No. 28: Jinshan Jiangtian Temple, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on July 23, 2012.)

The monk Fahai (法海) seated in his own cave. Fahai is said to have discovered gold on
Jinshan in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu (江苏, 镇江市) where Jiangtian Temple (金山江天寺) is located.
July 23, 2010 - After my visit to Linggu Temple in Nanjing, I returned to my hotel, picked up my bags, and took a train to Zhenjiang where, after checking into yet another hotel, I took a taxi to Jinshan Temple (also called Jiangtian Temple).

"Jinshan" means literally "Gold Mountain." While this is a common enough metaphorical designation in China, here it is meant literally, as it is said gold was once discovered on the small riverside mountain where the temple is located.

While the temple dates back to the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420 CE), its second common name was given by Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (reigned 1661-1722). During a visit, the Emperor wrote the characters "Jiang Tian Chan Si"--"River-Heaven-Chan (Zen)-Temple" or perhaps "The Zen Temple between the River and the Sky"--in fine calligraphy.

The temple is impressive, virtually blanketing the small hill on which it is located with its halls, courtyards, and pavilions. It is also home to several great legends.

The historical monk Fahai lived in the temple during the Tang Dynasty. It had fallen into ruin, and he used the gold he found in a cave to restore it. By all accounts, he was a virtuous monk who contributed greatly to the culture.

But Chinese people know him better from "The Legend of the White Snake." Originally this was a horror story in which a demon in the form of a white snake took on a human form and enthralled a young scholar. In that version, Fahai saved the young scholar from the snake.

But as time passed, the story evolved until it was a true love story, and Fahai became the "evil monk" who separated the lovers because their relationship violated the rule that humans and monsters (or even fairies) could not be together. Many Chinese know Jinshan Temple because of its connection to Fahai.

If you happen to be in Zhenjiang (between Nanjing and Shanghai), spend a half-day climbing the steps at this beautiful temple. Arrive early, though: I got there at 3pm, and I was being shooed out by 4!

GPS Info:
  • 32.215143, 119.416167



Buildings cover most of the hill at Jinshan Temple
People burn incense in front of the temple's main gate
Cishou Pagoda at Jinshan Temple
The interior of monk Fahai's cave
A close-up of Cishou Pagoda from the terrace above
View of "river and sky" from the top of the temple

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