Set in forested
mountains to the west of Beijing, TanZheSi and
JieTaiSi are tranquil retreats in fresh mountain
air, scented with burning incence. Charming and
hardly changed for centuries, these temples are
unusual in that they received imperial support
(the Qing rulers preferred Tibetan Buddhism), and
both have long been popular with local pilgrims.
Temple (TanZhe Si)
Situated in the
Western Hills, this Buddhist temple lies 45km
west of Beijing. The temple name means 'Dragon
Pool and Mulberry Tree Temple', due to its
proximity to the Dragon Pool and the trees
growing in the surrounding hills.
Although its name
has changed on numerous occasions, it dates back
to the Western Jin dynasty (265 - 316). A local
saying on the sign confirms its history:
"First there was TanZhe, and after there was
YuZhou." YuZhou is an ancient name for
Covering an area
41,600 sq meters, this temple is the largest in
the area and one of the oldest. The greenery of
the surroundings is spectacular, especially in
the spring when the fruit trees are in blossom.
There are also lush bamboo gardens.
Most of the
buildings are in typical Ming and Qing style
architecture. The temple primarily comprises of
the Hall of Abstinence, the Ordination Altar and
the Hall to GuanYin.
In the main
courtyard on the central axis is a pair of
towering and majestic 30m high ginkgo trees (the
'Emperor and Empress'), supposedly planted in the
Tang dynasty (618-907) or perhaps Liao Dynasty
(916 - 1125), as well as several apricot trees,
cypresses, peonies and purple jade orchids. The
'Emperor Tree' was christened the "King of
Trees" by Emperor QianLong. "The
Emperor's Wife" is supposed to produce a new
branch every time a new emperor is born.
The complex is
extensive, and is said to have provided a model
for the layout of the Forbidden City. Above and
to the right of the main courtyard lies a rare
stupa yard (TaYuan), with stone monuments built
in different styles over a period of several
centuries and housing the remains of eminent
The Hall to
GuanYin (Goddess of Mercy), at the top of the
western axis, is associated with princess
MiaoYan, daughter of Kublai Khan. Legend has it
that the princess entered the nunnery here in the
13th century. Within the hall, indentations can
be found in the stone on which she always knelt
to pray in her devotion to GuanYin. It is said
that she was buried within the temple compound
and a statue of her is on display here.
Temple (JieTai Si)
JieTai Temple is
located 35km west of Beijing and is only 10km
from Tanzhe Temple. JieTaiSi, or 'Temple of the
Ordination Altar', takes its name from its famous
Ming marble ordination altar, built some 1,300
years ago. This altar is nearly 5 meters high and
is decorated with exquisite carvings.
The temple was
first built in the year 622 during the Tang
dynasty but most of the buildings here now date
from the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911).
The temple sits on
a hillside looking more like a fortress than a
temple, surrounded by forbiddingly tall red
walls. On a clear day, this temple offers an
unhindered view of Beijing.
main hall are a number of courtyards containing
rock formations and ancient twisted pine and
cypress trees. It is renowned for its venerable
pines - eccentric looking trees growing in odd
directions. Indeed, one, leaning out at an angle
of about thirty degrees, is pushing over a pagoda
on the terrace beneath it.
trees and are the subject of many songs. It is
said that the Chinese Scholar Tree, known as the
protector of Buddhism, is more than 1,000 years
Other famous trees
include the 'Nine Dragon Tree' which has 9
branches that reach up to the sky like 9 flying
dragons, and the 'Mobile Tree' which trembles
even when only one branch is slightly touched.
The enormous white
marble ordination platform (JieTai) is China's
largest and intricately carved with figures -
monks, monsters (beaked and winged) and saints.
Dating from the Liao Dynasty, it is a
three-tiered structure with 113 statues of the
God of Ordination placed in niches around the
base. It is located in Jie Tan Dian (Hall of the
Altar of Ordination) in the far right (north
west) corner of the temple.
conducted on this platform to commemorate the
ascension of a devotee to full monkhood required
permission from the emperor. Often referred to as
the "Beida [Peking University, nominally the
best university in China] of Buddhism" for
its ability to attract the most promising
monastic scholars (along with temples in QuanZhou
and HangZhou), it has been the most significant
site for the ordination of Buddhist monks for 900
hall holds a beautiful wooden altar, decorated
with dragons in relief. There are also fragrant
Admission to TanZhe
Si (tel. 010/6086-2505) is ¥35; the ticket
office is open from 8am to 5:30pm in summer and
8:30am to 4:30pm in winter.
Admission to JieTai
Si (tel. 010/6980-6611) is ¥35; the ticket
office is open year-round from 8am to 6pm.
Both temples are
easily accessible by taking bus no. 931 from the
PingGuoYuan subway stop (at the west end of line
one) to TanZhe Si. Busses run daily 7am-5:30pm,
about every 30 minutes. Journey time is about 1 hour.
Once at the subway stop, take exit D, turn right
and continue straight a few minutes to the bus
station; take the plain red and beige, rather
than the red and yellow zhi version of the bus.
From TanZhe Si,
the last stop on this route, walk up the stone
path at the end of the parking lot. From there,
take bus no. 931 east 10km to JieTai Si, where
you reach the site by walking uphill from the bus
At weekends, the
no. 7 tourist bus runs from the north east corner
of QianMen (Sat-Sun 7am-8:30am, every 30 minutes;
about ¥50), and includes a stop at the ShiHua
Caves. April 15 and October 15.
A round-trip by
'taxi' (private car/minibus) to both temples
should cost less than ¥300. You will need to
bargain hard and refrain from paying until on the
We recommend you
go on a weekday if possible, by either bus or
'taxi'. You will take the narrow highway 108, a
two-lane road that twists and turns its way
through the mountains. After passing the steel
works and chimneys of industrial FengTai, you
will enter another world.