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Quingyang Temple, or Quingyang Palace, was originally built during the Tang Dynasty(618-907), a period when Taoism flourished in China. However, most of the temple's remaining buildings are restorations from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). These include Sanqing Hall, Doulao Hall, Hunyuan Palace, Eight Trigrams Pavilion, and Wuji Palace.
Located on the southwestern side of Changdu City and covering an area of 40.000 square meters, Qingyang Temple is among the oldest and most well-known Taoist temples across China. Once known as Xuanzhongguan Taoist Temple, it was included in the first bunch of Taoist temples which got permission by the government, in 1983, to start operating once again, after they were closed down during the Cultural Revolution.
In addition, Two Immortals Monastery, which is housed inside Qingyang Temple, is the only one in Southwest China which has the authority of certifying Taoist training. The current name of the temple literary means “Green Goat Palace”.
The location of Qingyang Temple has been considered as holy ground by Taoists for thousands of years. Legend has it that Lao Tsu, the founding father of Taoism, was born in this site. The first Taoist temple in the area was erected during Zhou Dynasty (1040 BC-221 BC) and was named Qingyangsi.
The current temple was built during Tang Dynasty (618-908), when Taoism flourished, and initially came under the name Xuanzhongguan. A couple of Emperors of Tang Dynasty had found shelter in the temple, one of them being Emperor Xuanzong, who escaped Anshi Rebellion and spent some time there. That was the time when the temple’s name changed to Qingyang Temple. The whole complex was reconstructed in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and more specifically in 1667, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi.
Things to do
The Temple Gate is guarded by two lion stone statues and holds an ancient tablet with the temple’s name on it. In addition, its stone pillars are decorated with a series of ornamental animal figures. Other important Taoist relics are housed inside the temple as well, including a series of sculptures. A Tea House also operates within the temple’s boundaries. Visitors can enjoy a nice cup of Chinese tea while watching the locals play the traditional Chinese game of Mahjong. An annual fair takes place next to Qingyang Temple on the 15th of the second lunar month, when it is supposed to be Lao Tsu’s birthday.
The gate that one sees on approaching Qingyang Temple is of newer date. The older, original palace gate was built during the Ming Dynasty(1368-1644). On its left were statues of the earth spirit and a dark dragon, and there was also a tablet depicting 9 dragons. The original gate was built thanks to the generosity of the emperor. On the right of the older gate was a white tiger statue and a stake with 7 stars painted on it and with esoteric Taoist symbols carved on it in the form of plowing oxen, or Triones.
Therefore, it was called the Triones Stake. In addition, there was also a Dragon Stake and a Phoenix Stake, a pair of stone lions, a Dragon King shrine, and more. Compared with what we know of the former gate, the present-day one is more magnificent, with double-rowed, overlapping cornices on which mascots such as tigers and dragon are artfully engraved. As well, a stele hangs above the entrance with a gilded inscription signifying Qingyang Palace. The inscription was written by Anhongde, the magistrate of Huayang County in Chengdu, under the rule of Emperor Qianlong (1735-1796) during the Qing Dynasty. The stele shows the writer's sure hand, and is an important cultural relic of Qingyang Temple.
Rebuilt under the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908 ) during the Qing Dynasty, Hunyuan Palace is the second largest hall of Qingyang Temple, occupying 616 square meters, with 26 stone and 2 wooden pillars. There are life-like, pierced patterns engraved on them such as deer, phoenix watching the moon, 2 lions playing ball, and more.
Under the reign of Emperor Zhenzong (997-1022) during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the emperor, an adherent of Taoism, posthumously honored Lao Zi, the founder of Taoism (also known as Taishanglaojun or "Lord the Most High"), the title of Emperor Hunyuan Shangde. A statue of Lao Zi as Emperor Hunyuan Shangde stands in the center of the hall, depicting Lao Zi with a wise yet affable face and holding a Hunyuan Universe Ring in his hand.
Eight Trigrams Pavilion
The most popular attractions in Qingyang Temple complex include Eight Diagrams Pavilion, Wuji Palace, Hunyuan Palace, Universe Hall, Doulao Hall, Lingzu Hall, Sanqing Hall and Temple Gate.
