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Part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site as the Ancient City of Pingyao and Shuanglin Temple , Zhenguo Temple is a 1000-year old Buddhist Temple located just 12 km northeast of Pingyao. It is the only remaining temple in China built in the architectural style of the Five Dynasties Period (10th century).
The temple was first constructed in 963, during the Northern Han Dynasty (part of the Five Dynasties Period), when it was known as Jingcheng Temple . The name changed to Zhenguo Temple around 1540, in the Ming Dynasty, and the temple was renovated in 1816.
This impressive temple complex is divided into two sections, built around front and back courtyards. The gate of the temple, known as Tianwang Hall, has a bell tower on the left and a drum tower on the right. (The former has an impressive bell within, but there is no longer any drum in the drum tower.) Tianwang Hall, or the Hall of Heavenly Kings, was built in the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1365) and features statues, sculpted in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), of Guan Yu and the four Heavenly Kings guarding the Buddhist Doctrine.
At the center of the front courtyard is the most noteworthy building in the temple, the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddha, one of the oldest wooden buildings in China . Originally constructed in 963, this square-shaped hall was restored in 1815, when the brick walls were added. Inside the hall are 11 clay statues, including an impressive Sakyamani Buddha, two of his followers, four Bodhisattvas, two gods, and two attendants. The plump-looking statues, all with distinctive facial expressions, date from the Five Dynasties Period and are considered to be important works of art. On the neighboring walls are hundreds of small Buddha (not quite the full complement of ten thousand as in the name of the hall) added about 300 years after the statues. The intricate roof design is also considered a noteworthy feature of this historical building, with the tall bracket sets considered a rarity in an ancient temple.
In front of the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddha is the Dragon Scholar Tree, a magnificent tree dating from the Jin Dynasty (265 – 420) and said to resemble a flying dragon.
In the back courtyard is the Hall of Three Buddha, with the Guanyin Hall and the Hall of the King of Hell on either side. The Hall of Three Buddha, named for the three different statues of Sakyamani (all in different forms) within, contains elaborate frescoes from the Ming Dynasty which tell the life story of Sakyamani, the founder of Buddhism.
The Hall of the King of Hell is also interesting. Built in the Ming Dynasty, it features a large statue of the King of Hell together with his two monk-attendants, Ming Gong and Dao Ming. In addition are a number of other statues, and the vivid painting on these sculptures help to make it an outstanding room. The Guanyin Hall (spelled as “Kwan-yin” here) honors the Goddess of Mercy.
Finally, a series of stone tablets in the east and west corridor of the temple primarily recounts the history of the temple.
Zhenguo Temple is famous for its architectural designs and the unique sculptures from the Five Dynasties Period. A visit to this 1000-year old historically significant temple can easily be added on to a visit to Pingyao.
Location: Zhenguo Temple is located in south-central Shanxi , just 12 km northwest of the Ancient City of Pingyao, a major tourist site. It can be reached easily by bus or taxi from the Ancient City of Pingyao.