Explore Guangzhou | 5 ancient temples

Guangzhou (广州) is a city known for trade and business. In the outskirts of the city, the seaport of Huangpu (黄埔) was the first maritime link between China and the rest of the world.

Travellers tend to forget that behind the skyscrapers of Zhujiang New Town (珠江新城), there are a few temples that are worth a visit.

Carved dragon in the Hualin Temple, Guangzhou

Carved dragon in the Hualin Temple, Guangzhou

Hualin temple 华林寺

According to a Chinese legend, the famous Indian Buddhist monk Boddhidharma set up an altar to preach Buddhism in the early 5th century. The Hualin temple (华林寺), was built on the same spot in 1655, at the beginning of the Ming dynasty.

The temple is divided into three main halls articulated around a courtyard. The most impressive of these halls is the ‘Arhat halls’ (‘arhat’ are the Buddhist equivalent of ‘saints’). Originally, there were 500 arhat statues, but they were all destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
All the statues were replaced during the reconstruction of the hall in 1990s. On the ceiling of Arhat hall, paintings of the life of Buddha can still be seen, but they are in bad shape.

Hualin Temple (华林寺) is situated in the heart of Xiguan (西关), one of Guangzhou‘s oldest neighborhood and next to a vibrant jade market you may want to pay a visit to on you way.

How to get there : take subway line 1 to Changshou Road (长寿路) and make your way to the temple through Guangzhou‘s old streets.

Hualin Temple, Guangzhou

Maitreya and the Arhat, Hualin Temple, Guangzhou

Renwei temple 仁威寺

The construction of the Renwei temple (仁威寺) started during the Song dynasty, more than 900 years ago. Expanded two times, once during the Ming dynasty and once during the Qing dynasty. The elaborated stone-carved miniature scenes, the layout of the buildings and the shape of the roofs and eaves make of this Taoist temple a good example of the Lingnan (岭南) architecture, which stems from Shawan (沙湾古镇), an ancient village south of Guangzhou.

While the three halls on the front side are dedicated to the deities of the Taoist pantheon, in the back, there is a hall with white and red wooden plates commemorating locals’ deceased family members.

Since the temple is situated next to Pantang village (泮塘村),  one of Guangzhou‘svillage in the middle of the city‘, there is always  a fair amount of people burning incense sticks and joss paper in the giant incense burners in front of the temple.

How to get there :  Take subway line 5 to Zhongshanba station (中山八). You can either cross the village of Pantang (you will see a paifang) on the south side Zhongshan Eight Road (中山八路), or walk along Zhongshan Eight Road and turn into Pantang Road. The temple will be on your right, by the pond.

Renwei Temple, Guangzhou

Guangxiao temple 光孝寺

Guangxiao temple (光孝寺) is another Buddhist temple larger than Hualin and articulated around small gardens.
From the Tang dynasty, this Zen Buddhist temple (禅寺) was a center for the learning of Buddha’s teaching. It is only during the Ming dynasty that it took its current shape and name. ‘Guangxiao’ means ‘Honorable Filial Piety’.

There are two pagodas within the temple. The Yifa pagoda (瘗发塔), literally, the “Buried Hair Pagoda” where some hair of Huike (慧可), the second patriarch of Chinese Buddhism is buried.  The second, the Dongxi Irong Pagoda (东西铁塔) which is China’s oldest and larges iron pagoda.

There is a 5 RMB entrance fee. The square in front of the temple is usually filled with disable people and beggars who are just too happy to see foreigners. East of the temples, shops sell the must-have Buddhist paraphernalia from sutras on DVD, statues of Buddhas wrapped in plastic, incense stick, joss paper and talismans.

Keep walking east in the narrow streets. From a distance you will see the pagoda of another temple, the Liurong or ‘Six Banyan trees Buddhist temple’ (六榕寺).

How to get there : the entrance of the temple is one block north of Ximenkou (西门口) subway station, line 3, at the end of Guangxiao Road (光孝路).

The Yifa paogda, Guangxiao Temple, Guangzhou

The Yifa paogda, Guangxiao Temple, Guangzhou

Dafo temple 大佛寺

Located in the heart of residential area and surrounded by high-rises, the Dafo Temple (大佛寺) had been a Buddhist temple since the Five Dynasties (907-960). Expanded during the Ming dynasty, it burned down at the beginning of the Qing dynasty. Reborn from its ashes, it became one of the most important Buddhist temple in Guangzhou along with Hualin, Guangxiao and the Liurong temples.

During the Cultural Revolution, all the monks were expelled and the temple destroyed. It was rebuilt after the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping allowed for more religious freedom and three tall gold Buddha statues throne in the main hall.

How to get there : The Dafo temple is located on Huifu East Road, 惠福东路, a few blocks south of Gongyuan Qian (公园前) subway station (interchange for line 2 and 3), or a couple of blocks north of Beijing Road subway station (北京路) on line 6.

Buddhas statues in Dafo temple, Guangzhou

Buddhas statues in Dafo temple, Guangzhou

Hall of the Five Goat-riding Immortals 五羊仙观

It sounds like a funny name, but the Hall of the Five Goat-riding Immortals (五羊仙观) has a direct link with the legendary foundation of the city. Here is the short version of the story : Once upon a time, five immortals riding goats appeared in this region of what is now Guangzhou and they taught local people the basics of agriculture and organised society. The five goat-riding immortals thus ccivilisedmankind in this part of China. After they disappeared, the indigenous people revered the immortals as ancestors.

Since every city has a nickname, Guangzhou became the Goat City (羊城). Many springs later, Guangzhou is a thriving megalopolis on the shores of the Pearl River.

No religious ceremonies are performed, but there is a quiet Chinese style garden lined with banyan trees and ponds that offer a nice break from the city’s madness. No goats to be seen.

How to get there : The entrance is near the corner of Huifu West Road 惠福西路 and Mishi Road 米市路, just a few blocks south of Ximen Kou (西门口) subway station (line 3).

Entrance of the Wuyang Xian Hall, Guangzhou

Entrance of the Wuyang Xian Hall, Guangzhou