TEMPLES IN BEIJING
Temples in Beijing include the Temple of Purity, Temple of the Source of Law, and Five Pagoda Temple. Babashan Cemetery (western Beijing) is where many of the Chinese Party leaders are buried.
Confucian Temple (near Yonghe Lamasery) is a peaceful temple. Among its main features are rows of steles in the front that honor scholars and bureaucrats who passed the imperial civil service exam. In the museum are a number of objects including ancient incense burners and musical instruments.
Big Bell Temple (Subway Line 13, Dazhongsi station) is known for it enormous bell and museum with many small bells. The large bell is as tall as a two story house and weighs 50 tons. It is said to be the biggest bell in the world and purportedly can be heard 40 kilometers away. Smaller bells feature extraordinary craftsmanship and detail. At the top of many of the bells is an image of a “pulao”, a dragon-like creature that makes a bloodcurdling shriek when attacked by a whale. The temple is known as Dazhongsi in Chinese.
Dazhong Temple (Subway Line 13, Dazhongsi (Big Bell Temple) Station) is the home of the Ancient Bell Museum (in), which contains a giant Buddhist bell from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.), which is 5.6 meters high and weights 46.6 tons, and over 700 bells of various types made of bronze, iron and jade, from both China and overseas;
Tanzhe Temple (40 kilometers west of central Beijing) is one of the largest temples in the Beijing area. Set amongst rocky hills, the temple is stunning and dates back to the A.D. third century. Location: Tanzhe Mountain, Mentougou District.
Miraculous Vulture Yen Temple (50 kilometers west of Beijing) is a crumbling building in a shallow mountain valley. It was built in 1440 and destroyed by the Japanese in World War II. In the area are some other interesting temples, including Temple of the Pool Mulberry (Tanzhe Si) and the Ordination Terrace Temple (Jietai Si). Tanze Si is said to be older than Beijing and has a shady courtyard with two 30-meter-tall gingko trees known as the Emperor and Empress trees. According to legend Kublai Khan's daughter entered the temple's nunnery in the 13th century. One needs a car to reach these temples.
Yonghe Lamasery (Lama Temple)
Yonghe Lamasery (northeastern Beijing, near Yonghe Gong station, Subway Line 2 and Line 5) is the largest monastery in the city. Built is 1694 and famed for its red walls and and yellow tiled roofs, it contains five buildings, each representing a different style of architecture, including Han, Manchu, Mongol and Tibetan styles. Its principal objects, known as the "three masterpieces of the Yonghe Lamasery," are a 55-foot-high Buddha sculpted out of a sandalwood log, a facade of carved nanmu wood, and a collection of 500 gold, silver and copper artifacts. Yonghe is a functioning monastery. The sincerity and devotion of the monks is a bit of an issue since they have all been approved by the Chinese government.
Yonghe, also called the Lama Temple, is one of the largest Tibetan temples outside of the greater Tibet area The temple is unique as it houses the artworks of both Tibetan and Han nationalities. A center of the Gelupa (Yellow Hat) Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the temple features five large halls and five courtyards with beautifully decorative archways, upturned eaves and carved details. It houses a treasury of Buddhist art, including sculptured images of gods, demons and Buddha, as well as Tibetan-style murals.
Ritual at Baiyun Temple Yonghe is one of the most religiously alive places in Beijing. Belonging of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism, it attracts Buddhists from all sects who pray before images of Buddha in buildings located around a series of courtyards. The halls are full of incense and kowtowing worshipers. There are five main prayer halls and a number of buildings housing bodhisattva statues. In the Pavilion of Eternal Happiness there are images of Buddha having sex. Once used to educate to royal family about sex they are now covered. In the Hall of the Wheel of Law is a golden bronze statue of the founder of the Yellow Hat sect.
Yonghe is technically called The Palace of Peace and Harmony and is better known as the Lama Temple. It is also called Yonghegong Lamasery and the Harmony and Peace Palace Lamasery. Evan Osnos of The New Yorker wrote, “It is a quiet maze of shrines and cypress trees that is popular with Chinese and foreign tourists. The temple’s history is entwined with that of the Dalai Lama, which makes for an awkward balance between celebrating the past and ignoring the present. I once bought a Chinese book from the gift shop on the history of the place. In a hundred and twenty-four the current Dalai Lama — the most famous in history — is mentioned in two sentences.
