The White Cloud Temple is located in southwest of Beijing and directly behind the Broadcasting Building. It is one of "The Three Great Ancestral Courts" of the Complete Perfection School of Taoism, and its title is "The First Temple under Heaven". Also it is the largest Daoist architectural complex in Beijing and was the headquarters for the Dragon Gate sect.
Although historical records show that there were Daoist temples in Beijing during the Tang Dynasty, it was not until the early Yuan Dynasty that they came to be built on a large scale. The Yuan Emperor Shizu (Kublai Khan), whose reign lasted from 1260 to 1293, appointed a Daoist priest from Shandong province to the position of "National Teacher," which nominally put him in charge of all Chinese Daoist affairs. This priest's name was Qiu Chuji, who was commonly known as the Sage of Eternal Spring. While Qiu Chuji was in Beijing, he resided in the Temple of the Great Ultimate, which he expanded and renamed the Temple of Eternal Spring. From then on, it became the center of Daoism in northern China. It was not until the Zhengtong era of the Ming Dynasty that its current name was adopted.
Every year on the 19th day of the first lunar month a festival is held at the abbey in celebration of Qiu Chuji’s birthday. It was thought that Qiu would return to earth as an immortal on this day. The festival was first held during the Yuan Dynasty, but was suspended after the People's Republic was established in 1949. The temple was revived in the 1990s, and continues to be held to this day.
The extant temple was rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty and exemplifies the Daoist architecture of the period. The complex is composed of multiple yards set out on a central axis. From front to back the structures are as follows: a memorial archway, the main gate, a pool, a bridge, the Hall of Officials of the Heavenly Censor and so forth.
In the center of the rear courtyard is the Hall of the Patriarch Qiu, devoted to the worship of Qiu Chuji, and behind this, the Hall of the Four Heavenly Emperors, the second story of which is the Hall of Three Purities. Here one can see the similarity between Daoist and Buddhist temple architectures, though the decorative details and paintings make use of specifically Daoist motifs such as “lingzhi” fungus, specifically Daoist immortals and cranes, and the Eight Diagrams.
The temple contains a stele with calligraphy by Emperor Qianlong recording in detail the history the history of the temple and the life of Qiu Chuji. And the arches at the front have detailed traditional images including two hidden monkeys. Visitors believe it is lucky to find and touch them. At busy times, there is actually a line of people waiting to touch them, which takes the fun out of finding them too.
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