As an active LDS member who is learning Chinese (and now Japanese), I was excited to hear the news of an LDS temple coming to Shanghai (上海)during the last session of this weekend’s General Conference. Multiple people who know I’m learning Chinese messaged me with excitement that a temple is coming to Shanghai, China. I couldn’t believe it. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (耶稣基督后期圣徒教会) is building a temple in Shanghai, China? The People’s Republic of China? We don’t even have missionaries there outside of Hong Kong and last I checked (earlier this year), that country was not very welcoming to religion. I was really excited (我很激动了).
Upon actually listening to what President Russell M. Nelson said in the announcement, it made more sense what was actually happening. The Hong Kong China Temple (中国香港聖殿) is undergoing construction and the church has reached an agreement with the People’s Republic of China for a building to be used and dedicated in Shanghai for the members to use while the Hong Kong temple gets renovated. Below are President Nelson’s words:
“Context for the plan for Shanghai is very important. For more than two decades, temple worthy members in the People’s Republic of China have attended the Hong Kong China Temple. But in July 2019 that temple was closed for a long-planned and much-needed renovation. In Shanghai, a modest multi-purpose meeting place will provide a way for Chinese members to continue to participate in ordinances of the temple in the People’s Republic of China for them and their ancestors.
“In every country, this church teaches its members to honor, obey, and sustain the law. We teach the importance of the family; of being good parents and exemplary citizens. Because we respect the laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China, the church does not send proselyting missionaries there. Nor will we do so now. Expatriate and Chinese congregations will continue to meet separately. The church’s legal station status there remains unchanged. In an initial phase of facility use, entry will be by appointment only. The Shanghai Temple will not be a temple for tourists from other countries.”
The Shanghai Temple won’t be a regular temple. It will be more like the Endowment House that was built on Temple Square as a temporary temple until the Salt Lake Temple could be built. It will serve as a dedicated building that only Mainland Chinese (大陆人)members will be able to use while the Hong Kong Temple is under renovation. It’s also unclear if the Shanghai Temple will remain open after the Hong Kong Temple completes its renovation.
As President Nelson said, context is super important here. This does not mean that the People’s Republic of China is about to allow proselyting missionaries or that freedom of religion is expanding. I’m sure that the PRC will monitor activity in the building closely and that the building itself will not look like anything out of the ordinary. Just to emphasize this: This does not mean that the LDS church is getting a regular temple in Shanghai in the near future.
A lot of members who heard this news have indicated to me that this is a sign that missionaries are soon to come to Mainland China. As if the Shanghai Temple will be a regular temple and that Mainland China has flipped the switch on freedom of religion. They need to bear in mind the context that President Nelson outlined.
That all said, this is still exciting news for the LDS church. The reason why is because it shows that the church has as good of a relationship with the People’s Republic of China as any other church. If not better. To even get this makeshift temple agreement in and of itself is a big deal. Sometimes you take the wins where you can get them, and this is a win that the church should be very happy about.
As an extension of that, while it doesn’t mean missionaries are coming to Mainland China in the near future, it’s still a sign of progress for the reasons I mentioned above. If the PRC didn’t trust the church at all, they wouldn’t have allowed this. Clearly, there is a mutual level of trust and respect between the PRC and the church that is allowing this to happen. That’s very good. It should also be noted that the church does have missionaries in Hong Kong, which is technically a part of the PRC. The fact that missionaries have been allowed to stay in Hong Kong despite the transfer of power from the UK to the PRC is really good news for the church and the future of missionary work in Mainland China.
Does an LDS temple coming to Shanghai mean missionaries are soon to follow? The answer is no, but it does give hope that they will come to China sometime in the future. When that will be is anyone’s guess.
Note: The photo I used for this article is the new logo for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, unveiled during this weekend’s General Conference.