Location: 2 Yonghegong St, Dongcheng, northern section of the Second Ring Road, near the flyover of Andingmen,
Tel: +86 10 6404 4499; Admission: 25 yuan (US$3.94) per person;
History of Yonghe Lamasery (
Yonghe lamasery was built in 1694 and originally was the residence of the Qing (1644-1911) Emperor Yongzheng before he ascended the throne. Since imperial residences could not revert to secular use according to law, half of it was converted to a lamasery and the other half remained as a temporary palace residence after the Emperor Yongzheng moved into the Forbidden City.
Construction was undertaken during the Qing Dynasty by the Prince Yin Zhen who would later ascend to the title of Emperor in 1722. Under this emperor, the Lama Temple was divided in two: half belonging to the Imperial palace; and half used by Tibetan monks as a monastery. The temple is set in a north to south direction spanning almost 500 meters. Halls and Temples include the Hall of the Heavenly (Devaraja Hall), the Hall of Harmony and Peace, Hall of Everlasting Protection the Hall of the Wheel of the Law and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness’s.
When Emperor Yongzheng died in 1735, his coffin was placed in the temple. Emperor Qianlong, his successor, then upgraded Yonghegong to an imperial palace and its green tiles were thus changed to yellow tiles (yellow was the imperial color of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911)). This is why a temple like Yonghegong had such a high status in imperial times. Not long afterwards, the temporary palace was burned down, and the other half was formally declared a lamasery in 1744, which became a residence for large numbers of monks from Mongolia and Tibet. Yonghegong was opened to the public in 1981;
Wandu Pavilion boasts the world’s largest carving made from a single tree — an 18-meter-high state of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single Tibetan sandalwood tree. The statue took three years to make and is impressive for its size and its detail. It was given as a gift from the seventh Dalai Lama to the Emperor Qianlong.
Dong Yue Temple
Dong Yue Temple (north of Jianguomenwai Dajie, Subway Line 2 and Line 6, Chaoyangmen subway station, Exit A) was originally built in the 14th century. It is the home of the Beijing Folklore Museum. The Taoist Departments of Death shows the lurid and ghostly chambers that await evildoers after they die. The chambers feature detailed and memorable statues of monks, spirits and demons. Location: 141 Chaoyangmen Outer Street, Chaoyang, Tel: +861065510151 8:30 am - 4:30pm, closes Monday
Dong Yue Temple was once the most important temple in northern China. Originally built in the 13th and 14th century and reopened in March 1999 after a long restoration, it was neglected after the fall of last emperor in 1911 and used by the Communist for government offices, schools and dormitories. During the Cultural Revolution Red Guards ransacked it and destroyed thousands of images of Taoist gods that once graced the temple's shrines and linking courtyards.
Within the temple are 76 office-like shrines (known as "departments" or "halls"), each containing sculptures of gods and spirits that can help people with particular ailments or problems. Among the rooms are the Department for the Promotion of 15 Kinds of Decent Lifestyles, Department of Timely Retribution, Department of Suppressing Schemes, Department of Flying Birds and the Department of Wandering Ghosts. Some have bedrooms and food for the gods.
The temple was rebuilt with the intention of being a tourist sight rather than a place of worship. There are no resident monks. No Taoist liturgies are performed. Even so the grounds are often filled with Chinese who recite prayers and leave offerings for their favorite gods. The temple is particularly crowded around Chinese New Year, when people watch stilt walkers, dragon dancers and kung fu masters and pay $1 for red wooden charms which they hang on at the shrines
Worth checking out are the 800-year-old trees; massive stone tablets with inscriptions by emperors and famous calligraphers (the oldest dating to A.D. 1329) and a lovely stone courtyard with ancient statutes of turtles, mules and lions, some of which are 600 years old. The interlocking courtyards, some separated by gates, house shrines dedicated to individual or groups of gods, all represented by statues with vaguely human forms.
