Nanshan Temple stands as a fascinating monument to the crosscurrents flowing through contemporary Chinese society—currents that to many an outsider may appear contradictory while feeling perfectly natural to many a Chinese citizen.
A massive Buddhist temple complex completed in 1998—just a generation or so from the Cultural Revolution and its tragic vogue for smashing up ancient religious sites—Nanshan Temple was built explicitly as a tourist draw. This fact, however, hasn’t stopped it from becoming the site of authentic Buddhist pilgrimage and worship (to be fair, the site, at the foot of Nanshan—South Mountain—has been a holy site for many centuries).
The result is the kind of fake authenticity—or authentic fakeness, if you prefer—that in so many ways defines the "real China," a hybrid society grappling with diverse ancient traditions, the Communist party-forged "harmonious" present and an optimism about the future that includes Beijing's plan to make Hainan Island a world-class resort destination on par with Hawaii or Bali.
If you want to know what this vision looks like, Nanshan Temple is a great place for a day trip. You'll see an offshore copper statue of the Bodhisattva of Mercy, Guanyin, that stands taller than the Statue of Liberty, replica Ming-era architecture, beautifully maintained tropical gardens overlooking the South China Sea, and an opulent 3.8-meter tall Golden Jade Guanyin statue covered in gold, silver, diamonds and gems—key indicators that Buddhism, capitalism, communism and tourism do all coexist quite harmoniously in this particular corner of China, if not nationwide.
One element of unquestionable authenticity is the vegetarian Buddhist food available at the temple, well worth sampling, especially if you've been gorging on nothing but Sanya seafood banquets for a few days prior. Just 40km from central Sanya, the 66-acre site requires the better part of a day for a satisfying visit.
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