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    Young Chinese Embrace Temple Visits to Evade Life’s Pressures

    Online travel platforms are seeing a surge in bookings to religious sites from young people seeking a “heart-cleansing experience.”

    They played frisbee. They got on board the glamping bandwagon. They visited amusement parks.

    Now, many young Chinese have found a new way to unwind from the daily grind: religious sites.

    As domestic tourism gradually recovers following the easing of pandemic restrictions, scenic Buddhist and Taoist temples across China have seen a surge of young people seeking a temporary escape from personal or professional worries. Data from online travel platform in late February showed that bookings for temple visits have more than tripled year-on-year, with young people accounting for half of those orders.

    “In between asking myself for help and asking others for help, I choose to ask the Buddha for help,” a media analyst surnamed Luo told Sixth Tone, citing a popular line on the internet.

    The 25-year-old from Shenzhen said she has visited six temples so far this year. She added that going to temples allowed her to relax after working 10 hours in the office every day.

    On Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, searches for temple visits have surged by 580% this year, according to Ocean Engine, an online marketing service provider. On lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, there have been over 820,000 posts by templegoers sharing anything from traveling tips to worshiping etiquette and deeming the tour “a heart-cleansing experience.”

    The Lama Temple, a Buddhist worship site in Beijing, witnessed a daily average of over 40,000 visitors last week, according to domestic media reports. The capital’s Wofo Temple has also gone viral, mostly due to its similar pronunciation to the word “offer,” as students and young professionals flock to pray for school admissions and career advancements, respectively.

    In the eastern province of Zhejiang, images posted online earlier this month showed tourists lining up to enter the Lingyin Temple early in the morning and later crowding the souvenir shop to buy consecrated bead bracelets that represent safety and happiness. The popularity of the religious product has lured many vendors, who purchase the bracelets for their clients while livestreaming from the temple.

    Song Yuqian, a public affairs commentator, wrote in a media commentary that many young people may be visiting religious sites due to social media fads and growing anxiety. While a 2021 report on mental health revealed people between the ages of 16 and 34 had the highest level of anxiety, a survey conducted on professionals last June showed 85% of the respondents faced a certain degree of pressure at work.

    “Paying a visit to a temple opens a new window for people to rest and temporarily escape from the stress, as the mystical forces from those deities satisfy young people with a sense of certainty and thereby give them the possibility to heal from mental exhaustion,” Song said. “The process of worshiping Buddha is not only creating a dialogue with the unknown, it’s also creating one with their own selves and finding solace in exploration.”

    But some experts studying religion have brushed off young people’s growing interest, with one saying that the lack of faith might make the entire practice illusory.

    “They don’t value the rituals themselves, nor do they necessarily subscribe to Taoist beliefs,” Zhu Yiwen, a researcher at the Shanghai Center for Studies of Religion and Culture, wrote in a Sixth Tone commentary. “Rather, they simply hope to hand over some money and recite some sutras in exchange for the promise of better luck.”

    However, Luo said that she would be happy to spend a few months living in a temple for a more authentic religious experience, but she hasn’t been able to find time for it in her schedule.

    “It doesn’t matter that much whether those prayers come true or not,” Luo said. “What matters more is when I feel as simple and sincere as I wish to be when I’m worshiping.”

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: A young man burns incense and prays at a temple in Ding’an, Hainan province, Nov. 25, 2022. VCG)