Proximity is a poor motivational factor when it comes to visiting a new place: that which lies closest to us often escapes our efforts, perhaps because we take its availability for granted. The Wen Miao (上海文庙) or Confucian temple of Shanghai is a complex I have been meaning to explore since moving to the city three years ago but somehow never got my act together. This autumn the combined enthusiasm of Dutch friends visiting China and my sense of playing host to them finally made a trip transpire.
The current complex was built in 1855 and is located within the south-west quadrant of the old Chinese City, but the original temple of the Yuan dynasty predates the founding of the city and was completed in 1296. The structures standing today were mostly restored in the 1990s following widespread damages during the turbulent Taiping Rebellion (in which the temple served as a headquarters for the Small Swords Society) and later the Cultural Revolution. The simple yet exact layout of its network of halls, pagodas, courtyards, and ponds offers a tranquil counterpoint to the congestion of the old city. In some parts, the only object disturbing the peaceful interior horizons is the new Shanghai Tower of Pudong, creeping past the temple’s intricately tiled rooflines. Trees beside the main Da Cheng hall have tokens of hope tied to their branches by past visitors from as far afield as France, America, South Korea and Malaysia.