Yuyuan Garden and some Chinese Beliefs in the afterlife

Written after Yuyuan Garden-

This week we went to the Yuyuan garden near the City God Temple in Old Shanghai. There were several things that I learned that were interesting. First, I’ll mention that the history of the Garden itself was quite gripping. Impressively, the garden was built in the mid 16th century under the late 15th century, making it over 400 years old. There were then a few instances in which severe damages were made to the temple, but by the late 20th century, these damages were fixed and the garden was opened to the public. It was hard to believe how old the temple was as I walked through and saw how in tact many of the structures that supposedly remained untouched were. This was especially the case with the stone sculptures that were staggered around the garden, creating a unique, and beautiful aesthetic. I should mention that the garden has undergone renovations throughout the years. Besides this, I mainly found the background behind the whole area (Temple God City) to be the most interesting part of the trip. Professor Shao told us about how the temple god city was a place closely affiliated with the Chinese underworld and afterlife. At this point, he went into explaining the Chinese beleifs in the afterlife, and this was what caught my attention the most. The underworld, was a possible destination for the dead. Interestingly though, the belief was that the deceased lived a life very similar to the one they did in the real world– this was highlighted by the fact that many Chinese people place material objects at sites and in so doing, give the dead access to those things in the underworld. Jokingly, Professor Shao said that in theory, one could place toy cars on a grave, and thereby give the dead a vehicle- something he would wish to have in the underworld. The main reason this belief was so interesting to me was because it stood out in its definition of the underworld. This place did not serve as a place of punishment or reward as some western conceptions of afterlife spaces do. This is something we have been seeing in Journey to the West through descriptions of the several levels of heaven and other afterlife locations. For example, the Monkey King got invited to a level of heaven as a means to try and stop him from wreaking havoc on earth. This was definitely and interesting, and valuable cultural difference that has stuck with me as an interesting contrast, and I’m sure it will continue to.

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