The Zhi Hua Temple is a middle sized Temple situated in the east of the Dongcheng District where it stands protected and surrounded by some of the original Hutong of this eastern part of the old city.
Not only listed as the oldest Ming Dynasty Era Temple in Beijing it can also be characterized as one
of the more unusual Temples, the story attached to its original construction having become an example of case of the Era and its specific culture and politics.
Today's ZhiHua Temple was built in the year 1443 AD during the early years of the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD), a time when Eunuchs exerted a great influence within the court and Government and Eunuchs held powerful posts throughout the court and the system. This Temple, now known as Zhihua Temple, celebrates one such Eunuch, the extra-ordinary succesful and without a doubt most powerful eunuch at court in his time, the rich and opulent Wang Zhen.
Due to the high position of its patron and his nearly unlimited wealth the temple became an example of exquisite folk craft, art and architecture of the early Ming Dynasty period. In addition he Temple also has become a symbol for the woes of Government, embodying just how easily corruption can lead to power and vice versa. Although constructed at the highpoint of the career and a physical symbol of his great success of Wang Zheng, his joy was only brief as he was executed only six years later, not living to see his treasured achievement, his Family Shrine and Temple, confiscated by the Imperial Government and given over to a more public use. While Wang Zheng's great ambitions inevitably led him his flaming crashdown and even death, the Temple he had built to honor himself as well as the Buddha survives to this day, becoming a monument of the cultural achievements of the early Ming Era while at the same time serving as a warning for the greediness and corruption that plagued the old Ming society as it does the Chinese Nation today.
Among the treasures of today's Temple are on original bronze bell cast in the year 1443 AD of the Ming Dynasty, a unique set of Dragon Scriptures housed within an equally unique handcrafted and massive wooden cupboard for storage. Other lesser treasures include a 1000 buddha wall, rare original clay statues dated to the early Ming Dynasty and last but not least the intangible cultural heritage of the special music said to have originated at this Temple itself. Altogether, Zhihua Temple may not be the most visually stunning Temple Complex one may have ever come across, yet it is still a wortwhile place to visit if only for the rare story of its patron, founder and master the eunuch Wang Zhen.
Satellite Image Map of Zhihua Temple and surrounding area of Beijing, by AsiaReport.com
Zhi Hua Temple
A Year 2004 pre Olympic reconstruction era Map of DongCheng District which shows the Location of Zhi Hua Temple and the layout of surrounding hutong alleys. Since that year, the situation in the area has undergone some dramatic changes as Jinbao Street was created to the south of Zhihua Temple and Galaxy Soho was constructed to the north of it.
Click Map to go to Full Version.
DongCheng District Map
Sound Bonus : ZhiHuaSi, Temple of Beijing (Music of the Ming Dynasty).
Wang Zhen made a High Career within the confines of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) and eventually became the closest court confidant of the young Emperor Yingzong (1435 AD - 1449 AD). The temple was built in 1443 at the order of Wang Zhen, a powerful eunuch in the Rites Supervising Office of the court of the Zhengtong Emperor (also known as Yingzong; reigned 1436-1449 and 1457-1464). This position made him almost the most powerful man in China, powers that Wang Zhen ensured also made him very rich. The wealth and oppulance of the early Ming Dynasty era has mostly been lost to time, however the current day existence of the Zhihua Temple allows for at least a glimpse of what was possible for Wang Zhen.
In the year 1443 AD Wang Zhen erected what is now the Zhi Hua Temple as his private Family Shrine. Unfortunatly for him, in the year 1449 AD only six years after seeing this highpoint of having the honor of building such a large temple and seeing imperial grace bestowed upon it , disaster of the greatest magnitude struck in his carreer as he lay dead on the battlefield of Tumu while the Emperor was taken prisoner by hostile Oirat mongolian forces. As his powerful young patron was held hostage in Mongolia, Wang Zhen was found dead on the Tumu Battlefield according to some having been slain by his own Ming Officers. Regardless his death, the anger with the once celebrated eunuch now the man to have lost the Emperor was large enough for the remaining court in Beijing.
As the new branch took control over the throne and the Jingtai Emperor started his reign period, Wang Zhen entire family was rounded up and executed. Apart from that, his proud pet project, this personal Temple, was confiscated along with all Family property by the Imperial Family (i.e. the State). It then became the Zhi Hua Buddhist Temple.
The Zhihua Temple became a nationally preserved cultural and historic relic in 1961.
Zhihua Temple - Directions / How to Get There :
Although the Zhihua Temple is situated at Lumicang Hutong and is surrounded by other Hutong Alley's none of which have any fancy, famous or mainstream buildings of interest, finding your way to Zhihua Temple should not prove too difficult.
For those who travel by themselves and on foot while prefering the quickest and cheapest mode of transport there are essentially but two choices. The first choice would be to travel through Chaoyangmen and its subway/metro station, and from there walk your way to Zhihua Temple. In the path between these two points stands the block wide Galaxy Soho Building and a few hutong alleys.
The alternative option is to travel through Dengshikou Subway/Metro system to make the eastward hike from there through Ganmian and Lumicang Hutong to the desired destination. Altogether traveling time should be just about the same but the scenery you will be passing will be quite different. Depending on your personal preference of the day you can make your own choice of how to hike to the Zhihua Temple and see its jealously guarded and unique treasures.