The temple is dedicated to Dong Yue, a god who resides in the sacred mountain of Taishan in Shandong province. In a shrine in the central corridor is 20-foot-tall seated statue of Dong Yue made from gold-leaf covered mud. The alter in front of the statue is usually filled with fruit and flower offerings and crowded by incense-burning Chinese.
Dong Yue's bedroom is housed in a building shaped like Chinese character "gong," behind the main hall. On the red, blue and gold ceiling is an inspiring original mural of a dragon and phoenix. There are also three wooden statues representing the sky, earth and water, which were discovered in the countryside and brought to Beijing. Dozens of small departments and halls (shrines) are clustered around the main Dong Yue shrine. The northernmost courtyard contains the Beijing Folk Art Museum, which has an interesting collection of traditional toys.
Baiyun (White Cloud) Temple
Baiyun Guan Temple (west of Tiananmen Square, Subway Line 2, Fuchengmen Station, Exit A, then take a bus) is the largest and only functioning Taoist temple in Beijing. Known in English as White Cloud Temple, it was ravaged in the Cultural Revolution and allowed to reopen in 1982. About 30 monks live here. They belong to the formalized Quen Zhen order of Taoism. They wear blue cotton jackets and white spats. They are not allowed to eat meat or cut their long hair which is tied up in elaborate topknots.
Each hall is dedicated to a different deity, with the hall of the gods of wealth being the busiest. The eastern and western halls contain collection of Taoist relics, including paintings of the horrors of hell, where sinners are sawn in half and meet other punishments. In a western courtyard is a shrine with twelve deities, each dedicated to a sign of the zodiac. Some of the features unique to Taoist temples are the three gates at the entrance — symbolizing the three states of Taoism: desire, substance and emptiness.
Before you enter the temple load up with long incenses stick to light at the different altars you visit. Many of worshipers light incense and make deep kowtows. Make sure also to buy some coins and try to strike the temple bell inside a pit. Hitting the bell supposed to bring good luck. Rubbing the belly of the three-meter-high bronze statue of deity Wen Cheng is said to bring good luck for those taking exams. Finding the three monkeys relief sculptures placed around the temple and lighting incense in front of them is also supposed to bring luck. Getting There: Take Subway Line 2 to Fuchengmen Station and get out at Northwest Exit A, then take Bus No. 80 to Baiyunguan Station; or Take Subway Line 5 toDongdanStation and take a transfer to Subway Line 1 to Muxidi Station, get out at Southeast Exit C1 and then walk to Baiyunguan.
Baiyun Temple: A Reflection of Religiosity in Beijing?
Describing the changes at Baiyun Temple, between the 1980s and today, Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: “ Looking for Chinese religion one autumn afternoon, I rode my bike for an hour down to the White Cloud Temple, the national center of China’s indigenous religion, Taoism. This religion coalesced in the second century out of folk religious beliefs and the teachings of philosophers like Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu. The White Cloud Temple dates from the 13th century and is the headquarters of the national Taoist association. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, May 1, 2017]
“The temple was beautiful but seemed inconsequential. Its main axis of five halls to various deities had been mostly untouched by the Cultural Revolution, and the incense and the old trees gave it a timeless feel. But it was empty of worshipers. The halls and courtyards felt like those token places of worship in Communist countries that were more like museums than functioning centers of a living religion. Surrounded by Communist-era housing and a belching power plant, the temple was much like the Temple of the Sun, a relic of a bygone era.
“But over the past decade or so, Chinese have been searching for meaning in their lives. After decades of adopting foreign ideologies like fascism, communism and neo-liberalism, they wonder what remains of their culture. Temples like White Cloud and belief systems like Taoism are part of this search for answers.
“And so, cleverly, the government has invested heavily in religions like Taoism (as well as Buddhism and folk religion, but less so in Christianity or Islam). The White Cloud Temple is trying to reclaim some of China’s traditional medical heritage by opening a clinic in a newly refurbished wing of the temple. The state also built a new Taoist academy to train priests. Slowly, a Taoist revival has spread across China.
“You can sense this by walking through the temple. The admission fee of $6.50 does keep out many people, but the temple is still filled with priests heading off to classes or preparing for ceremonies. And on either side of the main axis are two new strings of courtyards with temples to various gods.
