Located in the small town of Jixian in Ji County, which is approximately 113km from Tianjin city, this Buddhist temple is over 1000 thousand years old and is the oldest surviving timber structure in Asia. When translated into English its name means Solitary Joy temple. Dule temple is of great historical and architectural importance and has been recognized as a World Heritage Site. Construction of the temple dates back to the Tang dynasty but unfortunately no structure from the Tang dynasty has stood the test of time. The oldest surviving structures are the central pavilion, the front gate and two timber frame buildings.
The temple was constructed during the rule of Emperor Xuaxong of the Tang Dynasty. The oldest structures that are still standing are the Central Pavilion and the Shan ate which were built during the Liao Dynasty when the temple was renovated in the second year of Tonghe Emperor’s reign. All the features of the temple were designed by skilled local craftsmen and architects using Tang architectural and curving technology.
The origin of the name of the temple is not clear. It is said that the temple might have gotten its name from the Dule River that flows to the north of the temple, but again there is uncertainty as to whether the naming of the river predates the temple. It is also speculated that its name might have originated from a military governor called An Lushan also referred to as An Dule. At the onset of Shi Siming Rebellion against the Tang Dynasty in 715, An Lushan hosted a rally and took an oath at the temple. In 1928 a troop of soldiers under the command of Sun Dianying, a Chinese warlord, invaded the temple and turned the central hall into barracks and looted the Qing Tombs.
What to see in Dule Temple
The temple is divided into four sections; the front gate, Guanyin/Central Pavilion, and the east and west halls. The front gate is made up of a single-eave ceiling which is the earliest example of its type in China’s historical architecture. A horizontal board with the inscription of the temple’s name hangs on the eastern ceiling. The inscription on this board dates back to the Ming dynasty and is said to have been done by Yang Song. On either side of the entrance lie two statues fondly referred to as the Heng and Ha guards.
With a height of over 20 meters the Central/Guanyin Pavilion is the highest and oldest surviving example of a two-story timber building in China. It is composed of five single-eave roofs and more than 1000 individual pieces. The Guanyin Pavilion is home to a clay statue of the goddess Avalokitesvara. This statue also known as the Guanyin statute and is the largest of its type in Asia. It is 16 meters tall and on its crown sits ten small Buddhas, hence the name “eleven sided bodhisattva”.