Hanshan Temple

Written by ivana Updated Nov. 4, 2023

Hanshan Temple also referred to as “Cold Mountain Temple”, is located in the Gusu District, Suzhou City. Spanning an area of approximately 13,000 square meters, the architectural area of Hanshan Temple covers over 3,400 square meters.

Hanshan Temple belongs to the Linji School of Zen Buddhism. The temple suffered five successive fires over a thousand years (or seven according to some accounts), with the last reconstruction happening during the Guangxu era of the Qing Dynasty.

Historically, Hanshan Temple was one of the ten most famous temples in China, housing numerous historical relics such as the stone inscription of Zhang Ji's poems, stone statues of Hanshan and Shide, and fragments of inscriptions written by Wen Zhengming and Tang Yin.

Hanshan Temple Facts


Legend has it that Hanshan Temple was first built during the Tianjian era (502-519 AD) of Emperor Wu of the Southern Dynasty, originally known as "Miaoli Puming Pagoda Monastery".

During the Tang Dynasty's Zhenguan era, it is said that the famous monks Hanshan and Shide came from Tiantai Mountain and served as abbots here, after which the temple was renamed Hanshan Temple.

Hanshan Temple is famous both at home and abroad because of the poem "A Night Mooring near Maple Bridge" by Zhang Ji of the Tang Dynasty: "Moonlight fades as crows cry in the frosty sky, fishermen and woodcutters under the maples, their small fires look like sorrow. Outside Suzhou, Hanshan Temple, its bell tolling reaches the guest boat at midnight."

In the early years of the Taiping Xingguo period of the Song Dynasty, Jiedushi Sun Chengyou built a seven-story stupa. Later, it was renamed "Puming Zen Institute" during the Jiayou era. It was rebuilt in the fourth year of the Shaoxing era by a monk named Faqian.

During the Ming Dynasty, Emperors Hongwu, Yongle, Jiajing, and Wanli all renovated Hanshan Temple. During the Jiajing era, a monk named Benji forged a large bronze bell and bell tower.

Hanshan Temple Highlights & Activities

Main Hall

The main hall of Han Shan Temple is 12.5 meters high with a width spanning five rooms and a depth of four rooms. Its single-eave hipped roof and flying eaves emanate grandeur. A bronze cauldron sits in the center of the terrace with the phrase "Utterly serious" cast on the front and "Refined for a hundred times" on the back.

The Poem

In the stele corridor of Han Shan Temple, a famous ancient temple in the south of the Yangtze River, stands a stone stele engraved with the popular poem "Mooring by Maple Bridge at Night" by the great Tang Dynasty poet, Zhang Ji: "The moon sets, crows caw, frost fills the sky. Maples by the river and the lights of fishing boats bring sorrow to sleep. Outside Gusu city is Han Shan Temple, where the midnight bell reaches the guest boat." This stele, inscribed by famous scholar Yu Yue from the late Qing Dynasty, has become a unique sight within Hanshan Temple.

Scripture Library

Originally a place for storing and arranging scriptures, the Scripture Library is 9.8 meters wide and 9.2 meters deep. It features sculptures of characters from the "Journey to the West" on its roof, including Sun Wukong, Tang monk, Zhu Bajie, and Sha Wujing. The walls on the first floor are inlaid with the texts of the "Diamond Sutra" (a Zen Buddhist scripture).

Flower Basket Pavilion

The original Maple River Pavilion of the temple collapsed three hundred years ago. Now, the Flower Basket Pavilion, a famous structure from the Song Dynasty, was moved here during the restoration of the Hanshan Temple in 1954 by the Suzhou Municipal Government to preserve historical relics.

Bell Tower

Located south of the Scripture Library, the Bell Tower of Han Shan Temple features a hexagonal double-eave pavilion. The temple's "Number One Bell under Heaven" is a replica of a Tang Dynasty bronze bell, weighing a total of 108 tons and standing at 8.588 meters high. The bell's surface is inscribed with 69,800 characters from the "Lotus Sutra", totaling 70,094 characters. The rim of the bell is cast with nine exquisite images of celestial beings and six spouts.

According to Buddhist doctrine, there are 108 vexations in life. Hearing the bell ring 108 times on New Year's Day is said to bring relief from these worries, wishing people a year of happiness and good health. 

New Year Bell Ringing: Han Shan Temple is famous for the sound of its bells. Every New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, the temple holds a bell-ringing ceremony, during which the bell is struck 108 times. Each strike represents a worldly worry, symbolizing the alleviation of worries in the coming year. It is said that the Tang Dynasty poet Zhang Ji, who moored at Maple Bridge, listened to the sound of the bell from his guest boat to dispel his worries due to his repeated failures.

Puming Pagoda

The high point of Hanshan Temple is the Puming Pagoda. The pagoda, having been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times, is now an imitation Tang-styled wooden pagoda structure. Looking up at it, one almost feels like traveling back to the glorious Tang Dynasty.

Surrounding the pagoda are corridors overlooking a pond. Walking through these corridors and admiring the inscriptions is a fantastic choice.

Harmony among Two Saints

During the Tang Dynasty, the poet monk Hanshan practiced his spirituality here, hence the temple was renamed Hanshan Temple. Hanshan was often ridiculed for his unusual behavior, but the insightful monk Shide recognized his brilliance and formed a deep friendship with him. They became symbols of harmony among people.

In Hanshan Temple, you can find the Hanshi Hall especially dedicated to worshiping the two saints. Worshipping the two saints and contemplating their path of harmony is a unique feature of the temple. There's a spring within the temple called "Hanshi Spring". It's said that Hanshan once used the spring's water to make tea during his seclusion.

How to Get Hanshan Temple

Hanshan Temple Travel Tips & Food Recommendations

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