Shuanglin Temple is located in the village of Xiaqiao Tou, about 6 kilometers southwest of Pingyao, Shanxi Province. Shuanglin ("Double-Grove") Temple, was originally named Zhongdu Temple. During the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty, it was renamed Shuanglin Temple in order to commemorate the saying of the founder of Buddhism, Sakyamuni Buddha, "to extinguish into two groves" (i.e., "to enter nirvana from between the two groves", a reference to the Bamboo Grove in Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha, and the Jetavanna Grove in Savatthi, the capital of Kosala, the two most important Indian bodhimandala, or holy places, where Shakyamuni Buddha pronounced many sutras – indeed, Shakyamuni Buddha spent most of his adult life "proselytizing" in the villages and countryside between these two bodhimandala).
Shuanglin Temple was rebuilt in the second year of the Wuping Period (CE 570-576 ) of the reign (CE 565-577) of Emperor Gao Wei of the Northern Qi (CE 550-577) Dynasty. However, what remains today of Shuanglin Temple has been preserved from the restorations that took place during the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty. The temple is host to some 1500 sculptures, most of which are very colorful (the temple has accordingly been dubbed "the ancient painted sculptures museum"). The sculptures were created over a period which spanned several dynasties, from the Song (CE 960-1279) to the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasties.
The entire temple complex is south-oriented, and covers an area of 15,000 square kilometers. Courtyards and a sutra room are located at the eastern end of the temple complex, while at the western end is a group of temple buildings made up of 10 different halls, interspersed with courtyards in which grow locust trees that were planted during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty. Inside the temple halls are a number of mural paintings dating from the Ming Dynasty, as well as worshipping bells. There are also a number of steles dating from the Song Dynasty.
The more more than 1500 statues of the temple complex are wood-modeled, painted mud sculptures, which inherit the best of the painted-sculpture traditions of the Tang, Song, Jin (CE 1115-1234) and Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasties. Those which stem from the Ming Dynasty are said to be the most outstanding such examples from the Ming Dynasty period. Shuanglin Temple's sculptures include figures of the great heavenly king himself, Buddha Bodhisattva, his celestial officers, and a panoply of figures from all over the earth.
Among the sculptures, the seated statue of Guanyu in the center of Wusheng ("God of Battle") Hall has been preserved in excellent condition; in Arhat Hall there is a vivid sculpture of a mute arhat, who clenches his lips tightly, his eyes seemingly about to pop out of his head in anger (an arhat is a figure depicting an arahant, or one who has attained the ultimate goal of enlightenment, or nirvana, by following in the footsteps of the first such arahant, the Buddha himself, who rediscovered the path to enlightenment and taught it to his followers). The expression of deep disappointment reflected in the arhat's eyes seems to suggest that it is painful to remain silent when one has observed all manner of injustices in this world. The mute arhat, perhaps a symbol for anyone constrained to keep silent in the face of injustice, seems to be breathing with great difficulty, his chest and belly heaving, so hard is it for him to remain silent under the circumstances.
In the Bodhisattva Hall, the thousand-arm Bodhisattva appears gentle and peaceful, her arms voluptuously curved and in harmonious proportion with the rest of her exquisitely-shaped, graceful body. In the Thousand-Buddha Hall, the full-figure statue of "Weituo", although rather exaggerated in form compared to a normal human body, especially in the lumbar region, does not give an impression of awkwardness or artificiality, but rather, serves to highlight the powerfulness and the sense of controlled movement of the human form. The statue as a whole, from top to bottom, present itself as an S-curve, giving the impression of forcefulness and great strength.
While the ostensible subject matter of the painted sculptures in Shuanglin Temple revolves around Buddhism, the artists who created these works did not strictly confine themselves to the boundary of religion. Instead they endowed their religious figures with human attributes, thus achieving a unification of the deity with the human being, a marriage of the spiritual with the physical.
Shuanglin Temple was granted state protection by the government of the PRC as a site of exceptional historical and cultural value in 1988. In recognition of the sublime beauty of the painted figures of Shuanglin Temple, UNESCO included the temple on its annual World Heritage List for 1997, describing the temple and its works of art as "a truly unique treasure".