The most magnificent building on the Quingyang Temple grounds is the Eight Trigrams Pavilion. Built on a square pedestal with a colored-glazed dome, this octagonal building follows the Taoist philosophy that "the sky is round and the earth is square" in their outer appearances. The 8 pillars in the corridor are engraved with dragons, and the images of eight trigrams (diagrams consisting of 3 parts, or in this case, 3 lines) are ornately arranged across the corridor's ceiling. Close to the altar of Sanqing Hall stand 2 conspicuous bronze goats which were said to have been brought here from Beijing during the Qing Dynasty.
The pavilion is an octagonal structure built on a square base and topped with a dome. Its structure follows an ancient Chinese idea of how “Sky is round and earth is square”. The dome is glazed with colorful tiles and supported by eight pillars which are decorated with dragon images. One of the pillars also bears an image of a fist along with the dragon; it is said that one of the dragons tried to escape so, when it was forced back, the image of a fist was imprinted on the pillar as well. Finally, the ceiling of the pavilion is decorated with several Taoist symbols.
Located between Sanqing Hall and Hunyuan Palace, the Eight Trigrams Pavilion is a building full of Taoist symbolism. With its compact arrangement and an ingenious design, the 3-floor building was erected on square foundations with a round body, thus symbolizing the Taoist concept that, in appearance, the sky is round and the earth square.
There are 2 sets of cornices, ornately crafted doors with a turtle-shell design and reticulated windows engraved with cloud patterns surrounding them. On the front door facing south, there is a simple and elegant relief depicting the Eight Trigrams and the twelve symbolic animals of the zodiac that are associated with Chinese mythology's 12-year cycle.
At 20 meters high and 17 meters wide, the pavilion is made entirely of wood and stone, and is held together without the use of a single metal wedge or bolt. The 2 upper layers of the stone baluster are octagonal. There are lions, elephants, tigers, and leopards engraved on both rows of cornices, and various other animals engraved on the upturned eaves.
Sanqing Hall, which literary means “Three Purities”, is another famous structure in Qingyang Temple. The hall houses three statues featuring the three most well-known Immortals of Taoism. The altar inside the hall is guarded by two bronze statues which demonstrate mythological Chinese beasts that are supposed to combine elements from all twelve Chinese zodiac animals, such as dragon, snake, tiger, ox and more.
Also referred to as Wuji Hall, Sanqing Hall is the main hall of Qingyang Temple. It was originally built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), but was restored in the 8th year of Emperor Kangxi's rule (1661-1722), during the Qing Dynasty (Emperor Kangxi's was the 2nd reign of the Qing Dynasty). Its square foundation comprises 1,600 square meters.
On the outer pillars are wood carvings of children, 2 lions playing ball, and more. In front of the hall, the Youming (the "nether world" in Chinese) Bell, weighing over 3,000 kilograms and fashioned during the Ming Dynasty, lies on the left. On the right, there is a drum. On the 1st and 15th days of the Chinese lunar calendar, and on other important occasions, people toll the Youming Bell and beat the drum. The music produced can be heard surprisingly far, imparting a sense of community and security.
Sanqing Hall, with its 3 gilded statues displayed in a sitting position, is consecrated to the Sanqing spirits. In the center of the hall, with a lotus coronet on his head, a purple gown wrapped around him, and a supernal pearl held in his fingers, sits the Yuanshi Heavenly Spirit (Yuan Shi Tian- Zong) on his lotus throne.
The Yuanshi Heavenly Spirit is the master of all gods and the founder of the universe. According to Taoist scripture, the Yuanshi Heavenly Spirit lives in the Qingweitianyu wonderland, therefore he is also called Tian Bao Jun (Sovereign of the Heavenly Treasure).
Once the heaven and earth opens primordially, Tian Bao Jun will impart a secret message to his angels, who will descend to the world of man to help them. On Tian Bao Jun's left sits the Shangqing Lingbao Heavenly Spirit, also called Lingbao Jun, who lives in the Shuyu Heavenly wonderland from which the title Shangqing (alternatively, Sanqing) is derived. On Tian Bao Jun's right sits Taishanglaojun, the Moral Heavenly Spirit who lives in the Dachitiantai wonderland and is also called Shenbao Jun. There are gilded statues of an additional 12 gods ranged about on the sides of the hall.
In addition, there are 36 pillars in the hall, among which the 8 wooden ones represent the Eight Heavenly Spirits of Taoism while the remaining 28 stand for the stars in the sky. This is a rare and magnificent building, and a most beloved Chinese cultural treasure.
