Mysterious Essence Temple (Xuangmiaoguan), Suzhou

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Suzhou Mysterious Sublimity Temple ( 玄妙觀 Xuanmiao Guan ) is located in the downtown of Suzhou City. It is as famous as City God Temple ( 城隍廟 Chenghuang ) in Shanghai and Confucius Temple in Nanjing and came into existence even earlier than the latter ones. According to historical records, the Mysterious Sublimity Temple was founded first in the second Xianning year of the Western Jin dynasty (276) and was named "Zhenqing Temple" at that time. The name was then changed into "Kaiyuan Temple" in the Tang dynasty and "Tianqing Temple" in the Song dynasty. It was not until the Yuan dynasty that the temple was named "mysterious sublimity", two characters taken from "they are both so mysterious as to be a key to the door of myriad sublimity", a sentence in Book of Laozi.

From the Tang to the Qing dynasties, the temple was expanded many times and became the largest Daoist temple in terms of area south of the River. During the reign of Emperor Chengzong of the Yuan dynasty, it was acknowledged as one of the eight greatest temples of the country by imperial order. Whenever Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty went on an inspection tour south of the River, he always stayed at the temple as his temporary dwelling place. From this we can see how reputable the Mysterious Sublimity Temple was.

Since modern times, quite a few buildings of the temple have been destroyed, and today there are only over 10 halls still remaining. Among them, a major hall opened as a religious place is the Hall of the Three Pristine Ones ( 三清殿 Sanqing Dian ). It was the main hall of the temple and was built in the sixth Chunxi year of the Southern Song dynasty (1179). With nine rooms in width and six rooms in depth, it is the oldest large hall in the southern region of Jiangsu. The hall is built on a high terrace and is rectangular. It has overlapping eaves and a nine-ridge roof, the former with delicate square blocks; the hall takes on a majestic appearance. The Daoist patriarchs, the Three Pristine Ones, are worshiped in the hall. The statues, 7 meters high, dressed in gold, looking both kindly and dignified, glowing with health and radiating vigor, can be regarded as elaborate examples of Song dynasty religious statuary. Hung in the middle of the hall is a tablet with Emperor Qianlong's inscriptions "expounding doctrines at the very beginning". The octagonal stone pillars in the hall are carved with the sacred names of Heavenly Lords ( 天尊 Tianzun ).

The "dingdong stone balustrades" in front of the Hall of the Three Purities have always enjoyed the fame as "Gusu's first famous balustrades". It was first built during the Five Dynasties and made up of 38 lotus pillars, 30 hollow guardrails, 12 relief stone seats in the east and the west, and 6 slanting guardrails. The materials are drawn from simple but elegant green and white stones from south of the River, which, along with the yellow-wall, black-tile and brown-lintel hall enhance each other's beauty as if created by nature. The vivid and integral relief is a work of art rarely seen south of the River. It is said that the famous Suzhou artisan Peng Xiang, who was in charge of the construction of the three great halls of the Forbidden City in Beijing, built the magnificent white marble balustrades before the halls just by taking the "dingding stone balustrades" as the model for his design.

Stored in the Mysterious Sublimity Temple are plenty of cultural relics, the most precious of which is the stele with the icon of Laozi. The stele is carved with a picture of Laozi drawn by Wu Daozi, a celebrated painter of the Tang dynasty, and an ode written by Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty and inscribed by Yan Zhenqing, a well-known calligrapher. This stele, which embodies the emperor's ode, famous painting and exquisite calligraphy, is known as "stele of three peerless works".

The Daoist music of Suzhou Mysterious Sublimity has also enjoyed long-term great reputation. It both is influenced by the Daoist music of The Celestial Masters Tradition ( 天師道 Tianshi Dao ) of the Dragon and Tiger Mountain in Jiangxi, and has absorbed folk music, such as Kunqu Opera, music of the Jiangnan area, Wuqiang Opera, local ditties, etc. Basically, it sounds pure, low and deep, slow, and moderate. Styled with the flavor of court music, it is of primitive simplicity, elegance and special pattern.


Address: Dongjiaomen, Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province

Traveling route: go by city bus

Person to contact: Zhang Fenglin

Tele: 86-512-7200785, 7276948, 7277306