Located in the Foguang New Village of Wutai County, Shanxi Province, Foguang Temple is a key historical site under the state protection. With a long history of over one thousand years, this temple is very famous for the numerous precious historical and cultural relics inside. As Foguang in Chinese means 'Light of the Buddha', this temple has also been well known in Asia as Buddha Light Temple. Great East Hall, which is the main building in the temple, was built in the year 857AD in the Tang Dynasty (618AD-907AD). It is the second oldest ancient construction in China with a complete wooden structure, only next to the main building of Nanchan Temple, which is also located in Wutai County and was built in 782AD. In Foguang Temple, the Tang Dynasty architectures, sculptures, mural paintings and tablet carving inscriptions have been known as the 'four wonders' of the temple, because of their high artistic, historical and cultural values.
Main Hall of Foguang Temple
The main building of Foguang Temple is actually very small, and the appearance of it is quite ordinary. However, it has been considered to be 'the No.1 Treasure in Chine' by Liang Sicheng, who is a famous architect in China. As before experts found this building, many Japanese scholars had said that there were no wooden constructions in China which were built in the Tang Dynasty or earlier. This bold assertion was broken by the discovery of this building by Chinese architect.
Facing the west, Foguang Temple is surrounded by mountains on its east, south and north. The west side of the temple is quite low, flat and open. There are altogether three courtyards in the whole temple, and they are built on bases of different terraces. There are now more than 120 rooms in the temple, including all the halls, attics, and living rooms. In Great East Hall and Wenshu Hall, there are seven rooms in each of them, and the former was built in the Tang Dynasty and the latter was built in the Jin Dynasty (1115AD-1234AD). Besides these two, all the other buildings were constructed during the Ming (1368AD-1644AD) and Qing (1644AD-1911AD) Dynasties.
With a grand atmosphere and well-arranged order, the ancient constructions in Foguang Temple have been acclaimed as great Chinese architectural treasures. According to records from Ancient Qingliang History, which is a book about the Buddhism history in Wutaishan area of Shanxi province, Foguang Temple was first built during the reign of Emperor Xiaowen in the Northern Wei Dynasty (471AD-479AD). It was developed to its golden age in the Sui (581AD-618AD) and Tang (618AD-907AS) Dynasties. During these periods, the temple enjoyed a great reputation not only in China, but also in Japan. However, unfortunately, in the year 845AD, Emperor Wuzong believed Taoism and disliked Buddhism, therefore numerous Buddhism temples including Foguang Temple were destroyed and all the monks and nuns were driven outside. Not until the year of 857AD after the death of Emperor Wuzong was Foguang Temple reconstructed.
As the only construction from the Tang Dynasty in the temple, the Great East Hall is of seven rooms broad and four rooms deep. With one layer of eave, there is a big slab door in front of the fifth room. There are also big windows on the walls, and large brackets are inserted between the top of the columns and crossbeams. Some of the brackets are long and far out of the eaves. On the walls of each side, there are mural paintings of 'five hundred Buddhist arhats' made during the reign of Emperor Xuande in the Ming Dynasty.
Zushi Pagoda, which is situated on the southern side of the Great East Hall, was built in the Northern Qi Dynasty (550AD-577AD). It is of hexagonal structure and is constructed with grey bricks. With the height of eight meters, the whole architecture is composed of two stories, with an ancient Indian Buddhism style. As a result, the shape, design, architectural and artistic styles are all quite unique and rare of all the ancient pagodas. As the only one original relic from the time when this temple was first built, Zushi Pagoda nowadays plays an irreplaceable role in the research of the ancient pagodas built in the middle period of Northern and Southern Dynasties (420AD-589AD).
Today in Foguang Temple, there are numerous well-protected stone inscriptions of Buddhism scriptures from Wei, Qi, Tang and Song Dynasties, and they are all very precious historical relics of high scientific and cultural values.