A Shenist temple or Chinese folk temple is a place for worshiping the variety of indigenous Chinese shen (deities, saints, ancestors and supernatural beings) from Chinese folk religion (Shenism) and Chinese mythology.
They can be distinguished into miao (庙), called "joss houses", "deity houses" or simply "temples" in English, and ci (祠), called "ancestral halls" or simply "temples" in English. Both the terms actually mean "temple" in Chinese, and they've been used interchangeably many times. However miao is the general Chinese term for "temple" understood as "place of worship", and can be used for places of worship of any religion. In Chinese folk religion it is mostly associated with temples which enshrine nature gods and patron gods. Instead ci is the specific term for temples enshrining ancestry gods, human beings apotheosized as gods.
"Joss" is a corrupted version of the Portuguese word for "god", deus. "Joss house" was in common use in English in western North America during frontier times, when joss houses were a common feature of Chinatowns. The name "joss house" describes the environment of worship. Joss sticks, a kind of incense, are burned inside and outside of the house.
Shenist temples are distinct from Taoist temples (观 guan or 道观 daoguan) and Buddhist monasteries (寺 si) in that they are established and administered by local communities; few or no priests stay in folk temples. Shenist temples are usually small, very colourful, and decorated with traditional figures on their roofs (dragons and deities), although some evolve into significant structures. Other terms associated to templar structures of Shenism and other religions in China are 宫 gong ("palace"), often used for large temples (even if mostly Taoist) built by imperial officials, and 院 yuan, a general term for "sanctuary", "shrine".
As they are not large established institutions, many Shenist temples in mainland China were damaged or closed in the Cultural Revolution period, although many are being restored since then. They can also be found in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Mazu (also named Tin Hau or A-ma) is one of the most popular deities in South China, Caishen is more and more popular among rich upper-class mainlanders, Huangdi is worshipped as the supreme divine ancestor of Chinese civilization.
- Examples of family patriarchs temples networks
- Examples of deities temples networks