NORTHERN ROUTE THROUGH CHAOYANGMEN:
The Northern Route to Zhihua Temple basicly starts at Chaoyangmen Station from where one
has to walk down in a southern direction to find the Zhihua Temple. In between the Temple and Chaoyangmen station stands the modern architectural marvel of the Galaxy Soho Building, which is especially at nighttimes is a spectacular and eye catching piece of modern Beijing to have seen.
In essence, Zhihua Temple and surrounding hutong can be reached easily from Chaoyangmen by walking west around the Galaxy Soho Building then following but two hutong lanes. From the north-west corner of Galaxy Soho, walk along the west flank road by the name of Nanshuiguan Hutong. Follow this road down southward to reach into the Hutong area proper. Once having entered the low level residential area along the south end of Nanshuiguan Hutong, follow the first available alley eastward (left when facing south) named Dafangjia Hutong to its very end, which is in sight nearby.
The enormous and modern Galaxy Soho looming over Xiaopaifang Hutong on the route between ancient Zhihua Temple and Galaxy Soho building. Sitting largely empty until at least the end of the year 2013 the construction of this modern architectural feat claimed an entire city block consisting of ancient and original Hutong of the Old City of Beijing.
At this point, Dafangjia Hutong ends and Xiaopaifang Hutong leads southward with the adress of the Zhihua Temple lying in one of its side-alleys. Thus, the last step of your hike is to turn southward (right hand) into Xiaopaifang Hutong to head for Zhihua Temple.
The Temple itself will become visible on your right hand (the west) when walking along with its massive white marbled main gate standing at the very eastern stredge of Lumicang (禄米仓) Hutong, the first major side-alley leading righthand back towards the west.
WESTERN ROUTE THROUGH DENGSHIKOU:
Architecture of Zhihua Temple :
Although seemingly hidden inconspicuously between hutong alleys and of the ultra-standard early Ming Era design, the exterior of the Zhihua Temple does show some signs of its special Imperial Nature. For instance, where usually Temple Gates are brick structures with an arched gate covered by a wooden upper partition, the entrance gate of the Zhihua Temple is an arched gate made out of white marble and covered with green glazed tiles. In addition the front of the gate is sided with two small white marble balustrades. Although these are but very modest in size and width they are another subtle sign sign of high ranking imperial dignity.
The temple, surrounding buildings, and grounds comprise approximately 20 thousand square meters. It is one of the most important original building complexes from the Ming Dynasty period in the Old City area, and one of the only wooden structures and groups of buildings from the Ming Dynasty to remain intact in Beijing. It is also striking for its extensive use of black roof tiles.
Once inside, having left the seemingly congested space of Lumicang hutong the Temple is unexpectedly large. The large and spacious courts no doubt reflecting the large sums and influential friends Wang Zheng had at his command. What seemed to be such a modest structure on the outside is in fact a spacious Temple complex which consists of four courtyards in total.
Surrounding the front courtyard alone are 7 buildings. The bell tower in this courtyard holds its original bronze bell cast in the year 1444 AD which required it to be so designed as two have double the load bearing capacity of a normal tower of this type. Currently this Bell is not on display inside the Temple for the public to view. However the large drum of the opposite drum tower can be viewed inside the Tagatha Buddha Hall.
In the middle section of Zhihua Temple stands the Hall of the Tagatha Buddha, a hall of which the supposedly finely crafted coffered wooden ceiling has been removed, taken away to end up in an museum in the United States of America. The middle section of the Temple also has the Dabei Hall, a side hall holding what is known as the Dragon Scriptures, a unique collection of wooden printing blocks made especially to rest at this temple in the Yingzong Reign of the Ming Era.
The Zhi Hua Temple is the single and unique depository of this collection of printing blocks which could be used to reproduce otherwise lost Buddhist Scriptures. The printing blocks were made on Imperial Decree of the Yingzong Emperor (1435 AD - 1449 AD) and are regarded the number one treasure of Zhihua Temple today.
The final hinter section of the Temple culminates in the Hall of ten thousand buddha's which has three stories and holds a wall with many small guilded buddhas as well as a few giant clay statues adorned with the most exquisite painted and crafted decorations to be seen at any Temple in Beijing.
After this crescendo, only the far less impressive small northernmost court of the Abbots and a last hall are available to conclude a visit to Zhihua Temple.
The Beijing Cultural Exchange Museum was established in November 1992, with its head office located in the temple compound at Zhihua Temple; its principal aim is "as a centre for developing cultural exchange and for developing the study of cultural relics and museums."
Only as late as in the year 2005 the responsible branches of the Chinese government undertook a renovation of the entire temple in preparation for the numerous international visitors expected at the time of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
After the grand success of the Olympic Games in presenting Beijing to the world as the Capital of a modern nation, the sopposed protected cultural relic of the old city, hutong along the east flank of Nanshuiguan Hutong were torn down to make way for modern city development. As it turned out, the new building to arise on this spot would be the Galaxy Soho, a supersized building of an elegance and modernity not before seen in the city.
Only as late as the year 2012, the construction of Galaxy Soho building neared its construction.
YouTube Video: Galaxy Soho Building, the Opening in 2012, architect Zaha Hadid and more.