As a coastal region, Shenzhen has several temples honoring Tianhou, the Chinese goddess of the sea. The goddess temple in Chiwan, Shekou, is the most splendid of them all.
According to historical records, Chiwan Goddess Temple is one of only three goddess temples named by Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) emperors among the 3,900 temples dedicated to the goddess throughout China.
The other two are in Tianjin and Quanzhou in Fujian Province, both important ports since ancient times.
Locals started building the Chiwan temple during the early Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It was later developed and expanded over the Ming and Qing dynasties, with support from the emperors.
The temple’s prime was during the Ming and Qing dynasties, when it served as an important link between China and Southeast Asia. All ambassador delegations going to Southeast Asia had to worship at the temple before setting sail.
Legend has it that Tianhou saved the famous Ming Dynasty navigator Zheng He during one of his voyages. Upon his return, Zheng lobbied the emperor to expand the temple into the biggestTianhou temple in Guangdong.
Most parts of the temple were destroyed, however, in the 1950s when the navy turned it into barracks.
The temple was rebuilt in 1992 and reopened in 1995, but only the walls and the ﬂoors are original.
Although the temple is no longer as prosperous as it once was, it remains the largest goddess temple in Guangdong and is famed throughout Chinese communities in Hong Kong, Macao and Southeast Asia, where Tianhou is more commonly known as Matsu. A tree planted by Zheng’s right-hand man, Zhang Yuan, still stands in the temple. Locals call it the “Celestial Tree,” and those experiencing difficulties or challenges can help ease their worries by writing messages on red cards and tying them to its branches.
Inside the 24-meter by 16-meter main building, an impressive statue of Tianhou is ﬂanked by alarge conical stand made up of numerous small lights. Businesses and homeowners buy the lights in hope that they will shine good fortune on them.
A well in front of the main building is also said to have magical powers. A notice nearby states that the water contains a lot of microelements and is good for people’s health. At the back of the temple complex a large statue of Tianhou stands between two ponds, the Moon Pond and the Sun Pond — so called because of their shapes. The statue faces a drum tower, bell tower and the entrance to the inner courtyard.
The two weeks leading up to Tianhou’s birthday, which falls on the 23rd day of the third month of the Chinese lunar calendar, is the temple’s busy period and an ideal time to visit.
Add: 6 Chiwan Road, Nanshan District ( 南山区赤湾六路 )
Hours: 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Buses: 226, 355 (Tian Hou Gong stop 天后宫站 )