Built during the Ming Dynasty, Doulao Hall is in the form of a basement consecrated to the great Taoist goddess, Doulao. The main focal point of Doulao Hall are the 3 goddess figures: the goddess Doulao, the Queen Mother of the West, and the Empress of Earth, or the "Earthly Mother".
In the center is the goddess Doulao, also called Mrs. Ziguang in Taoist scripture. Mrs. Ziguang is the mother of 9 sons, the "Nine Emperors". The goddess Doulao has 4 heads, each with 3 eyes on the forehead, and 4 arms on each side of her body. With a mysteriously smiling face, Doulao is the goddess in charge of life and death, sin, and fortune.
On the right of Doulao is the Queen Mother of the West who predates Taoism, but who was eventually incorporated into Taoism. The Queen Mother of the West's official title in Taoist scripture is "Golden Mother of the Shining Lake," but ordinary mortals call her Empress Wangmu. The Empress Wangmu is in charge of all goddesses of lower rank than the goddess Doulao.
Any goddess besides Doulao who lays eyes on Empress Wangmu must bow down before her. According to Chinese mythology, the Queen Mother of the West holds the key to immortality for certain lucky individuals: she has a special peach tree in her garden that produces fruit once every 3,000 years, a fruit that grants immortality to the person who eats it. On March 3rd of the Chinese lunar calendar, the annual Peach Fairy Feast is held and all gods and goddesses come to congratulate the Queen Mother of the West on her birthday. Of all the ancient fables about Empress Wangmu, the most popular is the one about her romance with Emperor Zhoumu. Together, the 2 were fond of holding lavish court feasts.
On the left of Doulao is the Empress of Earth who is in charge of reproduction. The Empress of Earth is also the spirit of all things animate and inanimate. She is called "Dimu" in the language of ordinary people.
On either side of these 3 statues are distributed various other statues, including the god of longevity and representations of constellations such as the Southern Cross and the Little Dipper. Of all the buildings belonging to present-day Qingyang Temple, Doulao Hall is the only one that originates from the Ming Dynasty.
The old palace was built under the reign of Emperor Daoguang (1820-1850) during the Qing Dynasty (Emperor Daoguang was the 6th Qing Emperor), but the dilapidated building was later pulled down. Rebuilt in 1995, the new palace is a basement structure. The palace is dedicated to Emperor Yuhuang upstairs and to Emperor Sanguan downstairs. Of subordinate rank are dedications to Emperor Ziwei (upstairs) and Emperor Zhenwu (downstairs).
On the grounds of the new palace also stand 2 bronze goats, 90 centimeters long and 60 centimeters high, one of which is the mythical looking single-horned goat-animal referred to above with a mouse's ears, an ox's nose, a tiger's claws, a rabbit's mouth, a dragon's horns, a snake's tail, a horse's face, a goat's beard, a monkey's neck, a chicken's eyes, a dog's belly, and a pig's thighs. It is thus intended to symbolize the reincarnation of the 12 zodiac animals.
It was said that this strange bronze creature belonged to the Jingmei Pavilion in Kaifeng in Henan Province during the Song Dynasty. In the 9th year of the reign of Emperor Daoguang, another goat was sent by Zhangkeshi (in Chengdu), who invited Chenwenbin and Gutiren (in Yunnan) to share in the gift to the emperor.
One of the goats is a mythical looking creature with a mouse's ears, an ox's nose, a tiger's claws, a rabbit's mouth, a dragon's horns, a snake's tail, a horse's face, a goat's beard, a monkey's neck, a chicken's eyes, a dog's belly, and a pig's thighs.
Many important exhibits of Taoist cultural relics are on display in Qingyang Temple, such as the wooden engraving of the Dao Zang Ji Yao (the Abstract of Collected Taoist Scriptures) and the stone sculpture of Patriarch Lu Dongbin, who was one of the Immortals in Taoist cosmology. Wandering through the temple, you will find many visitors from near and far eating, drinking tea, and playing Mahjong (a very traditional Chinese tabletop game played using crafted blocks) at the temple's teahouse.
This is a traditional but highly popular pastime for the people of Chengdu. If you have the time for it, joining the locals for a pleasurable afternoon at the teahouse, perhaps over a game of Mahjong, is an excellent way to experience life off the beaten path in China.