Located in the Chaoyangmen district of the Dongcheng District, northwest of Jinbaojie Street, Zhihua Temple is a Ming dynasty Buddhist temple in Beijing. The complex is located on the Lumicang hutong, within the Second Ring Road, west of the Yabaolu area. If you’re interested in history and Buddhism, this is a must-see destination.
The building contains several important Buddhist scriptures and statues of the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, one of the four chief gods in Buddhism. Its 4.7-meter-wide Hall of Zhihua features an intricately patterned ceiling and a three-meter-high fresco of Emperor Zhengtong. During my visit to the complex, Yang Zhiguo gave me an extensive tour of the temple and explained the Buddhist history and cultural background.
During the visit, we were able to hear several performances of this ancient music. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the music and the instruments. The group of musicians at Zhihua Temple, led by octogenarian Buddhist monk Zhang Benxing, is one of the most talented in the world. These musicians are in the 27th generation, and they are trained strictly by the temple.
The Temple’s shanmen, or gate, is a series of single archways, seven-ten meters in diameter. Inside, a bronze drum, weighing over a tonne, was cast in 1444 and has a height of 1.05 meters. It has a single-eaved xieshan style roof. The tower is located outside of the Zhihua Gate, which contains the bell.
Wang Zhen was the chief protocol officer during the Ming dynasty and built the temple in 1443. It later became a public property, and was subsequently built by an octogenarian monk, Zhang Benxing. He is the only surviving member of the 26th generation of musicians. The group was originally a private temple, but was converted to a temple during the Cultural Revolution.
The Zhihua Temple Ensemble has toured Europe several times and has been regarded as a “living fossil” of ancient Chinese music. The ensemble is composed of the heirs of the 26th generation of this Buddhist tradition and has carved Buddhas of the Eight Legions on its four sides. During its European tours, the Zhihua Temple Ensemble performs a number of classical music performances.
The Temple’s rotating scripture cabinet is the largest and most beautiful of the three in Beijing, and has five tiers. Its marble base is adorned with inscriptions and is made of black and white tiles. The eunuch was the first to build the temple, and it is the only one of the three surviving Ming-era Buddhist temples in China. The eunuch, or chief priest, of the temple, was a pious monk, and the entire staff of the court built the complex.
The architecture of the Zhihua Temple is one of the best preserved in the Ming dynasty. The building was originally the ancestral temple of Wang Zhen, whose descendants served as eunuchs to the Ming emperor Yingzong. The eunuch ruled for six years, but later was recalled to the temple and reopened it as a museum.
The Jing music at Zhihua Temple is performed twice daily. It is called the “living fossil” of ancient Chinese music, as the temple’s songs celebrate Buddhist events. It was even declared a national intangible cultural heritage in 2006, and now features a concert hall that has a stage for the performers. It is also worth a visit if you’re in the area.
The main hall was built in the eighth year of Zhengtong’s reign. It originally housed the deva Wei Tuo and the Four Heavenly Kings. The temple’s main gate is an example of the Ming dynasty’s architecture. The Ming-era steeles used in the building’s gates date back to the Ming dynasty. The building is decorated with numerous Buddha statues.
The temple’s wooden version of the Tripitaka is a treasure of great importance. Its seven-volume, wooden version of the Buddhist classic contains 1,675 sutras, and weighs 400 tons. It is one of the two wooden versions of the Tripitaka in Chinese. It is one of the most revered religious monuments in the world. The enshrines a number of historical and religious relics.