Fire God Temple, Beijing

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Built in the sixth Zhenguan year of the Tang dynasty, 1300 years ago, and known as the Temple of the Perfect Sovereign of the Virtue of Fire ( 火德真君 Huode Zhenjun ), the Fire Spirit Temple was located at Shishahai, near Dianmen, Beijing. In Yuan Emperor Shun's sixth Zhizhen year, the temple was rebuilt. It saw its next enlargement during the rule of emperor Wanli, who provided glazed tiles to prevent fires, which happened repeatedly in the imperial court. In the 24th year of Qing emperor Qianlong's rule, it saw more renovations, with yellow tiles added to the roofs of its gates and pavilions.


Today, the main structure of the temple retains its original features. In the south is the Hall of the Perfect Sovereign of Great Kindness ( 隆恩殿 Longen Dian ), also known as the Heavenly General of the Jade Pivot Fire Office ( 玉樞火府天將 Yusu Huofu Tianjiang ). In the north end lies its main section, namely, Southern Fire Patriarch Hall in honor of Perfect Sovereign of the Virtue of Fire, who was also known as the Fire God, or Fire Patriarch. In the past, a tablet with emperor Qianlong's handwriting and couplets were seen inside the Hall. In the north of the temple stands The Big Dipper Hall ( 斗姥閣 Doumu Ge ). Another tablet from emperor Qianlong was hung inside. At the far north end is Jade Emperor Hall, which also used to feature a tablet provided by emperor Qianlong. In the past, both wings of the hall consisted of long corridors leading to two separate doors. At the end of the corridors was a wooden pavilion overlooking Shishahai. Unfortunately, many of these things cannot be seen today.


Since ancient times, the Fire God temple has had its own popular culture, among which the most famous is the birthday celebration of the Fire Patriarch on the 22nd day of the 6th lunar month. In the past, on that day, the emperor used to send officials to the temple, paying respect to the Fire God on his behalf. According to a book entitled Records of Emperor Xi in the Ming Dynasty, in the 3rd month of the first Tianqi year, his majesty designated the 22nd day of every 6th month as a holiday in memory of the Perfect Sovereign of the Virtue of Fire. At the end of the Qing dynasty, the Fire God temple was used to host the Middle Origin celebration. On that day, a very big Boat for Universal Salvation ( 普渡船 Pudu Chuan ), which was normally donated by local rich families, would be burned on the ground of the corridor outside the temple. In the whole process, the place was thronged with countless spectators.


As an imperial temple, the temple was under the control of Daoists of The Orthodox Oneness Sect. It was also the Celestial Masters' residence when they came to Beijing to visit emperors. In the 30s and 40s of the last century, Tian Zijiu, abbot of the temple, was very good at building social ties. He was known as one of 'four brilliant men' in the capital, or 'handsome Daoists'.


Since its construction more than 1000 years ago, rains and winds have washed away the temple's splendor and glamour. Today, the ruined Fire God temple stands obscure in the middle of local residences. No one knew how long the rotten poles could uphold it. Fortunately, in 1981, it was designated as a historic site by local government. As the result, all residents inside the temple were relocated. The Daoist Association of China raised a fund to renovate the temple. After the renovation work is done, the Fire God temple will house the offices of the Beijing Daoist Association.