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Jingan Temple in Shanghai

Jingan Temple is a Buddist temple in Shanghai. According to wikipedia it was first built in 247 AD in the Wu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China. It was relocated to its current site in 1216 during the Song Dynasty, and renovated, with a new Pagoda, in 2010.”

Why do Chinese people burn incense?

I have asked many people and get a different answer each time. I asked two monks who live at the same temple. The first told me that the incense represents “impermanence”. The second said, that it is simply a tradition.

Many, if not most, families in China, and other SE Asian countries, practice ancestor worship. They maintain a small shrine with remembrances of family members who have passed. They offer gifts and burn incense to stay connected. I used to think that the incense was used to get the attention of their ancestors. But, this website says that the incense is used to purify the area of worship.

Since the burning incense goes back more than 5000 years, my current theory is that the incense gives authenticity to religious ceremonies. What do you think?

If you want to learn more about the Chinese attitudes toward the afterlife, check out: “Peony in Love” by Lisa See. The book describes the journey through the afterlife of a woman who died quite young.


Here is how the conversation would go in Mandarin.

Audio Chinese Pinyin English
为什么中国人在庙里烧香?!Wèishéme zhōngguó rén zài miào lǐ shāoxiāng? why do chinese people burn incense in temples?
因为它可以帮助他们与祖先联系Yīnwèi tā kěyǐ bāngzhù tāmen yú zǔxiān liánxìBecause it helps them connect with their ancestors.


Chinese Pinyin English
中国人zhōngguó rénChinese
烧香shāoxiāngburn incense
The feature photo was downloaded from, it was taken by 螺钉Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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