Zhenguosi Temple (alternatively Zhenguo Temple), whose original name was Jingcheng Temple, got its present name in the 19th year of the reign (CE 1521-1566) of Emperor Jiajing during the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty. Zhenguosi Temple is located within the jurisdiction of the Ancient City of Pingyao, Shanxi Province, about 12 kilometers from the heart of the old city in a northeasterly direction. The temple enjoys a long history of over a thousand years, dating back to the Five Dynasties (CE 907-960) era (the Five Dynasties all being "later" dynasty periods: Later Liang (CE 907-923); Later Tang (CE 923-936); Later Jin (CE 936-946); Later Han (CE 947-950); and Later Zhou (CE 951-960)).
Facing southward, the temple is in two parts, a front part consisting of Shuanglinsi ("Double-Grove") Temple and a back part consisting of Zhenguosi Temple proper, with a courtyard between the two. The total area of the temple complex measures some 11,000 square meters, its building space covering roughly 5000 square meters of land. Of the two temples, Shuanglinsi Temple is famous for its painted sculptures; Zhenguosi Temple proper is famous for its architecture.
From the epigraphs that adorn the temple, we learn that during the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) and the Ming Dynasties, by making use of certain surplus grounds, the government was able to erect a temple complex on the site in question. The mountain gate was built, then the Grand Lord Hall at the front of the complex, with the Bell and Drum Towers on the left and right, respectively. At the rear of the complex the three Buddha towers and the east and west wing rooms, namely, Guanyin Hall and Dicang Hall, respectively, were built. During the reign (CE 1722-1735) of Emperor Yongzheng and the reign (CE 1735-1796) of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty the east and west corridors were repaired. Chinese temples – either Confucian, Taoist, or Buddhist – are typically and purposefully built on a mountain-top so that the inhabitants, the monks, might better indulge in retrospection and meditation.
Generally speaking, the main architectural feature of a Buddhist temple is that it has a so-called ridge, or divider, gateway, consisting of three gates: a large gate in the center, usually built in the form of a hall; and two smaller gates, one on either side of the center gate. For this reason, such a gateway is also called The Three Gates in order to symbolize the three gates towards nirvana, or enlightenment, namely, Kongmen Gate, Wuxiangmen Gate and Wuzuomen Gate, symbolizing the gradual, step-by-step release from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. According to Buddhist doctrine, a person who has passed through all three of these spiritual gates will have finally achieved enlightenment. The 3-phase ridge gateway is thus a demarcation line between the world of earthly concerns and the Buddhist world of perfect enlightenment.
The coexistence of the three gates demonstrates the sanctity of the Buddha, which is also revealed in the epigraphs of "Chongxu" and "Chuixu", which are engraved on the two small side gates: the epigraph "Chongxu" advocates the path of nihility, which means that the phenomenon of truth exists everywhere, although it has no visual form, while the epigraph of "Chuixu" advocates the path of loneliness, which, on the one hand signifies a life spent in meditation and relative isolation and on the other hand signifies a life of sincere submission and devotion to Buddha.