there are even the spirits inside everyone’s body for watching one’s mind, language and behavior, in the judgment in hell, all the records would be referred to.
- Behind the couplets, note that there’s large abacus with words “It’s not up to people to calculate.” Some of the beads are up, some are down, which means the gods are doing their calculations invisibly. Beside the abacus, there are two plaques. Together they read:
- People who have done good will prosper;
- People who have done evil will perish.
- The displaying of the big abacus in City God Temple embodies a profound meaning. On the one hand, it urges the believers to be selfless, because people, no matter how smart or greedy they are, can never beat Heavenly rules, which are derived from Tao. On the other hand, the abacus tells everyone that the Heaven has its way of doing things, which is also derived from Tao, one who acts against Tao is doomed.
Now you are at the courtyard in front of the grand hall.
As a Taoist temple and a tourist attraction, the City God Temple is famous both
nationally and internationally.
Shanghai City God Temple, original name is Gold Mountain Temple, or Huo Guang Temple. In the reign of Emperor Yong Le of the Ming Dynasty- from year 1403 to 1424- the Shanghai sheriff Zhang Shuoyue changed its name to the City God Temple. The East Garden was built in the reign of Emperor Kang Xi of the Qing Dynasty; the West Garden namely the Yu Garden, meanwhile, was built in the reign of Emperor Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty. In the Temple’s most prosperous time, the Temple had an area of around 33000 square meters. When it came to mid-Qing Dynasty, the Temple had already had many shops, taverns, restaurants and tea houses around it. It amalgamated religion, horticulture, and business.
During the end of Qing Dynasty and the time of the Republic of China, the Temple has been occupied and burnt down by the army several times over. The grand hall you see now was built in 1926 with reinforced concrete in the formal style of a Chinese, traditional temple. When policies on the freedom of religion were implemented after the Chinese government went through reforms. The Temple was again in the hand of the Shanghai Taoist Association at 1994. Once again, it became a place for Taoist practices.
Save the Grand Hall, all the building around the courtyard have been renovated. On your left is the Wealth God Hall, the Religious Appliance Store and Ritual Services Reception Centre. On your right is the Cihang Hall, the Religious Appliance Store and the Chapel of Wishes.
Behind you is the “Ceremonial Gate”. Above the gate, there is an opera house, in which priests often stand whilst reciting scriptures. Nevertheless, when it’s the City God’s or his lady’s birthday, the priests would remove the windows near the courtyard, thus changing the room into a stage. People would perform Chinese operas to please the gods and thank them for their protection.
On your left, there is the Wealth God Hall. Wealth God manages people’s properties. The couplet on the gate reads:
Your household will flourish and your career will grow because of the wealth God;
Your country will prosper and your people will benefit because of the wealth God.
Going into the Wealth God Hall, you’ll see five wealth gods. The one in the middle is Marshal Zhao, whose full name is Zhao Gongming. He wears an iron helmet on his head, a whip in one hand and a shoe-shaped gold ingot in another. You can see his black face, bushy beard and his black tiger. Zhao is dressed in the manner of an ancient warrior. He protects fair trade and distributes wealth.
Left of Marshal Zhao is Xiao Sheng, the Treasure-Inducing God, and Cao Bao, the Treasure-Keeping God. Both of them are capable of accumulating wealth; on the sides of the hall are Messenger Chen Jiugong and Fairy Merchant Yao Shaosi. Both of these subordinates to Marshal Zhao deal with business in the human world.
It is said that January 5th of the Lunar Calendar is the day that Wealth Gods come to the earth to inspect people’s trade and bless people, and therefore this hall would be flooded on this day in the Spring Festival.
On your right is the Ci Hang Hall or the Hall of Goddess of Mercy, which is dedicated to the Goddesses of Mercy. Here are three goddesses: in the middle is the Ci Hang Goddess, or according to the Buddhists, Avalokitesvara. If you ever in difficulty, just recite her name, and she will come to your rescue. There’s couplet in front of the Ci Hang Hall, which reads:
In the end, thou shall be rewarded or punished according to thy deed;
Three feet above thy head, the gods sit and keep an eye on thee.
To the left of the Goddess of Mercy is Goddess of the Eye. To the right is the Goddess of the Sea. The Eye Goddess is in charge of people’s vision, so if you have eye problems, you can ask her protection. The Goddess of the Sea, or Mazu, was originally a girl named Lin Moniang from Putian in Fujian province. She started studying Taoism since she was a child, and was granted power when she was 13. Like people who could see or hear things thousands of miles away, Lin could hear the voice of people on the sea when they asked for help. Going from island to island, she helped fishermen in shipwrecks, that’s why she is called the Sea Goddess. In Taoism, there is a particular scripture of her mystagogiclly told by Lao Zi.
The building on your right is the Chapel of Wishes. Coming into the Chapel, you’ll see roof and walls covered by little red plates, on which people wrote their names and wishes. At the front of the Chapel of Wishes, there are three plaques, one dealing with wealth, one with peace and the other, one with academic achievement.
