Eternal Happiness Temple (Yonglegong) , Shanxi

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The Eternal Happiness Temple ( 永樂宮 Yongle Gong ) was formerly in Yongle Town, Ruicheng County, Shanxi Province. When the Sanmenxia irrigation works were constructed in 1959, the temple happened to be in the flooded area, so all the buildings were moved to Longquan Village 3 kilometers to the north of Ruicheng County to be restored and maintained. It is said that Lü Dongbin was born at this village on April 14 in the 14th Zhenyuan year of the Tang dynasty (789), so people of the Song dynasty built a shrine to worship him at his former residence. After The Complete Perfection Tradition ( 全真 Quanzhen ) became prosperous in the Jin dynasty, Lü Dongbin was venerated as one of its patriarchs and so the shrine was expanded into a temple. It was rebuilt in the second year during the reign of Dingzong of the Yuan dynasty (1247) and was gradually enlarged into four halls. It was given the name "Great Longevity Temple of Chunyang" ( 大純陽萬壽宮 Da Chunyang Wanshou Gong ) by imperial order. It was in the 18th Zhizheng year (1358) that all the frescoes, which had been made during a period of over 100 years, were completed. This is really a tremendous construction project. Because the temple was built in the town of Yongle (eternal happiness), it was named Eternal Happiness Temple by locals of the area.

In the middle line of the temple there are five main buildings, namely the temple gate, the Hall of Dragon and Tiger (also called non-extreme gate), the Hall of the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清殿 Sanqing Dian ) (also called non-extreme hall), Chunyang Hall, and Chongyang Hall. The temple gate was built in the Qing dynasty, while all the rest were built in the Yuan dynasty. On the two sides of the yard from the temple gate to the Hall of Dragon and Tiger is built a spacious and tall stele corridor, where 30 steles of different dynasties are displayed. They give an account of the construction process of the Eternal Happiness Temple and the content of the frescoes. None of the four halls have windows. Beside the doors there are just walls, which are full of Daoist frescoes. The walls are magnificent and the painting skill is masterly. They cover altogether over 1,000 square meters, so large that they are rarely seen in the country. The frescoes of the Hall of Dragon and Tiger and the Hall of the Three Purities are huge figure paintings, while those of Chunyang Hall and Chongyang Hall are story pictures.

The Hall of Dragon and Tiger displays primitive simplicity. There used to be big and tall statues of the star sovereigns, the black dragon and the white tiger, in the hall, but unfortunately, they were damaged long ago. All that is currently extant are frescoes of the 26 heavenly spirits who guard the immortal's realm, such as Shentu, Yulei, heavenly soldiers, warriors, local spirits, etc.

The Hall of the Three Pristine Ones is the largest hall of the Eternal Happiness Temple. There are seven rooms in breadth and four rooms in depth. The hall is the place of worship of the venerable deities, the Three Pristine Ones. The walls are filled with the 400-odd-square meter fresco "Worshiping the Origin". The main body of the fresco is composed of pictures of the Jade Emperor ( 玉皇 Yuhuang ), the southern extreme, the eastern extreme, the Purple Subtlety Constellation ( 紫微 Ziwei ), Gouchen, the God of Earth ( 后土 Houtu ), the wood father, and the gold mother, who are all dressed as emperors or empresses and look as if worshiping the three pristine ones. Immortals make an obeisance with immortal clouds winding around. The fresco shows great momentum.

The main fresco of the Chunyang Hall is "Roaming and Transformation of the Imperial Sovereign Chunyang", which depicts Lü Dongbin's experiences of cultivating Dao and attaining immortality. The whole fresco is composed of 52 chain pictures. On the lintel of the gate in the northern wall of the hall is drawn a horizontal picture "the Eight Immortals crossing the sea]] ( 八仙過海 Baxian Guohai )". At the exit of the back door of the hall is a picture "Zhong and Lü talking about Dao", in which Zhongli Quan who exposes his chest and wears long whiskers is talking freely while Lü Dongbin is inclining his head and listening carefully in a modest manner. This picture, drawn unrestrainedly and vividly, is an elaborate ancient figure painting hard to come by.

The fresco of the Chongyang Hall is composed of 49 chain pictures, whose subject is Wang Chongyang's experiences, namely his birth, cultivation of the Dao, attainment of the Dao, and converting of the seven disciples of the Complete Perfection Tradition.

The painters of the frescos of the Eternal Happiness Temple are some unknown folk artisans. With their ability and wisdom, they leave later generations a world-level artistic treasury.


Address: northern Ruicheng County, Shanxi Province

Traveling route: go to Yuncheng City or Fenglingdu of Shanxi Province by train and then to Ruicheng County by bus and finally to Eternal Happiness Temple by bus