29 April 2015

The White Cloud Taoist Temple, Shanghai

In the summer of 2006 I spent a lot of time working and travelling in Asia. After several weeks in Beijing I went to Shanghai, where I spent a month working on an exhibition at Shanghai Museum, then travelling on to Taipei in Taiwan, and to Tokyo in Japan, before heading back home, via Shanghai once again. In that first month-long stay I did a lot of exploring on foot and consequently I got to know Shanghai very well. I’ve since been back on a number of occasions, each time getting to know the city better. It’s definitely one of my most favourite cities in the world. I have many magical memories of travelling in China. I hope it’s not too long before I get a chance to go back at some point.

Recently, while leafing through a short diary I kept of that summer stay in Shanghai, I found a brief account of a visit I made to the White Cloud Temple (白雲觀 Baiyun Guan), a Taoist temple, the construction of which dates back to the late 19th century. The presence of Taoism in Shanghai itself though dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1386 AD). The temple stands not far from the Huangpu River, located in the area of the original Chinese walled city, which predated the ‘International Settlement’ that grew up around it from the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

This is what I wrote at the time:

Shanghai. June 15th 2006.

Today was a day of Temple wandering on my own. The White Cloud Taoist Temple, the Old Confucian Temple, and the Peach Garden Mosque. The weather was hot and humid, a thick white pall obscuring the opposite bank of Pudong from the Bund. Surprised at the White Cloud Temple, as not piped music but rather a man playing a stringed instrument (a Zheng?). Two ladies there taught me how to make a proper prayer, guiding me simply by gestures and encouraging me to follow their lead, praying and bowing three times to the four directions with a wad of burning joss sticks held, pressed between my hands in front of my forehead, which I then left smoking away in a kind of covered metal font filled with other burning incense sticks. 

After I left, walking back along the road to Renmin Lu, I was passed by a man slow-cycling on a tricycle-trailer. The back was loaded with a couple of boxes of water melons and standing behind him was a small boy, maybe his son, of around two years old. The child looked around slowly and catching sight of me, he broke into a bright-eyed smile and waved. I waved back and he smiled even more. An old lady pulling a trolley of goods and a young boy standing at the side of the road all smiled to see this. The small boy continued to look back and wave as I walked, waving back. I watched as eventually the tricycle pedalled across Renmin Lu and disappeared into the Shikumen lanes across the road, the small boy still smiling and waving at me until we were both out of each other’s sight.

All photos and both short films were taken by me in June 2006

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