The story appears on

Page A8

August 12, 2020

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

What locals hold dear: a temple of 500 sages, an ancient lane

Hanyang is probably the least touristy of the three towns that merged to form Wuhan. Nevertheless, it is actually the birthplace of the city and worthy of a visit.

Written records of the town can be traced back 2,300 years, to the story of Chinese zither player Yu Boya and his soulmate Zhong Ziqi, a woodcutter who loved listening to Yu’s music and often commented on it poetically. They met in Hanyang. The story about the deep bonds of friendship is known to everyone in China. When Zhong died, Yu smashed his instrument and never played again.

So, too, do Hanyang residents have a deep bond of affection for their town.

One of the most important sites to locals is Guiyuan Temple, or Temple of Original Purity. It is a place where Wuhan residents go to worship the Buddha every spring.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims go to Guiyuan Temple on the fifth day of the first lunar month, the day when the God of Wealth walks the earth, according to Chinese legends.

Although the god has nothing to do with Buddhism, most Chinese Buddhist temples accept the fact that people want to pray to him. And somehow, Wuhan people believe that Guiyuan Temple is the best to have their prayers heard.

The scene at the temple on that day is riveting to see. Wave upon wave of people throng into the temple like the sea tides. There is a heavy pall of smoke from lit joss sticks. Those who find it too crowded to enter throw coins into the temple hall. Guards maintaining order at the site often need to wear helmets to fend off the shower of coins.

This year was different, of course. Because of the coronavirus epidemic, the temple was closed before the Chinese New Year. It is expected to reopen soon.

It is unknown quite why the temple has become so popular. Some say that is due to the royal “blessing” of the imperial family in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the era in which the temple was built. The vertical name board on the temple gate, bestowed in this case by Emperor Daoguang, signifies an institution that bears a royal jade seal.

The 362-year-old temple was favored by several emperors. Emperor Guangxu wrote an inscription board himself for the temple.

Another reason behind the temple’s almost obsessive popularity is probably the statues of 500 arhats collected in Arhat Hall. In Buddhism, an arhat is a person who has gained insight into the true nature of existence and has achieved spiritual enlightenment. Guiyuan is the only temple in China that hosts statues for all 500 of them.

The statues were originally made by a father and son, surnamed Wang, in 1843. They were recrafted in 1895 after they were destroyed in war.

People visiting the temple often play “count the arhats,” a game whereby a random arhat statue is chosen, and then people count from one to their age along the arhats. The arhat they land on is supposed to indicate one’s fate by his expression and identity.

Every arhat is so vividly sculptured that visitors get the sense of 500 real people staring into their souls. Some have fierce or scowling expressions; others look kindly and smiling.

Some Wuhan pilgrims visit the temple before dawn, and after the devotions are completed, they look for a nearby place to have guozao, or breakfast.

Hubu Alley in the neighboring town of Wuchang may be a landmark area for tourist foodies, but the old streets of Hanhang are the treasure of locals.

Xidajie, or the West Avenue, is one of them. The street is actually more of a narrow, winding lane. It is one of the oldest streets in Hanyang, featuring a marketplace dating back more than 2,000 years.

The reganmian, or hot dry noodles, and doupi, a grilled bean starch sheet wrapping a stuffing made of rice, egg, pork and fungi, have been sold on the street for decades, without changing. Relatively new barbeque stalls add a more modern flavor to the old street.

In most Chinese cities, urban renewal plans loom over old areas. The street scenes of today might not be there tomorrow.

The rumors about reconstruction of Xidajie began circulating eight years ago. In 2012, a local art teacher named Yi Xiaoyang painted his memories of old Xidajie on a section of wall on the street. His work action inspired others, and soon the wall of the entire street was covered in art that revealed the things people were most afraid of losing.

Today, a part of the street still remains intact, but no one knows for how long. The doupi booth still welcomes locals and visitors every day.

The street, with its uneven pavement and earthy-yellow walls, does look incongruous with surrounding modern buildings, but it has melted into the soul of everyday life in a most harmonious way.

“If you look closely at the artwork on the wall, you’ll see that it is still updated from time to time,” commented a netizen with the screen name Low Coefficient on the Yelp-style “The latest one shows how Hanyang people fought against the coronavirus. It means the street is still very much alive.”

He added: “The vendors there are not all about making a profit. They love to talk to customers and swap stories of personal happiness, sorrow and anxiety. Cars are not welcome on the street. If you drive through it, people might complain. Walk through Xidajie with the crowds and you’ll feel the true life of Wuhan.”


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend