Macau Chinese Temples

Macau Chinese TemplesAround the islands are more then 40 Macau Chinese Temples which are classified as suburban temples rather than distinctive in style. This system of temples is hardly seen in the Mainland China, and neither in Hong Kong nor Taiwan.

Macau Chinese Temples in Western Paintings and Photography

Besides the records of Matteu Ricci, a number of western painters also came to China and included the A-Ma Temple into their works. The A-Ma Temple was also photographed by French photographers and become one of three earliest photographic scenes of China after the invention of photography.

Among the western painters who come to China were Auguste Borget (1808-1877), William Princep (1794-1874), George Chinnery (1744-1852), Edward Hildebrandt (1818-1869) and etc. .

macau festival chinese new yearIn the summer of 1844, five years after the invention of photography, Frenchman Jules Itier (1802-1877) came to Macau as one of the entourage of the delegation of Mr. Lagrene. Itier participated in the negotiation of the Treaty of Huang Pu Between China and France. One of his photos was the door of A-Ma Temple. When the film of silver version was developed at that time, its reverse side was put on the front.

A-Ma Temple became one of the earliest scenes that were photographed in China after the invention of photography.

Temple Gods and Worship

macau templeThe nearly forty temples in Macao are typically mixed in terms of worship. To some extend, these temples belong to suburban temples. For example, the ancient temple of Buddha called “Chan Yuan”, have images other than the Buddha.

In the Lotus Temple, beside the images of Buddha such as Kun lam, God of Earth and Waits, there also are images of Taoism such as Tin Hau and Kwan Tai; the images of folk gods such as God of Land, Lord of Door, Personages and Eminent Horses, Empress of Kam Fa (Golden Flowers) and Lord of Dou Mu; even the images of ancient times of China such as Emperor of Shen Nong, Cang Jie and Zu Song.

Usually the Macau Chinese Temples get the gods of Buddhism, gods of Taoism and the folk gods all together.

Taking the temple of Kun lam for another example, besides the Buddha of Three Generations, Kun lam, God of Earth, Buddha of Maitreya, Eighteen Arhats, Weito and King of Hell, it is also dedicated to Empress and Kwan tai. On its back mountain, there is an image of folk god called “Immortal of Bones” which is hard to find in any books.

macau festival chinese new year

The worshippers’ behaviours in the Macau Chinese Temples are also peculiar. Most people offer incenses and recite Buddhist sutras. Others offer sacrifices and fire paper candles.

There is some suburban temple music collected in the Chinese Ancient Music Office. They were performed for the occasion when the ancient emperors offered sacrifices to Heaven, Earth or ancestors. In fact, during ancient times there were various sacrificial activities circulated among the people in honour of Heaven, Earth, Gods, Ghosts or even men.

macau festival chinese new year

Later, along with the development of the history, the emergence of religions and the differences among various conventions, the sacrificial activities in honour of Heaven, Earth, Gods, Ghost or ancestors took on multiple looks.

The sacrificial activity in honour of men has gradually changed to be part of social activity, by offering sacrifices to eminent figures of Chinese nations instead of ancestors of a clan or a family, though this social activity has developed continuously until today.

The so-called suburban culture refers to all the cultures associated with sacrificial activities. It is a spiritual belief.

The places where people offer sacrifices, process religious services, worship and commemorate are material conditions of suburban cultures, namely the relative Buddhist temples, Taoist abbeys, ancestral temples, former residences, precipices, grottos, sacrificial houses, mausoleums and tombs. (Buddhist Temples of China, Tian Jin People’s Publishing House, 1994 edition by Wu Yingcai and Guo Junjie)

macau templeThe nearly forty existent temples o Macao have formed a system accumulated over a long period since the middle age of the Ming Dynasty. The number of the temples has never been reduced and the cultural relics from the Ming Dynasty are well kept in the temples.

The system of suburban Macau Chinese Temples originated mainly from Lingnan and central plains, and was influenced a great deal by central plains.

It is said in the Annals of Zhongyi Village of Foshang: “The people of Yue respect ghosts.” This custom has a deep influence in Macao.

