The Tanzhe Temple was first built
in the Western Jin and Eastern Jin dynasties (265-420),
when it was known as the Temple of Excellent Blessings.
In the Tang Dynasty it was renamed the Dragon Spring
Temple and in the Jin Dynasty rebuilt as the Temple
of Longevity. Additions were made to it in the Yuan,
Ming and Qing dynasties, and during the Kangxi reign
it was rebuilt and renamed the Temple of Hill and Cloud.
The present name of the temple refers
to the Dragon Pool (Longtan) above the temple and the
wild mulberry (zhe) trees growing in the surrounding
hills. From the old saying,"First there was Tanzhe
and then there was Youzhou (a name for the Beijing region
dating back to the sixth century),"one can imagine
the antiquity of the temple. Legend has it that the
pool was originally called the Green Dragon Pool (Qinglongtan).
When the famous Tang monk Fa Zang came here to preach,
a green dragon residing in the pool was so frightened
of the monk's supernatural powers that it fled. That
day at dusk a violent storm broke out and the pool was
transformed into a flat plain.
The temple is located in Beijing's
Western Hills, on Tanzhe Hill, 13 kilometers west of
Mentougou, and laid out along three axes.
The central axis consists of the main
gate and the front, main and rear halls. Many cultural
relics are to be found in this architectural group,
the most interesting being a statue of Princess Miaoyan,
daughter of Kublai Khan. According to legend, the temple
as a nun. She worshiped the Bodhisattva Guanyin so devoutly
that the particular flagstone upon which she stood and
kowtowed soon developed three indentations in it-two
from her feet and one from her head. Among the other
relics is an image of the monk Yao Guangxiao, an imperial
tutor during the Ming Dynasty. On the eastern side of
the Mahavira Hall stands an ancient gingko tree known
as the Emperor's Tree. It is nearly 30 meters high and
is said to have been planted in the Liao Dynasty. There
is another symmetrically placed gingko growing on the
western side of the hall called the Emperor's Companion
Tree. The pines along the central axis are particularly
grand and besides them there are magnolia and sal trees
and a variety of other rare flowers and shrubs. Climbing
up to the Vairocaca Hall (Piluge), one can obtain a
good view of the entire temple. Hanging under the eaves
of the Hall of the Dragon King is the famous stonefish.
This one-meter-long"sea creature"weighs 150
kilograms and is carved out of a meteorite. When struck
it resounds with a clear bell-like tone.
On the eastern axis are the rooms
where the Qing emperors rested during their visits to
the hills. The architectural style employed here differs
substantially from that in the temple.
A bamboo grove has been planted in
the northern section of this part of the temple, and
through a dragon-head spout set in an adjacent wall,
water from two mountain springs bubbles forth and flows
through a curving watercourse carved in white marble
which forms the base of a small kiosk.
The western axis is comprised of a
number of scattered buildings. Although the overall
layout gives the impression of solemn regularity, the
square and round Buddhist halls with their colorful
glazed tile roofs are very beautiful. The highest point
in this section is the Hall of the Goddess of Mercy.
Great numbers of tiny bells hang from its corners and
make a delightful tinkling sound when the wind blows.
Outside the main gate are two other
points of interest: the Hall of Peaceful Joy (Anletang);
and the stupa park, containing the tombs of monks from
the Liao and Jin dynasties. Originally, there were numerous
wild mulberry trees in the park, but now only one remains
in the eastern section.