Water Spirit Temple (Hongdong County, Shanxi)

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A next-door neighbor of the Lower Guangsheng Temple at the southern slope of Huoshan Mountain, Hongdong County, Shanxi,the Water Spirit Temple ( 水神廟 Water Spirit Temple) worships the Water Spirit and King of Manifest Correspondence (水神明應王 Water Spirit and King of Manifest Correspondence ). First built in the Tang, it was rebuilt in the 9th year (1305) of the Dade Era of the Yuan. During the Ming and Qing, people rebuilt its Mountain Gate and Yi Gate. Facing south, the temple has an axis formed by the Mountain Gate, the Yi Gate and the Hall of the King of Manifest Correspondence. The Mountain Gate, a single-brimmed hard-mountain-top-styled construction of three chambers aligning in the east-west direction and six rafters in depth, has a wall in the middle separating it into the front and back parts. The front part has two 3-meter high statues of patrolling water spirits and the back part is an arena. The Yi Gate, or the Hall of Offerings, a construction of three chambers aligning in the east-west direction and four rafters in depth, has no statue inside. The Hall of the King of Manifest Correspondence has five chambers both in width and depth. It is a multiple-brimmed construction in the style of mountain-like sloping ceiling. Below the brim, statues of two Gate Spirits modeled in the Yuan stand stately and solemn. In the middle of the hall is the statue of the Water Spirit and King of Manifest Correspondence, gracefully dressed in emperor’s clothes. On his two sides stand the vivid and fine statues of four appropriately clothed demure lads and virgins. Below the stage, the statues of four officials under the Water Spirit are different in facial expressions, minutely and adequately showing their psychologies. Besides the 11 statues, the hall has in its four walls 13 frescoes depicting local people begging for rain and the King of Manifest Correspondence spreading rain as well as folk stories about the Taizong Emperor of the Tang. On the east side of the southern wall is an invaluable fresco about opera performance. Finished in the 1st year (1324) of the Taiding Era of the Yuan, the fresco bears in regular script an inscription saying “Zhong Duxiu Troupe of Daxing Performing Here”. 311 centimeters wide and 524 centimeters high, the fresco depicts four actors and seven actresses, one of whom pops her head from behind the curtain and looks about. Vividly representing the scene of a folk troupe’s performance, the fresco shows the prosperity of opera in the Yuan and takes an important position in the history of Chinese opera.

Full of flavor from real life, the frescoes in the Temple of the Water Spirit exhibit the artists’achievement of the frescoes of the Yuan and are precious materials for the study of Yuan society.