Zhenguo and Shuanglin
Pingyao’s two temples
When Pingyao was inscribed on the UNESCO list as a World Heritage Site, two temples were added to the town itself as being worthy of preservation. On our trip, we visited them both. Here is my account of visiting Zhenguo temple, and also the Shuaglin temple
The more important is the Zhenguo Temple, situated 8 miles north-east of Pingyao. The most important aspect is the central Hall known as the Wanfo hall, or the Hall of the Ten Thousand Buddhas. This is one of the oldest wood structures buildings in China, having been built in 963, in the Five Dynasties period, a chaotic period between the Tang and the Song dynasties.
It is square shaped and has very elaborately eaves which Nancy Steinhardt suggests may have been an attempt to render status to an otherwise insignificant building during a dynasty striving to survive. The date of the hall, 963, is given in a record in the Pingyao prefecture.
Inside the hall is a huge statue of the Buddha accompanied by minor gods. The statues, which are elaborately painted, are said to be contemporary with the hall, that is dating to the tenth century. The ceiling inside the hall is also very elaborate.
The central hall now forms part of an elaborate monastery with courtyards both in front and behind it. In front , the entrance is through the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, originally built in the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), but since rebuilt many times.
The other interesting hall is the Hall of the Kings of Hell, which was built in the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), and which has at its centre a statue of the king of Hell, with two monk-attendants name Ming Gong and Dao Ming. They are outstanding works of the painted sculptures of the Ming Dynasty.
The Shuanglin Temple
The other Temple we visited was the Shuanglin temple, 5 miles south west of Pingyao, which is also inscribed in the World Heritage list.
This claims to be an older foundation in AD 571, but it is survive less well and was substantially rebuilt in the Ming period. Indeed it is said to have suffered substantially during the Cultural Revolution.
Inside the temple are the four Heavenly Kings, but outside there are these four guardian warriors. These were made in the Yuan dynasty ( 1279 – 1368) while the hall itself was repaired during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
It is difficult to assess the importance of the temples outside Pingyao. Would they be worthy of a place in the World Heritage register were it not for the fact that they are near Pingyao?
However the Wanfo Hall in the Zhenguo temple has a paragraph in Nancy Steinhardt’s magisterial survey of Chinese architecture which marks its importance in the development of Chinese timber halls following the destruction of so many during the Tang repression of the Buddhists.
1st January 2015