One of the largest Buddhist temples in Shanghai, Zhenru Temple‘s history dates back to the Southern Song Dynasty.
Though nothing actually survives from that era, the main Mahavira Hall was rebuilt in 1320, making it the oldest surviving Yuan Dynasty timber frame building south of the Yangtze. Granted, all that remains from that time are the timber pillars themselves (ten of sixteen to be exact), some archways and a crossbeam engraved with twenty-six characters engraved with the date of installation. The rest has been rebuilt or added over the years, with the overall look taking direction from the gray tile, white walls, gable and hip roofs and single eaves topped with dragon figurines of this original building.
Graceful and elegant throughout, it’s a working temple with saffron-robed monks going about their business and a steady flow of locals coming to pray and burn incense. Covering a total area of 13,000 square meters, it is made up of four progressive courtyards divided by a 200-meter long stele corridor leading to the main hall, gatehouse and the surrounding gardens.
Of particular note is the 50-meter high, nine-story pagoda which echoes its counterpart further south in the better known Longhua Temple—it’s worth the climb to the top for the great views across Shanghai and the Oriental Pearl Tower.
Inside, the Avalokitesvara Hall houses an impressive Guanyin carved from a single piece of white marble that stands at 5.2-meters tall and weighs in at 35-tonnes. Guanyin also makes an appearance in the Liuhe Gardens in the form of the ancient Guanyin Tree. This Gingko (also known as a Maidenhair tree), was planted in the Yuan Dynasty, its trunk long since blackened from lightning strikes. An oak has grown up within the hollowed trunk on which there is a cicatrice thought to resemble Guanyin. The surrounding Liuhe Gardens are a peaceful enclave of tranquil pools, zigzag bridges, rockeries and greenery whose arrangement, along with the name Liuhe, represent harmony and satisfaction.
A bit further flung than Shanghai’s other big Buddhist temples, Zhunru Temple is equally more relaxed and a visit to can be combined with other nearby attractions such as the vibrant Tongchuan Lu Seafood Market, Changfeng Park or Changfeng Ocean Park Aquarium.