The gods worshipped in the Macau temples have two origins: one refers to the gods from central plains such as the Buddhist gods, Taoist gods and gods of ancient times; the other refers to the folk gods from Lingnan.

The worship of Kam Fa (Golden Flowers) which can be seen everywhere in Macao came from Lingnan. The worship of Empress of Golden Flowers originated from Guangzhou. It is said that the Empress, regarded as protective god of children, can protect the normal childbirth, but also bless their peaceful growth.

In the late Qing Dynasty, the temple of Golden Flower had a large number of worshippers and more than eighty images of Empress of Golden Flower were worshipped in the temple. The phenomenon aroused the interest of the folklorist and historian Gu Jiagang and other persons, and then they made a special visit to the temple to study more about it.

macau templeAt the present there are more than ten temple where Empress of golden flowers are worshipped, including temple of Lin Fung, Temple of Tai Soi, Temple of Yi Ling, Temple of immortal Lu Zu, Temple of Lin Kai, Ancient Temple of Kun Lam, Ancestral Temple of Fok Tak in Horta e Mitra, Temple of Golden Flowers of Coloane (also called Temple of Three Divinities) and etc. Among these temples, the temple of Lin Kai and the Temple of Tai Soi are the largest scale.

There are 15 images of Kam Fa (Empress of Golden Flowers) respectively worshipped in the Temple of Lin Kai and the Temple of Tai Soi. These images are in different poses: some take babies in their arms, some wave fans and some feed babies at the breast, showing their secular aspects. Though the temple is not as large as the Temple of Golden Flowers of Henan Village of Guangzhou in scale, it keeps the folk customs.

The worshipped of the God of water Tam Kung in the Temple of Tam Kung of Coloane and the Temple of San Seng (Three Divinities) of Ka Ho came from the folk worship of the Mountain of Nine Dragons of Huizhou of Guangdong; the Dragon Mother of Yuecheng worshipped in the Temple of Nu Wa of the Ruins of church of Sao Paul, originated from the main Goddess-Dragon Mother of Yuecheng of the Temple of Dragon Mother located I Deqing of Guangdong, which has a wide influence in the region of Delta of Pearl River.

The images worshipped in some Macau temples come from Lingnan, which shows deep influences of Lingnan culture in Macao. Macao lies to Lingnan and most residents of Macao have origins of Guangdong, so it is convenient for Lingnan to spread its beliefs since it has got the advantages of favourable climatic, geographical and human conditions.

The culture of central plains is deeply planted in Macao. Through the Macau temples are heavily influenced by the folk customs of Lingnan, they originated from central plains. The cultural system of central plains is deeply rooted and firmly planted. It has a distant origin and long development. Its great and profound influences can be seen in the Macau Chinese Temples.

The main strain of the system of folk worship of Macao mainly inherits from central plains. As we know, all the images that own a large number of worshippers of Macao such as Kun lam, Tin Hau, Kwan Tai, Pak Tai, Buddha, Lord of Earth, Tai Soi and Lu Zu, originated from central plains. At the same time, the gods of ancient times of central plains such as Nu Wa, Yan Di, Ju Song, Cong Jie, Yi Ling, Mother of Earth and the folk immortals such as Lord in charge of wealth, Hua Guang, Ancestral Master Lu Ban and others, have also exerted great influences on the beliefs of the Chinese of Macao.

Today, worshippers will gather in the temples on every anniversary of Buddha, Kun lam or relative gods. Traditional cultural worship in Macao has deep-roots.

The city of Macao was set up in the Ming Dynasty and more than half of the Macau Chinese Temples were built during the Qing Dynasty. The inflow of the beliefs of central plains and of Lingnan, their settlement and prosperity were associated more or less with the policies of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. For example, the government of the Ming and Qing Dynasties deliberately popularized and advocated images by administrative means and conferred titles to the images, which were favourable to the moralities among the people.

(Excertps from: Macau Temples by Chan, Lei and Chendra published by IACM SAR 2002)

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