Pagodas, Prayers, and Pointy Arches

 It’s impossible to go through southern rural China without running into temples and shrines. While Mao may have taken down the temples in major cities throughout China during the Cultural Revolution, it’s clear that his work never fully extended to the Hakka villages of Fujian Province. Ancestor worship is alive and well, mixed in with an amorphous blend of Buddhism and Taoism. If you bike along the roads, you’ll find little shrines …


… and joss paper furnaces …


… and pagodas (sometimes with shrines underneath or nearby):


Many of the houses have Taoist detailing (look just under the roof peak):


Our tulou had this small shrine in one of the downstairs rooms:


All of tulous once had ancestral halls inside, some of which are still standing. You can also find larger ancestral temples across the countryside, such as this one (the hillside in the background is red from firecracker paper left over from Chinese New Year):



We found great artwork there, including lions and tigers (no bears):


This ancestral temple has been in one family for twenty-seven generations. And when a family member passed the Imperial examination (a major feat) in one of the long-ago dynasties, the community erected a tall stick in tribute:

img_0175On our last day, we made a four-hour-long journey to Quanzhou, an old port city once called the start of the “Maritime Silk Road.” It is notable for having a lot of cultural and religious mixing, unusual for a country that was pretty homogeneous for millenia. We visited Quingjin Mosque, which dates back a thousand years:



The boys were not as interested in the religious sites as they were in cycling and teaching, but some of them tried …


The original mosque is no longer in operation (nor does it have a roof); eventually, it moved into a temple space:


From looking at the building — which is, in its form, identical to every Chinese Buddhist temple I’ve seen — it’s amazing to think that this once functioned as a mosque.


Now the Muslims of Quanzhou worship in a brand new building that’s much more readily identifiable as a mosque:


We then went to Kaiyuan Temple, a sprawling complex that houses an enormous Buddhist temple.




It’s a very traditional Buddhist temple in most ways  But it also has unexpected bas reliefs of Hindu deities…


… and of a sphinx (a figure not otherwise known in this part of Asia):


The temple complex also includes a Shipwreck Museum, where you can see the remains of a thousand-year-old junk that would have traded over vast areas.  While this kind of mixing is par for the course in modern-day Singapore, it was interesting to see a part of the world in which there are still so many remnants of blending that happened so long ago.


We visited a Song Dynasty pontoon bridge in Quanzhou — a remarkable feat of engineering:



There’s an island somewhere near the middle of the bridge, and it once housed an important temple.  It still has many religious features, including this contemporary incense burner …


… and this tower (which may or may not be religious — it looks like a stupa, but I’m not sure)…


… these guardians who watch over the island …


.. and these rocks, which we learned were sacred only after the boys finished climbing all over them:



The last temple we strolled by that day was a riot of color and gold:


I’ll always be fascinated by the many ways in which religion is made manifest.

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