Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Overview of Foguang Temple

By Li Haoyang

Foguang Temple located in Mount Wutai, Shanxi Province, China. It’s a Buddhist temple. According to legend, Foguang Temple built in the fifth century during the Northern Wei dynasty (785 to 820). In 845, Emperor Wuzong banned Buddhism in China. As part of the persecution, Foguang temple was burned to the ground, with only the Zushi pagoda surviving from the temple's early history. (Fu, 1998) The main hall (East Hall) was rebuilt in the Tang Dazhong eleven years (857 AD), donated by a woman named Ning, Gongyu, constructed by a monk named Yuancheng. (Liang, 2001) Foguang Temple is China's second oldest extant wooden structure. The first extant temple is Nanchan temple also located in Mount Wutai. ( ). In 847 AD, Tang Xuanzong, Li Chen, enthroned, and then he revival the Buddhism. Foguang temple can be rebuilt. After that, Song, Jin, Ming and Qing, were also repairs on the Buddhist Temple. (Fu, 1998)
Foguang temple built in the hillside. East, south and north surrounded by mountains, west part is the low-lying and open place. Temple was built because of the situation, oriented in an east-west position. It's different from other mass traditional temples in China, which are oriented in a south-north position. There have three part of courtyard in Foguang Temple. There are more than 120 existing temple and other rooms. Among them, there is Great East Hall, which was built in Tang Dynasty, Manjusri Hall, which is built in Jin Dynasty. The rest are Ming and Qing Dynasty architecture. (
From a simple master plan layout (Figure 1) we can see Foguang Temple is a typically temple if rotate the 90 degree to face the south. The location of each buildings and the distance between the buildings is proper. The Zushi Pagoda is the (Liang, 2001) one built before the Tang Dynasty. All the others are rebuilt or new built after Tang. East Hall is rebuilt in the most important location place so that it will be the main hall of the temple. Manjusri Hall is built around AD 1137. (  It has the same size of the East Hall. If we treat the south part between the two unnamed buildings as the gate, the original gate as the side entrance of the west. And the whole plan will change to a new traditional temple that face to south. This layout is the only one I can find of the all the temples extant today. It’s unique.
Tang Dynasty, the one of the strongest period of China. But after a big event called An Lushan Rebellion (安史之乱) from AD 755 to AD 763, Tang dynasty begins to wane. And during AD 875 AD 884, there are Huang Chao Rebellion (黄巢之乱), ( almost all the researchers in china believe that this event lead to Tang Dynasty’s demise. The rebuilt time of Foguang Temple just between these events.
After war, government collects the money from people, and this collection leads to the farmers’ rebellion. Around AD 847, Government did not lack of money, but the people did. As the result, I deduced that the government, or someone from the government could rebuild the temple.
Foguang Temple is look like donated by a woman named Ning, Gongyu, but the real investor is a other man, Wang, Shoucheng. At the time when Temple was rebuilt, Wang has dead for 30 years. But there are still has the record on the column that recording Ning was the owner of the temple, but the money come from the Wang. When Wang was alive, he is a very powerful eunuch. He has killed the old emperor and makes a new one become the emperor. When he dead, his family still have the huge sum wealth. Ning maybe is one of his family members. At that time, the eunuchs have the power to rule the emperor. And the eunuchs like to build the temple. This evidence confirms my guess: government takes part in the rebuilt. This means Foguang temple are eligible to have some Royal Standard’s size and style. And also have the supports from government. Maybe the government sent craftsmen itself it’s also a possibility. This background makes Foguang Temple different from other temples. (Liang, 2001)
Why government involved into this rebuilt event?  I believe its must have the associated with the change of emperor. Like I said in the introduction, Chinese like to ruin the old dynasty’s symbol, and establish their own one. The old emperor banned the Buddhist, the new one revival the Buddhism. And the Eunuchs like to build the temple. The Foguang Temple should be one of the new symbols to show his or new rulers’ power. With the development of Buddhism in China, Foguang Temple soon gathered lots of monks. With other temples in the Mount Wutai together become the center of Buddhist in China.


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