EXTRA: Xuankong Temple, Datong, Shanxi

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on January 12, 2015.)

The halls cling to the cliff (岩) at Xuankong Temple (悬空寺), Datong, Shanxi (山西, 大同市).

August 23, 2012 - The next day took me far from Datong--about 60 kilometers to the south. I had two goals, and this time I'll talk about the first.

As the bus rolled down the highway, I began to notice unusual structures in the distance: towers of compacted earth, sometimes with earthen walls running near them. My guidebook told me that these were remnants of "The Great Wall" (which is actually a matrix of many walls, not just one single structure).

As we climbed into a narrow pass and I reached my destination, it all started to make sense: Xuankong Si, the "Hanging Temple," had in fact provided solace to troops guarding the Wall for centuries.

Started over 1500 years ago, and refurbished several times since, the temple is a marvel of ancient engineering. Its 40 tiny rooms cling to the side of a cliff over 50 meters above the floor of a gorge. One theory is that it was built at that height to avoid floods; I suspect it had more to do with exuberance than practicality.

Aside from its elevation, the temple makes other use of the terrain. It is built under a rock overhang, which has protected it from excessive weather for hundreds of years.

Another key point about the Hanging Temple is that it is one of the oldest sites in China to incorporate veneration of figures from all three of China's traditional belief systems: Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

A word on the visitors' sign summed it all up: the Chinese word zhuangguan, meaning "grand or magnificent sight," is there labeled "Spectacularity." Indeed!

GPS Info:
  • 39.6582, 113.71229


(Regarding problems with this map, please see the CHINA section on this page.)


More pictures can be found here.

A view of Xuankong Temple's "spectacularity" from across the gorge

A closer view of the temple

The temple with a number of guests (reminds me of an ant farm!)

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