A Brief Chronology of the Temple's Name
The original edifice which was modified into the first Xiangguo Temple - but under a different name - was a private residence, the house of Lord Xinling of the Kingdom of Wei (CE 220-265) during the Three Kingdoms period (CE 220-280, the other two kingdoms were the Kingdom of Shu (CE 221-263) and the Kingdom of Wu (CE 229-280)). In the year CE 555, the sixth year of the Tianbao reign (CE 550-559, i.e., the reign of Emperor Wenxuandi) of the Northern Qi (CE 550-577) Dynasty, a temple named Jianguo Temple was built here, though it was eventually destroyed in war. In the year CE 701, the first year of the Chang'an reign (CE 701-705, i.e., during the end of the reign (CE 690-705) of Emperor Wuzetian) of the Tang Dynasty (CE 618-907), a Buddhist monk named Huiyun arrived in the area, and seeing the sad state of such a sacred place, the monk solicited donations so that he might purchase the land where the remains of the former temple lay, with an eye to building a new temple in place of the old one.
During the dismemberment of the old, ruined temple, its name plate, "Jianguo Temple", was found, so the monk decided to use the old name for the new temple. A decade later, in CE 712, the first year of the Yanhe reign (CE 710-712, i.e., during the end of the reign (CE 684-712) of Emperor Ruizong) of the Tang Dynasty, the emperor changed the spelling of the name of the temple from "Jiangguo" to "Xiangguo", since the emperor had ascended the throne as the Prince of Xiang. Moreover, Emperor Ruizong himself inscribed the name plate for the new temple as "Da Xiang Guo Si" (Da Xiangguo Temple), which name has remained unchanged ever since.
Xiangguo Temple: From its Heyday to the Present
Da Xiangguo Temple (sometimes referred to as the "Temple of the Chief Minister") is a very famous Buddhist temple located in the city of Kaifeng, Henan Province. It was first built during the Northern Qi (CE 550-577 ) Dynasty of the Northern (CE 386-588) Dynasties period of the Southern and Northern (CE 386-588) Dynasties era. The temple was once favored by imperial families, having been enlarged many times during the course of the years until it eventually ranked as the largest Buddhist temple in Kaifeng, and thus the largest Buddhist temple in all of China, since Kaifeng - formerly known variously as Bianliang, Bianjing/ Dongjing, Daliang, and simply Liang - one of the seven ancient capitals of China, was the capital city at the time). Da Xiangguo Temple consisted of sixty-four meditation rooms and gardens, which, in the temple's heyday, housed more than a thousand monks.
Today, Da Xiangguo Temple mainly consists of Tianwang ("Heavenly Kings") Hall, Daxiongbaodian Hall ("Hall of Sakyamuni" - Sakyamuni being the founding Buddha of Buddhism), Octagonal Glazed Hall, and Sutra Hall. The Octagonal Glazed Hall houses a seven-meter high, thousand-arm/ thousand-eye wooden statue of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, which is carved with such delicate refinement that it is regarded as a masterpiece among China's ancient wood-carving arts. After 1992, the Bell Tower and Drum Tower buildings were added to Da Xiangguo Temple, adorned with items from earlier periods. For example, a large bell dating from the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty period can be found in the Bell Tower.
Da Xiangguo Temple reached its pinnacle during the Tang and Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasties. Especially during the Song Dynasty, a continued series of enlargements to the temple were made, so that the temple became the country's largest Buddhist temple. With a total area of more than 500 mu (a mu being a unit of measure for area, where 1 mu = 0.667 hectares), this very large temple complex comprises buildings that are so beautiful and so splendidly constructed that the temple, in its heyday, earned the reputation of "having the glitter of gold and of jade, and surpassing the rosy cloud".
The abbot of Da Xiangguo Temple was chosen by the emperor himself. This temple was also known as "the imperial temple", since it was, as indicated, the favorite temple of the imperial family. It was also the venue where the emperor made the traditional prayers of thanks to Heaven, and where the emperor performed the annual Jinshi Ceremony, which ceremony bestowed titles upon those who successfully completed the civil examination. Unfortunately, after the fall of the Song Dynasty, the temple was badly damaged by floods and thereafter neglected, though it was eventually repaired. The temple was completely restored during the Qing Dynasty, in recognition of its historical value. The existing temple structures date from the Qing Dynasty period restoration.