On Thursday I took the opportunity to visit the City God Temple in the center of Xi’an. This temple is exemplary in a few different ways. The temple’s architecture and organization are unique and beautiful, it portrays an incredible amalgamation of Daoism, Confucianism, and local religion, as well as, most importantly, the temple is still in use by many of the locals. Visiting the temple was quite an invaluable and rewarding experience.
The temple is extremely hard to miss as it stands as an enormous red and gold monument to the past, its archways jutting into the street and looming over passerby. The passage into the temple is crowded with various street vendors, the majority of whom sell incense and prayer papers, which are more expensive at their usage points further into the temple. Due to such market activity, the entrance is loud and boisterous, goods from produce to children’s toys being hawked and bartered. This is why it is even more startling to enter the silence of the temple proper. In Confucian style, the temple is bisected into two courtyards, the first of which, in earlier days, would be for guests and visitors, and the second for family, or in the case of a temple, the clergy. The guest courtyard is dominated by a large pool full of koi, surrounded by tables where monks in robes and old men played Chinese chess and loudly debated ideas.
Once you walk over the divide into the second, private courtyard of the temple, the ambiance changes once again. Here, two rooms lie on either side of the courtyard, and a large building rests at the back. The smell of incense fills the air. There were no other tourists. Instead, a few locals walked past, placing incense in the burner and entering the large building gin the back to pay their respect to the gods within. The side rooms each contained three statues to local gods, their interiors ornately painted. Entering the main building at the rear placed you in the middle of five gargantuan statues, forefront of which was the City God of Xi’an, wise, robed and gilded. As is common in Daoism, the philosophy had fused itself with the local religion, becoming a Daoist temple to the city’s local gods.
This temple is an awe and wonder inspiring feat of architecture; the style and beliefs it holds are a beautiful blending of Confucian, Daoist, and local beliefs. It was a privilege to be given the opportunity to visit such a spectacle.