Like anywhere in China, Fuzhou is home to many spectacular temples. There is nothing quite like the feeling of wandering the grounds of a temple, being an observer to the lives of the monks. Absorbing their humming prayers that, if you open yourself to them, will vibrate through you and fill you with an awareness of your own emotions. The place I have felt most spiritually aware is at Qishan Wanfo Buddhist Temple. You will not find this temple listed on any ‘Top 10 Things to do in Fuzhou’ list. I only became aware of the existence of this temple because of a local friend who drove me out to it. The address for anyone who is curious; Minhou, Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China, this is the best I can find online. Its near an area known as University City due to its countless universities.
Upon arrival you are greeted by the familiar gates that are the entrance way to all temples in China. I am used to seeing miraculous stone dragons guarding these gate, but Qishan Wanfo temple is guarded by beautifully carved elephants. Passing these gates you come to a more unfamiliar representation of a elephant, surrounded by water. This is a carved rock that houses many Buddhist statues taking their place on the more familiar stone dragons. This is the most unique example of Buddhist carvings I’ve had the opportunity to witness thus far.
Following the path around the water you come to some steps, the center of which you find displayed a magnificently detailed stone carving of a dragon that climbs the full height of the stairs. Reaching the top gives way to the first collection of many styles of Buddhas and Monks, statues which animate with such expression you can feel a life to them. You could spend so much time taking in the art form that are these statues. Studying the expressions, admiring the carvings, feeling the curve and shape of each one individually. But it is hard to ignore the first temple building that is standing splendidly straight ahead.
This is the first moment I become slightly uncomfortable taking pictures. There are monks lighting incense and in prayer, this is their home, their place of worship. It is a privilege to be granted permission so see such a humble way of existence, and so to show respect I take no photos inside the temple. I do not have the ability with words to describe to you the beauty and tranquility you feel upon entering this temple. This first temple is home to the four main Gods I believe. The light that enters this temple is illuminated by the gold that fills the room with warmth. Your head arches back to take in the grand scale of the statues that although do not meet your eye line, seems to penetrate their stare right through you.
To exit you go through an open door frame that starts maybe a foot above ground level, I hold the sides to step through avoiding embarrassment by tripping. Immediately my fingers caress the details of wooden carvings that span the length of the walls, these pictures are China’s history. I close my eyes for a while and follow the carvings, listening to the wind and trying to give color and life to the story in my minds eye. But I am with company who reminds me there is much more still to see.
Qishan Wanfo Temple covers a large ground. There is a courtyard feel as you move from one temple house to another. Small stone bridges cross water that is surrounded by greenery. You pass many types of statues that I’m told are representations of the Gods various children. I wish I was writing this alongside my friend who’s knowledge of Qishan Wanfo both impresses and fascinates me.
We come to a temple now which vibrates as with a singular sound, echoed by many. The monks are in prayer and giving offerings to their Gods. We do not stay long although I feel I could stay all day quite content. You can’t help but feel like an intruder when observing life quite outside your own knowledge and experience. It is quite humbling to see but also highlights the ignorance I have for the culture I’ve decided to surround myself with. I shamefully cannot remember the names of the Gods my friend so passionately tried to educate me on.
The next temple awaits. I have never seen such an illuminating sight. Numerous gold Buddha statues line three walls. The scale of the statues is quite breathtaking. Upon their chests sits what many would recognize as the Nazi Swastika, an old symbol used throughout the world that traditionally has been a sign to mean good fortune. There are tables laid out with many simple offerings to the Gods, water, fruit, flowers. I mistakenly point to the Buddha’s chest when asking my friend if she knows the history of the symbol laid on their chest. She tells me this is something you cannot do and silently refuses to let go of my arm until we leave for the final temple.
It is at this temple that for the first time I am not immediately drawn to the statues. The room is filled with chrysanthemums, I am reminded of the aesthetics of Curse of the Golden Flower. I forget where I am for a moment and prepare to take a photograph. My friend silently protests by again linking my arm and holding it firmly to my waist. I am worried that one day I shall forget this moment. The visual beauty and the warmth it fills me with.
When it comes time to leave the temple we walk back through the grounds as the sun starts to settle on the first collection of statues we met on the elephant rock. I look down to the water that is filled with turtles and frogs of an unimaginable size. The air is starting to chill but I feel a light holding warmth to my chest. I think of the temples I will visit in the future as I continue my travels. So far Qishan Wanfo has had the most impact on me emotionally, ignoring its splendor and beauty. Being there at the time of the monks in prayer is incredibly moving. I am not someone who has a deep connection to religion, but I also cannot ignore the other worldly feeling you experience in a moment like this. I hope the memory of those chrysanthemums never fade.