In the village surrounding the Temple adjacent to Yu Garden in Shangai, it is like walking through an American Chinatown in China, a fabricated simulation of itself. But a few uniquely genuine elements remain: the praying at the center of the Temple square. The participants dip their incense into fire, white smoke and fragrance billowing in the air, and proceed to conduct their silent prayers. With cameras clicking (including my own), it is a tourist haven, but something pure and simple remains.
Contemporary culture may have invaded Shanghai long ago, with its high fashion, luxury condos, and sprawling shopping malls, but here at the Temple, the faces turn serious and inward, the gestures are deliberate, and the situation is timeless. As though viewing the ancient scrolls, the inhabitants could be villagers from long ago seeking solace at the Temple.
In a nation of contradictions and political confusion, one thing is certain, this ritual practice is a binding force that anchors the culture.