Sinophilia - your gateway to China
Home > Archive > Religions > Taoist places

Baiyun Guan - Beijing

Beijing White Cloud Temple is the seat of the Chinese Daoist Association and the most important Quanzhen temple in China. It's actually one of the few active temples remaining on the mainland, where the majority of Taoist monasteries are now celebrated as touristic spots and no longer have any religious significance. The White Cloud Temple is so "politically correct" that its self-presentation (in Chinese and English, published in 1994) ends with the following lines: "Since the PRC was founded, the government has had a policy of freedom of religion, and protected cultural relics and historical sites. Twice it allocated large sums of money to help Daoists renovate the White Cloud Temple and restore its ancient architecture". Well anybody with some knowledge of Chinese contemporary history would agree that the government never did anything of that kind other than for propaganda, and that on the contrary it meticulously destroyed most of Chinese cultural relics - except those useful to its international image.
Anyway, the White Cloud Temple is gorgeus, and it's been possibly restored even too much... It dates back to the beginning of the Ming dynasty, but it was built on the place of VIII° century Tianchang Temple, which enshrined a stone statue of Laozi, still extant.
Tianchang Temple burnt down in 1202, and in 1224 the Perfected Qiu Changchun - the founder of Longmen school of the Quanzhen sect - was invited by Gengis Khan to live there in the newly built Taiji Temple, which was renamed Changchun Palace after his death.
The present temple is composed of six courtyards on its central axis and of innumerable halls, towers and pagodas which enshrine statues of the most important Taoist deities and immortals, such as the Jade Emperor and the Three Purities, Qiu Changchun and the Eight Immortals. More popular deities such as the God of Wealth and the King of Medicine are also enshrined in minor halls. The Scripture Tower stores an original copy of Zhentong Daozang, the present Taoist Canon, a gift of Ming emperor Yingzong (below).
The priests of the White Cloud Temple still perform numerous rituals on special dates such as the birthdays of major deities. Because, as the above-mentioned pamphlet states, "after the foundation of the PRC, Daoism has been under protection by law. The masses of Daoist believers adhere to patriotism and enjoy the right of freedom of religion and are able to do their bit in socialist construction". Do they ask the Jade Emperor to preserve Jiang Zemin's health?
As for the small bookshop of the temple, it is quite disappointing, but you can try and talk with the old lady there who refuses to believe that the most interesting classics in their beautiful editions can be of any use to a foreigner, and see if you can manage to buy something in the end.


By whatUseek

About us

Sinophilia Homepage

Copyright © 1998-2003 Diana Lavarini & Anna Del Franco.