Nanjing Nioushoushan Culture Park

One of the most extraordinary places I ever visited was a Buddhist “VIP temple” outside Nanjing in eastern China. I was only allowed to enter it because I was a photographer on assignment for the company that had designed the lighting for the temple.

A driver took me and my Chinese contact to the site of the “Nanjing Niushoushan Culture Park”, which was still under construction. At the top of the hill centrally located in the park, we entered a huge dome-shaped structure with two attendants dressed in military overalls.

They led us to the main temple, which would be opened to a wider public in the future. It was huge and rather kitschy. I took my documentation-photos.

A private lift then took us six floors down into the mountain. We walked through guarded labyrinthine underground corridors, at the end of which a heavy steel door opened electronically controlled. The sight of the luxurious temple room almost left me speechless. The room was not particularly large, but nevertheless, I suddenly felt very small.

Hesitantly, I said that this room would probably only be open to a few very rich and famous people. My Chinese companion replied, “Money and fame do not open these doors. This place is only for the most powerful in Chinese society”. The temple was built by the Chinese government for high-ranking politicians and military personnel. He told me that no even anyone from the planning and design office - including himself - has been allowed to visit the space itself. They all had planned the space on their computers and only knew it from these simulations. This space was strictly not for public eyes, it was “only for the upper 0.001%”, he added. “You are probably the only white person ever to visit this space”, he quipped. I was not sure if he was joking.

I was allowed to take some quick photos, and I even could convince a guard to pose in front of the central altar. After a few short minutes, we were rushed out again. The steel doors closed behind us with a solid click. We were led back to the lift.

It was already night outside.

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