EXTRA: Zhihua Temple, Beijing

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on May 13, 2013.)

Roof brackets inside one of the dilapidated halls (殿) of
Zhihua Temple (智化寺) in the alleys (胡同) of Beijing (北京)
July 15, 2011 - Because my flight out of Beijing was late in the day, I had a little extra time on my hands and decided to spend it viewing a curiosity.

Zhihua Temple lies hidden in the famous hutongs (alleyways) of Beijing, in the eastern-lying Dongcheng District area of the city. There are several unique attributes of this Ming-period temple, the most notable of which is that has been blatantly sacked by collectors. The central panels of the decorated ceiling in one hall were sold by the monks to the Nelson Museum of Kansas City, Kansas, back in the 1930s; and a number of the main statues are missing.

But what remains is splendid indeed. Though refurbished before the 2008 Olympics, it is notably un-shiny; the restorers used a light touch and left as much of the original surface showing as possible. It remains one of the outstanding examples of wooden architecture in the ancient city.

One treasure is the revolving cabinet designed to hold scriptures; a beautiful statue of Vairocana, the "Great Sun Buddha," sits atop the case in its own hall.

Another, more ephemeral, treasure is the temple orchestra. Zhihua Temple music was nearly a lost art, until a corps of octogenarian monks began teaching it to younger people in the 1990s. Today, as during my visit, live performances can be heard virtually any day the temple is open.

There are other treasures here. A museum, and the 10,000 Buddhas Hall at the rear, add just the right touch to this small, exquisite temple.

GPS Info:
  • 39.91729, 116.43230



Inside view of the front gate at Zhihua Temple, Beijing
Detail of a poster about the offerings of ancient Zhihua Temple music
Detail of the ancient wooden brackets (postcard above)
The 10,000 Buddhas Hall at the rear of the temple

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