“For fun, but also to see the sorts of Taoist-related products that people buy for their homes nowadays, it’s well worth visiting the temple’s main gift shop. Inside the main gate is one filled with unusual products like wall clocks decorated with the eight trigrams and the swirling Tai-chi symbol, as well as scepters, swords and even Taoist robes if you want to go back home dressed like an immortal. It also sells stone rubbings of some of the temple’s steles, including strange representations of the human bodies showing the energy channels, or meridians, of Chinese medicine.
Temple of the Sun
Temple of the Sun (in Ritan Park) was abandoned in 1911. Also known as the Rital Temple, it contained an altar built in 1530 during the late Ming Dynasty, around the same time as the Temple of Heaven, for use in ritual sacrifice to the sun by the Emperor of China. The original Altar of the sun was a rectangular white-stone dais covered with red glaze, and 4 stairways (North, East, South and West) with 9 steps measuring 18.3 yards in width and length, and 7 feet in height. The temple had been destroyed and restored to reopen in 1556 to the public. Upon entering the premises, the emperors would pass through the Heavenly West Gate and along the Sacred Way that led to the sun altar.
The area surrounding the Ritan temple is now a public park, and the site features extensive gardens and a small lake. On the opposite side of Beijing, to the west, is the Temple of the Moon, located in Fuchengmen. The Shen Ku and Shen Chu is the place where the tablets of the temple were found.
Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: ““For most of my time in Beijing, I have always lived within walking distance of the Temple of the Sun. A 50-acre park in the Jianguomenwai diplomatic district, the temple was built in 1530, one of four shrines where the emperor worshiped key heavenly bodies. The others are dedicated to the moon, the earth and heaven. The Temple of Heaven is easily the most famous, but the Temple of the Sun reveals more because it is less of a showpiece. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, May 1, 2017]
“Like virtually every landmark in Beijing, the temple was badly damaged during the Cultural Revolution. This was a period of radical Communist violence from 1966 to 1976, when every place of worship and many symbols of the past were attacked. The main stone altar, a flat disk about 20 feet across and raised about two feet off the ground, was smashed by Mao’s zealots. Later, the park became a dumping ground for rubble when the city’s walls were torn down.”
Fayuan Temple (Subway Line 4 or Line 7, Caishikou Station, Exit D) is located in the southwest quarter of central Beijing and is one of the city's oldest and most renowned Buddhist temples. Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: Fayuan Temple (Dharma Origin) in Beijing was first completed in the late seventh century during the Tang. Over the last thousand plus years, the temple was destroyed by warfare, fire, and even an earthquake. Thus it has had to be rebuilt many times, and most of its surviving buildings date to the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]
Worshipers enter through the main gate. The side buildings are of secondary importance. They include halls to patron saints, halls to remember loved ones and temple offices. The next layer out is made up of buildings used by monks and nuns rather than lay people. There are dormitories, study halls, and dining halls for those who live in the temple. /=\
The main gate is also called the mountain gate. Looking inside we see an incense burner set before the first central building and a pair of lions guarding the door, which are common to many kinds of buildings in China, not just Buddhist temples. Passing through the gate we glance to our right and left and see the drum and bell towers respectively. As the name implies, the drum tower houses a large drum and the bell tower, a bell. /=\
The central buildings are ones of primary importance. They house the shrines to Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other deities as well as scriptures and holy relics. The characters over the door in the he first central building tell us it is the hall of the Divine Kings, the guardians of this temple. These temple buildings are good examples of traditional Chinese architecture. Even today there are attempts to incorporate elements of traditional Chinese architecture into new temple buildings. /=\
The main altar in the Main Hall is on the left side as you enter. A gilded Buddha statue almost four meters tall stands in the center, flanked by two other figures. In front of them are a ceremonial incense burner, candles, a vase of flowers, and plates with offerings of fruit. Further back in the temple compound we find the building that houses the Buddhist scriptures. /=\
Image Sources: 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4) Beifan.com; 5) tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6) Mongabey.com; 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia; 10) Julie Chao photo site.
Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), UNESCO, Rough Guide for Beijing, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in May 2020