Chishan Fahua Temple, situated on the southern slope of Mount Chishan in Shidao Town, a suburb of the city of Rongcheng, was built by a renowned and respected Korean dignitary and military man, Zhang Bao Gao, who had spent many years in China studying Chinese culture, and studying especially the structure of the Chinese civil administration during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty. At the time of its building, Chishan Fahua Temple on Mount Chishan was the largest Buddhist temple on Jiaodong Peninsula (present-day Shandong Peninsula). The temple suffered severe damage during the Hiuchang (CE 840-846) Period of the Tang Dynasty, i.e., during the reign of Emperor Wuzong.*
There exist legends about how a Korean monk came to China to build a Buddhist monastery on Mount Chishan, but one need not resort to legends in order to explain the influence of the China of the Tang Dynasty on especially neighboring countries such as Japan and Korea. The China of the Tang Dynasty was looked upon as a seat of culture, with its model civil administration in which the Confucian-inspired civil service examination played a leading role.
China had also attained a state of sublime perfection in the teaching of Buddhism, thanks to Chinese-Buddhist monks who had been able to interpret the Indian-Buddhist scriptures in such as way as to "translate" them to Chinese culture, if not to "Oriental" culture, which involved Buddhism embracing both Taoism and Confucianism. Since Buddhism was seen by the rulers of neighboring states as a means of placating the masses (Buddhism taught obedience to the state and to the emperor), the leaders of both Japan and Korea became keenly interested in learning the Chinese "model" of Buddhism, which they fully intended to implement in their own respective countries for these reasons.
There was much trade and cultural exchange between Japan and China and between Korea and China during the Tang Dynasty. Several learned persons from the neighboring countries took up residence in China, ingratiated themselves with local officials - or with the emperor's court - and were in turn admired and respected, perhaps even loved, by their Chinese hosts. One such foreigner was the aforementioned Zhang Bao Gao, a young military officer from the Silla (BCE 57 - CE 935) Kingdom of Korea (the Silla Kingdom had succeeded in conquering the other two competing kingdoms of Korea, the Baekje Kingdom, which was conquered in CE 660, and the Goguryeo Kingdom, which was conquered eight years later, in CE 668), who eventually had a temple built on Mount Chishan in CE 834.
The first group of monks invited to chant the scriptures at the new temple on Mount Chishan were from the Tiantai Sect of Chinese Buddhism, and the text they chose to chant was the Fahua Jing ("Fahua Spirit"). Therefore the temple came to be known as "Chishan Fahuayuan", or "Mount Chishan Fahua Garden". In time this became simply "Chishan Fahua Temple".
Chishan Fahua Temple enjoyed great fame during the Tang Dynasty, and in its heyday, there lived over 30 monks at the monastery, their daily necessities being provided for by Zhang Bao Gao, the Korean founder of the temple. On special ritual days, upwards of 200 people would gather at the temple to participate in the holy services, which was an extremely large body of adherents to arrive in such a remote place, itself testimony to the zealous work of Zhang Bao Gao and the Chinese disciples he left behind on Mount Chishan.
Later, a Japanese monk by the name of Master Ennin would, in CE 838, spend some time at Chishan Fahua Temple where he, like his Korean predecessor, had arrived to learn about Chinese culture and about Buddhism, or, as the latter was termed, "the search for the holy law" (this was still during the Tang Dynasty - in fact, Master Ennin may well have been at Chishan Fahua Temple when it was sacked by Imperial troops (see the footnote below) during the period CE 845-46). Master Ennin was a disciple of Saicho, the Japanese founder of the Tendai sect of Buddhism in Japan ("Tendai" is Japanese for the Chinese "Tian Tai"/ "Tien Tai").
Upon returning to Japan, Master Ennin was awarded the rank of daihosshi ("grand monk") by the Japanese emperor. Master Ennin founded the Sammon branch of the Tendai sect in Japan and served as the zasu (chief abbot) of a Tendai-Buddhist temple on Mount Hiei, which is situated between Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures, not far from Tokyo. Chief Abbot Ennin also founded a monastery, Onjoji (aka Miidera) at the foot of Mount Hiei, near Lake Biwa. Ennin's Nyuto Gubo Junreiki ("Record of the Pilgrimage to China in Search of the Holy Law"), published soon after his return to Japan from his stay in China, is regarded as one of the three most prominent Oriental travel diaries ever published.
In Nyuto Gubo Junreiki, Master Ennin offers detailed descriptions of his trip to and stay at, among other holy places, Chishan Fahua Temple, which of course put Chishan Fahua Temple on the map, as it were, both with regard to Chinese Buddhists as well as with regard to the Buddhists of the neighboring countries, Japan and Korea. Thanks to this special inter-cultural heritage, Chishan Fahua Temple remains a symbol of lasting friendship between the peoples of China, Korea and Japan.
* The Tang Dynasty held great intellectual, cultural and religious sway over neighboring countries for its advanced culture and its highly efficient method of government adminstration, whereby individuals who served the state were recruited on the basis of merit rather than on the basis of clan loyalty, though the rise of the power of the eunuchs at court (see below) during the latter half of the Tang Dynasty had perhaps an even more deleterious effect on China than the abuse of power that resulted from a feudalistic system of public office based on clan loyalty.
It was during the Tang Dynasty that Buddhism, which had been given an "Oriental" interpretation by Chinese-Buddhist monks (as opposed to Buddhism's Indian origins) - and an interpretation which was much easier for a Korean or a Japanese disciple to grasp than the original Indian version - began to be spread to neighboring countries in earnest. This was yet another reason why the China of the Tang Dynasty held such sway over its near neighbors.
Unfortunately for the Tang Dynasty emperors of this period, the "church" was becoming more and more powerful, and was amassing more and more tax-free wealth. Moreover, the rich were using the Buddhist temples as a tax dodge, i.e., they were making pro forma gifts to the Buddhist temples, which enjoyed tax exemption, with the active complicity of the Buddhist temples. This seriously undermined the state, as it destroyed the financial underpinnings of the state budget.
At the same time, the state/ the emperor was facing mounting corruption among the class of eunuchs, as mentioned above, who were conspiring at court in ways that bear comparison to England during the period immediately following the demise of Henry VIII (in fact, even before his death), when the intrigue at court on the part of the Catholic Church - which was trying to wrest the English crown from the Protestants/ Queen Elisabeth (i.e., from the Church of England, the church set up by Henry VIII in defiance of the Pope) and bestow it on Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Except that in the case of the eunuchs, the motive was pure greed, both on their part and on the part of the persons whose errand they were often running in trying to secure important government offices without having to submit to the civil service examinations.
The eunuchs who served at court had been given the right to seek high office. Unfortunately, they could - and did - lobby on behalf of others. Both of these developments threatened the stability of the state. Several eunuchs were instrumental in influencing even the royal succession, and in one case, a court eunuch even had an emperor put to death (Emperor Xianzong, who ruled from CE 806-820) in favor of a rival.
Striking back at these attempts to undermine its power, China's Tang Dynasty emperors began a campaign of persecution of members of the clergy, and in some cases, even pillaged wealthy temples where possessions were believed to have been hidden from "the tax man", including at Chishan Fahua Temple.