These are exactly what most people ask for: some pray for safety and health; some pray for business prosperity; others pray for great academic achievements. Taoists would recite the scripture every morning and night at the Chapel of Wishes. The Taoist burn the plates at the end of the year and people’s wishes therefore are sent to heaven.
Before going into the grand hall, you can see a plaque on the gate with the name “City God Temple”. This is written by Zhao Puchu, former vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The couplet here, be written by scholar Mo Bingqing of the Qing dynasty, are quite famous. It says:
Be a good person, and hence win mental and physical health;
Do decent things, hence win the respect of the gods.
The couplets here shows the common aspect of Taoism: it teaches people to be decent in simple words and promised them rewards.
The main deity of the grand hall is Jin Shan God Huo Guang, as Shanghai was originally named as Jin Shan, which means Golden Mountain. Huo Guang was a government official and a politician from the Han Dynasty. Huo used to serve Emperor Hanwu the Great. According to the record, when the pirates attacked the Golden Mountain at Shanghai, the Chinese army were able to drive them away under Huo’s protection. The local residents built the Golden Mountain Temple in memory of Huo; when the temple was renamed City God Temple, people still offered sacrifices to Huo, who guards Shanghai as a City God.
In front of Huo’s statue, there are two assistant officials: the one with the white face records the good things people have done and take charge of the good ghosts; the black-faced one records the bad things people have done, taking charge of the bad ghosts.
On each side of the grand hall, there’s a patrol officer: one patrol in the day, the other one at night. There are also four officers on each side of the hall. Two of them take down information and requests; two of them transfer the information; two give the information to the City God; two deal with the response.
The City God of Shanghai takes care of the Shanghai residents and their progenies. His officers will take record of people’s behaviors and then report to the two main officers. White assistant officer keeps records of the good things, while his black comrade keeps records of the bad things. When people die, City God will be involved for the judgment. Those whose beneficences outweigh their sins are sent to heaven to receive all the rewards; those whose evildoings outweigh their kind deeds are dispatched down to hell to be punished.
The plaque hanging in the grand hall is written by former Shanghai Library manager, calligrapher Gu Tinglong. It says“to shepherd the people”, meaning the City God takes charge and teaches the local residents. There are also two couplets in the grand hall. The one on the front was written after 1994, donated by Zhao Zhendong of the Hong Kong Yuen Xuan Institute. It reads:
The gods protect the people and bring harmony and peace to the country;
The gods follows the wise path, deposit sweet rain to the land and save the people.
The couplet inside has been at City God Temple for a long time. It is written in the time of the Republic of China, by the famous Shanghai philanthropist and calligrapher
Wang Zhen. The couplet reads:
If you gather your wealth by exploiting others, your children will devour your wealth;
If you commit adultery, others will do the same to your wife and daughter.
This couplet serves as a paean for the glory of the City God as well as a warn against committing crimes.
The paintings on the walls are the works of famous artist Dai Dunbang. The name is “A Happy Gathering of the Deities.” It has more than 100 Taoist deities in it, including San Qing, the Taoist trinity which is the highest and absolute truth of the universe, and Yu Huang, the Jade Emperor who is the Lord of the world; and Mother Dou Mu, who is the mother of all the stars on the heaven; and Emperors of Sky, Land and Water who are in charge of the daily records of people’s behavior on the earth; and Dragon Kings of the four oceans who in charge of the raining and snow; and God of Wealth; God of War (or Lord Guan); God of Literature (Wen Chang) who in charge of all the academic issues; and Master Zhang the founder of religious Taoism. These Taoist deities are gathering together with delight. It’s a sacred picture. Dai’s painting inherits the tradition of the grand paintings at the Yong Le Palace of the Yuan Dynasty. It has strong lines, rich colors, and the god’s expressions are vivid. Standing in the grand hall with eyes fixed upon the painting, you’ll feel surrounded by the gods in a celestial atmosphere.
Now we are at Yuan Chen Hall, the hall with 60 Taisui Deities, or Deities of Annual Stars. In the traditional Chinese calendar, 60 years is a cycle, so there are 60 Taisui Stars on the sky, meaning there are 60 Taisui Deities in our world, each in charge of a year’s fortune and the fortunes of people who are born in this year. That’s why Taisui Deities is directly related to people’s destiny.
To make it easier for you to find your Tuisui, City God Temple has arranged the 60 Deities according to the 12 animal zodiacs. So if you re an ox, you can first fing the five Taisui Deities marked as ox, and then find your own Taisui Deitie based on the year you were born.
Taisui Deities had their human avatars born to the earth to save people in different dynasties, so the statues here are the figures of all of their avatars in their human names. Some serve their countries; some protect their lands; some are curious and diligent; some are equitable and just. All are role models to people in this world.
During each Spring Festival, people swarm to the City God Temple to visit the Taisui Deities, ask their own Taisui and the Taisui of the year for protection and long life.
Passing the Yuan Chen Hall, we are at the second part of the City God Temple.
