LI Yong

A Daoist Temple. In the third century Daoist worshippers began to call their temples jing or “peaceful houses.” PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Daoist Temples have been found throughout China since 25 CE. They provide a place for spiritual improvement and training, as well as a place to take part in Daoist religious activities. Only a handful of Daoist temples remain as cultural heritage sites for Daoists and tourists alike.

Daoism was founded during the early Han dynasty (206 BCE—220 CE). At this time believers needed a simple place to gather for meetings or to conduct religious practices. Because there were no set requirements for a Daoist temple, the architecture tended to be plain: simple buildings with simple furniture inside. Taipindao, one sect of Daoism, called these kinds of places “thatched cottages,” whereas Wudoumidao, another sect, called them “quiet houses.”

During the Three Kingdoms period (220–265 CE) and the North and South dynasties (220–589 CE), as Daoism gradually became more active with more adherents, Daoist worshippers began to call Daoist structures jing or “peaceful houses.” Daoism eventually grew to become the official religion of the imperial family, who worshiped Laozi, one of the main figures in Daoism, as an ancestor. Between 386 and 581 CE, Daoist structures could be found in nearly all parts of China. The general configuration of Daoist temples was established during the Tang and Song dynasties. When the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) came to power, Daoist architecture included structures such as “peaceful houses” in which ordinary people could worship; temples, for priests and officials; and palaces, for members of the imperial family. These structures could be found close to the imperial palace. By the end of the Tang dynasty in 907 CE, China had sixteen hundred Daoist temples and palaces. The emperor of the Song dynasty (960–1279) continued to praise Daoism. Emperor Huizong even ordered the building of a Daoist temple in every province and prefecture.

Daoist temples are built according to the law of symmetric arrangement along a center axis, but they also are designed according to the terrain if the temple is on a mountain. Daoist temples differ in scale and composition. They also differ in usage: Some are palaces for gods’ statutes, some are houses for priests to practice Daoism, some are places for ritual, and some are libraries.

Daoist temples remaining in China today belong to different sects of Daoism. Those belonging to the Quanzhen sect are the most popular in northern China; Louguan Temple in southeast Zhouzhi County, Shaanxi Province, is the oldest Daoist temple in China. It is said that Yinxi, an official of Hanguguan Pass during the Zhou dynasty (1045–256 BCE), even welcomed Laozi to this temple, where Laozi related the Daodejin to Yinxi before leaving the central plains for the west. Because the Quanzhen sect gained power during the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1125–1234) and Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) in this area, Louguan Temple was incorporated into the Quanzhen sect.

Another famous temple of the Quanzhen sect is the White Cloud Temple in Beijing. It was founded in 739, enlarged in 1174, and became the largest Daoist temple in northern China. Because Mongol conqueror Chinggis Khan (also called Genghis Khan, 1162–1227) of the Yuan dynasty invited Qiu Chuji, a famous Daoist priest of the Quanzhen sect, to live in this temple, and because the director of this temple, Wang Changyue, was given the title of bishop during the early Qing dynasty (1644–1912), the Quanzhen sect regarded this temple as its central temple.

Yonglegong Temple, located in Yongji County, Shanxi Province, also belongs to the Quanzhen sect. It was founded during the Tang dynasty to memorialize Lu Dongbin, one of the famous eight Daoist immortals, and enlarged in 1262. Its main architecture—such as the Daoist Trinity Palace, Chunyang Palace, and Chongyang Palace—has many wonderful frescoes.

Another important group of Daoist temples is on Wudang Mountain in Hubei Province. These temples were built during the early Tang dynasty. However, the largest construction in the history of Daoism in China was in 1413. The project required the labor of 300,000 people for eleven years. It included eight palaces, two temples, thirty-six halls, and seventy-two shrines. Thus, the Wudang Daoist temples are rare in scale in China.

Further Reading

<p class="bibliographyChen, M. (1990). Zhongguo Daojiao Jianzhu de Lishi Zhuanhuan [Historical transformation of Chinese Daoist architecture]. Zhongjiao, 2, 27–30.

Li Yangzheng. (1984). Bai Yunguan yu Zhongguo Daojiao [Bai Yunguan and Chinese Daoism]. Zhongguo Jianshe, 7, 70–72.

Ma, B. (1987). Shou Gongguan [To discuss the beliefs of the Daoist temple]. Wenshi Zhishi, 5, 102–106.

<p class="bibliographyXiu, B. (1962). Yonglegong Chuangjian Shiliao Biannian [A collection of historical facts regarding Yongle Temple]. Wenwu, 4–5, 80–87.

He who stays near vermilion gets stained red; he who stays near ink gets stained black.


Jìn zhū zhě chì, jìn mò zhě hēi

Source: Li, Yong. (2009). Daoist Temples. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 577–579. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Daoist temples differ in scale and composition and also in usage: Some are palaces to house statutes of the gods, while some are houses in which to practice Daoist rituals. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Daoist Temples (Dàoguàn 道观)|Dàoguàn 道观 (Daoist Temples)

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