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Sunday, July 10, 2011

No. 49: Tongjiao Temple, Beijing

The streetside gate at Tongjiao Temple (通教寺) in Beijing (北京) is as picturesque as anything inside.
My next destination was a world apart from the greenery of Badachu Park. Tongjiao (maybe "Skillful Teaching") Temple is located just off of busy Dongzhimen North Alley, and is surrounded by urban development.

Despite its bustling location, the temple manages to maintain a relatively serene atmosphere. This is partly accomplished through remaining closed to the public except on ceremonial days, the days of the new moon and full moon.

Although I visited a few days before an opening, I was kindly admitted to the grounds. The halls, however, were closed. I returned a few days later on the proper day to see the interiors close up.

The temple has an interesting history. Founded by a Ming Dynasty eunuch, it became a nunnery in the Qing. After falling on hard times, it was restored by two enterprising nuns from Fujian, named Kaihui and Shengyu, in the 1940s.

The temple is renowned for its strict discipline (as witnessed by the cloistering on most days). At its height the modern temple housed about 70 self-supporting nuns. Used as a police station during the Cultural Revolution, the temple was restored and re-opened in 1981.

On my second visit, I was pleased to see that the ritual was well-attended (despite its being a weekday). An English-speaking volunteer showed me the small gift shop and the dining room for visitors, and I was able to peek inside the halls that weren't being used for the ceremony. The vitality of the activity there more than made up for the shiny newness of the halls and statues.

(An edited version of this article was published in the Shenzhen Daily March 11, 2013.)

GPS Info:
  • 39.94428, 116.42625



The peaceful courtyard at Tongjiao Temple, Beijing, on one of the "closed days"
The elegantly-tended gate area at the temple (postcard above)
The main gate itself
The courtyard takes on a festive air on the two ceremonial days each month

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