Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Dafo Temple, Zhengding

Zhengding is a town on the outskirts of my city, and has an interesting assortment of old temples and pagodas. We decided to visit it on Saturday, and started our journey by getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the bus station, and then taking part in the vicious scrummage that passes for boarding buses in China. On our way to Zhengding, we went past our own neighbourhood, and realised we could have saved ourselves a good hour or so by picking up the bus there.

I found it hard to believe that I was only forty minutes away from my own noisy and crowded part of the city. It was so quiet that when you were away from the one main road, you couldn’t hear traffic. Everyone seemed for mellow and friendly, and we even saw goats being herded down one of the larger roads.

Thanks to Janie and Eleanor for pointing out that what I thought were sheep were in fact goats. Oops.
Dafo temple is the main draw, but despite being a sunny Saturday, there were very few people there. Still more unusual was that it actually still had the atmosphere of an active place of worship, and we found ourselves instinctively lowering our voices to whispers.

A little background info: the temple was originally built in AD 586, and has been in a state of continuous restoration ever since!

This is the gilded statue of Sakyamuni, which stands in the entrance to Manichaean Hall. This Hall would be worth the entrance fee alone. The statue has a kind of presence that I don't think translates to photographs that meant that, irreligious as we all are, we all just stopped and contemplated for a moment. And then took a photo. And then had a Chinese guy come up and ask us if we would pose for photos with his son.

These are frescoes in the Hall, and again, a photo doesn't do them justice. Amazingly you could walk right up and touch them if you wanted to.

This stunning statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, surrounded by smaller statues and what I assume to be a fantastic realisation of the sea made us all gasp when we turned the corner and saw it. The scale and skill of the artists are superlative.

This is a giant revolving octagonal bookcase that the monks used to house their sutras. They also used as a practical mediation tool, I think by pedalling it around, but unfortunately the English translation was a bit unclear.

Here we have a two-face Buddha, dating from the Ming Dynasty and pleasingly accessorized with lengths of fabric. Check out the intricacy of the ceiling decoration, this is something that always impresses me about traditional Chinese architecture.
One of the many beautiful stone statues that decorate the temple complex - I took far too many photos of them all! I just love that intricacy and spirit of this dragon-lion.

Yup, this statue is as big as the photo makes out. This is another depiction of Guanyin. The 21.3 m high statue was cast in bronze in AD 971. She is housed in the necessarily huge Pavilion of Great Mercy, which was rebuilt in 1999 according to Song Dynasty architectural manuals, and we climbed up the alarmingly steep stairs to get a closer look at her head, and to take in stunning views over the temple complex.

A close up view of her 'thousand arms', used to help reach out to those asking for mercy. Guanyin is a fascinating figure, and since my visit to the temple I'm trying to find out more about her.
The temple has some wonderfully green and relaxing garden area too. The tree is a 'Scholar Tree' and is decorated with lengths of red fabric with covered in messages. I am assuming that this is a form of prayer for good results in examinations, but I'm trying to find out for sure.

There was a collection of old statues missing heads and arms at the back of the temple gardens. I had the odd feeling of thinking that I was at an ancient site in Greece or Italy! I'm not sure if they lost bits through age, vandalism during the Cultural Revolution or if the heads were taken for museums or private collectors.
It was a wonderful day, fascinating and relaxing, encountering the China that you dream about before coming here, but that barely exists any more.

Take a day trip with My World Tuesday.

I am also repeating my plea for English language books that I made yesterday. For many of my students, purchasing a book in English, necessitating as it does a trip to a foreign language bookstore in Beijing, is a proposition as far fetched as flying to London or New York. (An average price for an English paperback is about 100 kuai.) If anyone reading this would be willing to send me an unwanted English language book, please leave a comment and I will be in touch with how to send it to me.

It would mean so much to the person who receives it, and will be a much treasured resource. I am distributing the small collection of books that I have built up here amongst my students, and their joy and gratitude is beyond what can be expressed in words. If you are generous enough to send a book, please make it one without graphic sex or violence. Thank you so much to the people that have already expressed an interest.


  1. Thanks for a great post that has everything great photos, history, fun and adventure.

  2. What an adventure you had! That's funny about the bus ride. I've had that happen before in foreign countries: I go into town to catch a bus only to find out that it goes right past my neighborhood!

    By the way, I do have some ESL textbooks I don't need any more. I get lots from publishers. Why don't you email me and we can "talk".

  3. I saw a documentary about Buddha the other day and I think he had the right idea!

  4. The temple complex looks lovely. The artistry is amazing. It looks great in the pictures so it must be really amazing in person. Thanks for sharing.

  5. In America and Europe we forget that China was civilized long before we were. Pity about the Cultural Revolution, because a lot of treasures were lost. Still, what remains is gorgeous.

  6. Wonderful post. I've never seen anything like this in person so thank you so much for sharing. :-)

  7. This is so different from my own world - and so interesting and beautiful! Wonderful post, I enjoyed both reading and looking at your great photos!

    Thanks for visiting!

  8. I would LOVE to see that place- how amazing. I love Chinese architechture and art.

    I gave you a shout out on my blog, and your book endeavor! Hope it helps. :)

  9. Lovely post again!
    Amazing architecture and those paintings. Beautiful, I loved it all.

  10. These are nice pictures. Great post. Toa chie.

  11. Beautiful pagodas, statues, and frescoes. I like the goats going down the street, too. You managed to find a rural, sort of, area close by.

  12. oh my..i love the place and that temple is just amazing. I'm glad that it's in a constant state of restoration and all those amazing artifacts are being preserved. I just love the artistry and antiquity of them all. Nice post and photos!

  13. The temple is amazing. Love the statues, especially the goddess of mercy in the waves. Surprised how well preserved everything is.

    Sorry, I just donated books to the Senior Center.

  14. Amazing trip to something that is so foreign to me. I did enjoy the shot of the herd of goats(?) in the public street!

  15. Janie and Eleanor, I think you may well be right and that my Zhengding sheep are in fact goats. Oops. What's even more embarrassing is I've spent all of my life in areas with large amounts of sheep farms.

  16. always love coming to your blog and seeing what you have in store for us...and today's post was most interesting. enjoyed the photos and commentary.

    i have many books (paperbacks) of the english literature genre that i would be willing to send if you let me know the particulars. if you go to my blog there's a link to email me.

    have a wonderful week.

  17. Lucky you, China's a very interesting place especially if you go out of the city. Particularly love the goat/sheep crossing the street! :-)