Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sanitized Religion


A short walk away from the Lu Xun Museum is the White Dagoba Temple or Bai Ta Si.

From a distance it looks impressive, with its stupa, a large bulbous white structure towering over the hutongs below.

The admission was 20RMB, and compared to the Lu Xun Museum which was only 5RMB, the Bai Ta Si was disappointing.

Like the Lama Temple, there wasn't much explanation of this Buddhist temple and its four halls. A long covered hallway along one side of the property expounded on how thanks to Zhou Enlai, this Tibetan structure was saved and it is one of the major cultural relics of the city, near Tiananmen Square.

Some of the staff are devout Buddhists. One had been kneeling to a Buddha statue before we came in and she quickly took her seat to monitor us instead. Others were eager to make an extra yuan or two. The rest of the alcoves were used to sell things, from Buddhist prayer beads to paintings and garish-looking carvings. There's a bronze bell in one of the courtyards and if you wanted to strike it, that's 6RMB please.

The temple itself hardly looked ancient. The interiors of the hallways had all gotten relatively new paint jobs, and some statues had the gold leaf treatment recently too. Meanwhile, the hall holding 10,000 Buddhas was dark and musty, with dehumidifiers trying to keep these relics from decaying.

So as the Chinese constitution says there is freedom of religion, more people are taking up other faiths as their belief in Communism fades. My friend told me that even former president Jiang Zemin has been spotted visiting a Buddhist temple near her friend's home.

Perhaps he's covering all bases to ensure his place in the afterlife, one way or another.

1 comment:

ks said...

communists are atheists. but china has been so ingrained with buddhism it is impossible to wipe out a tradition in a matter of decades. actually china is quite tolerant to all other religions. compare the spanish inquistion you will be astounded.