It’s a great time to get out and explore some of Qingdao’s dynamic history and cultural relics. Check out some information on Qingdao’s temples both in town and out in Laoshan.
Lying next to the green oasis of Zhongshan Park, Qingdao’s Zhanshan Temple (zhan shan si/湛山寺) makes for a great peaceful retreat from the buzz of downtown. Zhanshan Temple is China’s youngest temple constructed within the Tiantai (天台宗) sect of Buddhism (China’s oldest homegrown sect of Buddhism). Construction of the main hall, several traditional style temples and the 7-tiered tower began in 1933 and was not finished until 1945. Recently, the cranes and power tools have reincarnated and several new temples and a large ostentatious bell-tower have popped up within the premises over the last years.
Located near the entrance are a pair of stone lions dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In the early 20th century, supposedly some Germans constructing the Jiaoji Railway looted them from a wealthy landowner’s home in modern day Qingzhou (just west of Qingdao) and brought them to Qingdao. After the German colonial era they were donated to Zhanshan Temple, greatly damaged during the Cultural Revolution, and restored in the 1980’s. Grab some incense and enter through the south gate on Zhiquan Lu for a free peak of the main tower and a lotus pond containing a large Bodhisattva sculpture. If you want to get inside the temple complex it will cost you 10元, and it’s open 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.
Most locals might tell you to head to other cities if you’re looking for historical relics and traditional architecture, as the area that is Qingdao’s present downtown was a small, insignificant fishing village before the German occupation.
Still, Qingdao covers 10,654 sq. km and that’s plenty of space to size up China’s extensive 5,000 years of civilization, as there are quite a few areas in Laoshan of historical import. One of these is Chaohai Temple, which commemorates the landing of the explorer monk Faxian (法显) at Shazikou (near Laoshan) in 399 AD. Faxian was one of the earliest Chinese monks to travel to the Indian subcontinent in search of original Buddhist scriptures (more than 200 years before Xuanzang made his similar journey that was later immortalized in the epic story ‘Journey to the West’) and his stories of life in the kingdoms following the teachings of Siddhartha Gautma survive today as one of the oldest Chinese travelogues.
Faxian and his crew, aiming to dock in modern day Guangdong, were caught in a storm and somehow ended up at Shazikou. They stayed in the area for almost half a year before moving on to the capital of the area, Qingzhou, to translate his new scriptures. Chaohai Temple was subsequently erected near the spot where Faxian landed and is one of three Buddhist temples found in the Laoshan area.
Other Laoshan area temples of historical interest are Fahai and Huayan. In 1980, a farmer tending his fields on the northwestern edge of Laoshan near Fahai Temple (法海寺) unearthed pieces of a Buddhist sculpture dating back to the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589 AD). Given that famine and war was rampant in the north during this period, Buddhism actually became much more popular and widely accepted around the Yellow River Delta (including the Shandong Peninsula) before later moving south during the Tang and Song Dynasties. Finally, on the eastern side of Laoshan is Huayan Temple (华严寺), where there’s a large statue of the Bodhisattva Guanyin and several temples, but to get there you face the 100元 entrance fee for the Laoshan Scenic Park.
One of Qingdao’s most visited temples is Tai Qing Gong (太清宫) in the southern part of Laoshan near the Yellow Sea. Tai Qing Gong is a Taoist temple and receives many individual tourists and tour groups all year round. View some photos of Tai Qing Gong.