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Chinese Temple Facts and Rituals

By Marco Mendoza |

Learn all you need to know in order to be a respectful visitor of a Chinese temple and discover other ways of seeing the world

DINKtravelers, your world travel guide, values multiculturalism and diversity. That’s why we’ve shared with you the etiquette rules you need to visit other countries. For example, we’ve written about what you need to do when you visit a Hindu temple or the gestures you should avoid making in some countries. Also, we’ve talked about the proper way to use chopsticks. Today, we’ll share with you some of the different characteristics Chinese temples and shrines have and how to behave in them.

Chinese shrines are not affiliated to only one religion. Actually in some of their shrines you will find a harmonious mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. These doctrines or beliefs are the most common in China, although half of the country’s population considers itself atheist or agnostic. Here you’ll learn all you need to know before visiting a Chinese temple so that you enjoy an unforgettable experience.

Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism

Buddhism is the religion that follows the teachings of the Buddha. According to its beliefs, people’s aim is to reach Nirvana through meditation. Taoism is considered a doctrine not a religion, and it’s the most ancient you can find in China. On the other hand, Confucianism consists on a series of behavior rules that define what the Chinese define as the right way of being. Said rules were preached by its founder, Confucius.

Types of Chinese Temples

Given the great diversity of beliefs that exist in China, there is not only one single architectural model to define what a temple should look like. Each religion or doctrine has a different model. Also, several of these temples harbor elements from the different beliefs so that visitors from all beliefs feel welcome. What’s more, these sacred places can be found both in faraway places amidst nature and in the heart of a modern city.

In general, there are three common types of temples. Most of them open year round from dawn to dusk, so you’ll be able to plan your visit at different times of the day. Both women and men are welcome in most temples. Still, ask before going inside.

Chinese Temple

What to Do Before Entering a Chinese Temple

In order to visit a temple, follow the ways of the Chinese. Avoid wearing short skirts or short pants because they’re considered to be provocative. Make sure they reach below the knee. Cover your shoulders with mid-length sleeves or long-sleeve shirts. And take into account that the Chinese follow the concepts of peace and harmony before going inside sacred grounds.

Entering a Temple

If you find the doors closed, don’t try to go inside. This means that at that moment, only the men and women who work at the temple are allowed inside. Later, once they open, remember that visitors must enter through the southern gate and leave through the northern gate. Step inside with your left foot first. Then, when you prepare to leave, step outside with your right foot first. Take off your hat or cap, sunglasses and headphones. Also, turn off all your electronic devices and once inside, speak in a low voice.

What to Do Inside a Chinese Temple

The sculptures you’ll find inside are beautiful and they’re mostly bathed in gold so they’re usually very attractive, but don’t touch them or point at them. If you find a monk praying in one of the rooms, remain standing to show respect. If they’re not praying but you walk by them, you can greet them respectfully by bringing the palms of your hands together in praying position and by making a small reverence. If you are a woman, don’t touch the monks, especially in Buddhist temples. If you do so, the monk will be forced to fast and perform a cleansing ritual.

You’ll find inside are beautiful and they’re mostly bathed in gold so they’re usually very attractive.

Donations for the monks

Inside the temple you’ll find a box for donations. Although you don’t usually have to pay to visit a temple, a 1-dollar donation is usually expected. Otherwise, you can leave a donation in species. In that sense, you mustn’t eat or bring food inside the temple unless the food is for donation. Just remember that Buddhists don’t eat meat so don’t bring any foods that might be inadequate for them.

Participate in Incense Rituals

If you want, you can participate in the incense burning ritual. Purchase a bundle of incense just outside the temple. Then, light it inside and hold it with both hands while praying. After you finish, place the stick in the incense holders and leave it there.

Participate in Incense Rituals

Where are Chinese Temples Located?

Taoists temples are usually located far away from the city because they’re meant to be places of worship amidst nature. They’re perfect to find the spiritual balance between the yin and the yang.

Buddhist temples are frequently built on mountains. Usually, they’re also decorated with huge sculptures of the Buddha. Most of them measure 20 to 30 meters in height. However, the world’s tallest Buddha sculpture is 120 meters tall.

Finally, Confucianism doesn’t have any temples honoring a specific deity, so rather than temples it has shrines where people can participate in prayer and meditation.

The Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai (Buddhist)

The World’s most Famous Chinese and Buddhist Temples

DINKtravelers, your world travel guide, recommends visiting the Temple of Confucius in Shandong (Confucian), the Temple of Heaven in Beijing (Taoist) and the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai (Buddhist). They are all beautiful representations of the culture, beliefs and ways of the Chinese people.

Temple of Heaven in Beijing (Taoist)

Remember that not all Chinese temples are found in China. You’ll also find many in Singapore, a country with a huge Chinese population and Taiwan. This is because Taoism and Confucianism both became very popular in these other countries.

Confucius Shrine in Nagasaki

Although their beliefs are different, Japan also houses a shrine dedicated to Confucius in the city of Nagasaki. It’s located next to the Museum of China, so it’s the perfect place to learn about both cultures which may be very different but have learned to live in harmony.

Confucius Shrine in Nagasaki