- Left to the courtyard is the Hall of the God of War, whose real name is Guan Yunchang, a famous military general in the time of the Three Kingdoms periods 2000 years ago and well known for his loyalty and justice, people regarded him as a good after his death. The hall has got a couplet in front, which says:
The General Guan, with his loyalty and justice, protects the country;
His mighty name is spread for generations on this land.
Right in middle of the hall sits the statue of General Guan. Beside Guan are his adjutant General Zhou Cang and his adopted son Guan Ping. As a general, Guan was loyal to his emperor; as a son, he was obedient to his parents; as a decent man, he was honest to himself; as a leader and a friend, he brought justice to the land. Form the Song Dynasty onwards, Guan was endowed with many titles from the Emperor and became more and more powerful in many different sectors, people nowadays pray to General Guan for their political, business and academic achievements, as well as for curing the ill, driving away evil, killing the traitorous and taking care of the dead.
- On the right of the courtyard stands Wen Chang Hall. In front of the hall there is a couple, explaining to the visitors that Wen Chang Emperor is in charge of the literati. On doing good deeds, the literary man will be rewarded by Wen Chang. Wen Chang Emperor, or Zi Tong Emperor, sits in the middle of the hall; on his sides are his assistants, the Deaf and the Mute, who would never release any secrets about the examination to the people who pray for that.
Wen Chang Emperor is in charge of people’s examination which is directly related with their political career in the past, so the literati and the students all come to him for good luck. Till today, many young students and their parents still pray to Wen Chang Emperor when they are taking exams or accepting interviews.
City God Hall faces the courtyard. In the hall, we have the Shanghai City God Qin Yubo, who was deified in the Ming Dynasty, which is why his statue is dressed in the uniform of Ming Dynasty government officials with a hat and a robe. In front of Qin’s statue, there’s desk which you could usually find in a government in Ming Dynasty, on which lies a brush, an inkstone, an ink bar, an official seal and an arrow of order on top of it. Two assistants stand in front of the desk with files in their hands, ready to tend to the business of the City God.
On both sides of the City God Hall, you can see gongs, lanterns, incense burners, flags and 10 warning signs, which are used in City God’s procession. The gongs, lanterns, incense burners are in the front, clearing out the way for the god; the flags show his position and his glory, six of 10 warning signs, including “Shanghai County Sheriff”, “Xian You Comte” and “Duke patron of the Sea” refer to the City God’s status, while the other four signs, including “Silence” and “Aside” tell passengers to keep silent as well as leave room for the City God’s team entourage.
There are two plaques, along with two pairs of couplets, at the City God Hall.
The plaque in the front, written by the famous calligrapher Pan Jingji, says “prestige in glorious fame”. The couplets say the god can tell right from wrong, good from evil, so that everyone who comes here shall receive proper judgment with no chance of escape.
The plaque and couplets in the back are donated by Ching Chung Taoist Association of Hong Kong. The plaque, written by the famous artist Cheng Shifa, says the City God manages issues in both the world of the living and the world of dead; the couplets, written by calligrapher Cao Qi, say the gods have no bias, so the good people will receive protection. Even if disaster lies in your way, there always remains a chance of steering away from it by performing kind deeds.
City God Qin Yubo was originally from Yangzhou, and then moved to Shanghai. As an imperial Scholar, he used to take government positions in Shandong and Fujian provinces. He loved the people as his own children, so the people loved him back. In his jurisdiction, there was no thief around. Qin resigned from his post at the end of Yuan Dynasty to live in Shanghai. When the first Emperor of Ming Dynasty ascended to the throne, he asked for Qin; however, Qin turned him down several times until the emperor sent a hand-written letter. Qin then took a position in the central government. Favored by the Emperor, he once presided over a national exam. After Qin died, he was entitled the City God of Shanghai County. The Chinese tradition is to confer the title of god to a dead person who has high reputation by serving the public; so many people with accomplishments were deified posthumously. Taoism, a Chinese religion, also has inherited the tradition by the deification of many, an indication of people’s remembrance of their ancestor’s achievements.
City God Hall’s exquisite, peony-patterned shrines are all works of delicate wood sculpture. The resplendant and elegant peony is the national flower of Chine. Taoism as a Chinese religion, uses peony, while Buddhism originally from India, uses lotus as its sign.
Annually February 21st of Lunar Calendar is the nativity of the City God, when the taoists would hold a seven-day ritual to pray for peace and harmony, during which they would provide long-life noodles to the public who attend the ceremony. In the opera stage of the temple, there will be seven days of performance for the gods.
City God Qin Yubo sits in the middle of the City God Hall; on his left is the Hall for Qin’s Lady, a hall dedicated to Qin’s Lady Chu; on his right is the Parents Hall, which is dedicated to Qin’s parents. On March 28th of Lunar Calendar, which is Lady’s birthday, ceremony would be held for “changing the clothes” in which the old clothes of statue would be replaced by the new ones offered to the Lady. People from all over Shanghai would come to congratulate the Lady, singing and dancing in the temple. The shrines of the goddess and parents are also made of wood, with patterns of phoenix, heron and deer on it.