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Yongle Temple

The Yongle Temple is located on the east side of Longquan Village, 3 kilometers to the north of Ruicheng County, Shanxi Province.

The original site of the Yongle Temple is in Yongle Town, Yongji County. To make way for the Sanmenxia Water Control Project, the whole buildings and the frescoes were moved to Ruicheng County in 1959. The Yongle Temple, originally called Da Chunyang Wanshougong (Big Pure Sun Longevity Temple), is very grand in scale and has a compact layout. The temple is imposing and magnificent and the building complex appears splendid.

According to the relevant ancient records in Taoist books and inscriptions in the temple, it was the birthplace of Lu Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals. After he passed away, the local people changed the name of his residence into the Ancestral Temple of Lugong. The residence was expanded as a Taoist temple during the last years of the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). In the 4th year (1231) of the Shaoding reign, it was burnt down. At that time, the imperial court cried up Qui Chuji, the leader of the Quanzhen sect of the new Taoism, and therefore the founder Lu Dongbin also was especially respected. In the second year, the imperial court ordered to upgrade the temple into a palace and the Taoist Immortal was entitled as Divinity. Later Pan Dechong, the director of the north and south Taoism in Hedong, was sent to take charge of the construction of the temple.

According to the records in the relevant literatures, the construction of the temple began in 1247, and completed in the 18th year (1358) of the Zhizheng reign under Yuan (1271-1368) Emperor Shundi. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911), there were some small maintenances and repainting of the frescoes. The main buildings of the temple are distributed one after another along the central axis from south to north, including the Temple Gate, the Hall of Dragon and Tiger, the Hall of Trinity, the Chunyang Hall, the Chongyang Hall of Double Sun and so on, which cover an area of more than 86,000 square meters. Among them, the Temple Gate was built in the Qing Dynasty, and the rest were built in the Yuan Dynasty. The Yongle Temple is the earliest official Taoist temple extant today, and also the most intact group of buildings of the Yuan Dynasty extant now.

The Yongle Temple is famous for its well-preserved and rarely seen frescoes of the Yuan Dynasty. There are elegant frescoes of 960 square meters in the main halls. The frescos feature rich themes and superb painting techniques, and are the masterpieces in the painting history in China.

The Hall of Dragon and Tiger, also called the Wuji Gate, used to be the gate of the temple. Inside, the roof beams are succinctly made. There are frescoes of 26 deities guarding the abode of immortals. Though the frescoes are slightly destroyed, the manner of the originals can still be seen.

The Hall of Trinity, also called the Wuji Hall, is the largest hall in the temple. It was so called because the hall enshrines statues of three important figures in the Taoism myths. The base of the hall is big, tall and plain, looking grand and splendid. The hall is seven-bay wide and four-bay deep. On the roof, colored glaze relieves, with yellow, green and blue alternated with each other, are connected to form five ridges. The carving of chiwei (a kind of ornament on roof ridge) looks grand and colorful, while the immortals and the beasts are exquisite and lively. The inside of the hall is wide and bright and the ceiling is painted with colorful drawings. There are really superb beautiful embellishments on the ceiling such as figures, flowers, dragons, phoenixes, Chinese unicorns and so on, in various shapes and postures. The colored paintings on each part of the ceiling are well preserved. There is the combination of colored paintings and sculptures, which is rarely seen in other places. The impending sculpture of the Deity, looking well rounded and self-possessed, is sitting on the waves against the wind, behind which is the boundless sea of clouds, as if it were in the Penglai Island.

The hall is full of frescoes, which are 4.26 meters high and 94.68 meters long, and 403.3 square meters in total. In the second year (1325) of the Taiding reign in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Ma Junxiang and others from Luoyang of Henan province painted all the frescoes. The paintings, taking eight main statues dressed in imperial clothes as its center, contain more than 290 statues. The main statues on the frescoes are more than 3 meters tall and the attendants are more than 2 meters tall, arrayed into four or five tiers. The paintings have well-organized layouts, delicate and precise portrays of figures and vivid expressions. The technique of drawing and filling with heavy color was employed to paint the frescoes. They are really elaborate works of the ancient paintings.

The Chunyang Hall, also called the Hall of Founder Lu, is five bays wide and three bays, with a single eave and nine ridges. Inside the hall, only four golden columns support the hall, and the crossbeam spans four bays, make the hall appear particularly wide. There are 52 paintings in total on the walls, describing the life story of L Dongbin. Each painting is unique in its style and connected with each other by some paintings of natural scenery such as mountains and waters, clouds and fogs, trees and rocks and so on. On the paintings, the pavilions and towers, the wine shops and tea houses, the gardens and private schools, are arrayed in clear gradation and scattered about but properly spaced, while all kinds of figures such as senior officials, scholars, businessmen, common people, peasants, beggars and so on, are vividly portrayed with different expressions. All these paintings are precious resources for the research into the living conditions of the people in the Yuan Dynasty. Behind the shrines, there are frescoes describing that Lu Chunyang is asking Zhongli about Taoism. This painting is drawn with concise lines and superb techniques, which represents the typical painting style of the Yuan Dynasty. The frescoes in the Chunyang Hall were painted by Zhu Haowen, Zhang Zunli and other disciples in the 18th year of the Zhizheng reign.

The Chongyang Hall is five-bay wide. There are 49 continuous paintings that describe Wang Chongyang, the founder of the Quanzhen sect of Taoism, preached Taoism. The artistic style is similar to that of the frescoes in the Chunyang Hall.

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