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Suzhou Xuanmiao Taoist Temple


Xuanmiao Taoist Temple (Temple of Mystery,玄妙观, whose official site is, is the most famous and popular temple among the Buddhist and Taoist temples of Suzhou, even in east China. Located on Guanqian Street 94, Suzhou, it was originally built in West Jin Dynasty (265-316), up to today, approximately 1800 years history. The Sanqing Hall or translated literally as Three Purities Hall is the largest wood-constructed ancient building complex in East China. The enshrined statues of three purities with a height of 17 meters are highly praised as the great sculptures of Song Dynasty. Additionally, the well preserved portraits of Lao Zi painted by Wu Daozi(吴道子, 685-758), who boasted the sage of painting in Tang Dynasty, the honor words of Emperor Xuanzong and calligraphic inscriptions of Yan Zhenqing are all valued incomparably. Also, the Guanqian Street is also a famous traditional shopping and business street in Suzhou.

The main building of Xuanguan Taoist Temple - Sanqing Hall

The temple was first constructed in 276BC, and its original name was the Zhenqing Taoist Monastery (subsequently once renamed as the Kaiyuan Palace, the Tianqing Taoist Temple). The emperor of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) ordered to rename the temple as the Xuanmiao Taoist Temple. The first construction of its main hall, i.e. the Sanqing Hall, was completed in the South Song Dynasty (1127-1279), and it is the only extant South Song wooden-structure hall building. So the magnificent Sanqing Hall has a long history and important historical value in China's architectural history, and it was therefore put under the special national protection in 1982. The Xuanmiao Taoist Temple has been repaired and renovated. It has seven halls, and the middle part includes the Front Temple Gate and the Sanqing Hall, the eastern part includes the Wenchang Hall, the Doumu Pavilion and the Shouxing Hall, and the western part includes the Leizun Hall and the Caishen Hall. There are many cultural relics in the Taoist temple. It is a rare Taoist architectural complex that is extremely well preserved; the Sanqing Hall still well preserves the style and characteristics of the architectures of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The Xuanmiao Taoist Temple was once a center of religion and culture of Suzhou in the history, and it is the main site of Taoist activities in Suzhou area. Because of its predominant geographical location, various cultural relics and rich connotation of Taoist culture, the Xuanmiao Taoist Temple has become one of the famous tourist sceneries of Suzhou City.

The Entrance Hall bordering Guan Qian Street was rebuilt in 1775 from its original construction in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). It contains six gilded guardians, Taoist gods (four marshals and two generals) of imposing size. To either side of the Hall are two additional entrances to the temple grounds: the Gate of Good Luck to the east and the Gate of Fulfilled Wishes to the west. Across a short, nicely shaded plaza (unfortunately shared with a surplus of Coca-Cola advertising) sits the temple’s main building, the eight-hundred-year-old San Qing Dian, or Hall of Three Purities.

A blue sign with the characters for Sanqing Hall sits mounted above the hall's entrance. Inside, visitors discover numerous gilded statues of Taoist gods. The three central gods facing the entrance are Yu Qing (Jade Pure), Shang Qing (Upper Pure), and Tai Qing (Great Pure). Look up to see a beautifully painted beamed; above the three central gods is a board inscribed in the 1700s by Emperor Qianlong with the characters Tai, Chu, Chan, and Jiao. To the left and back sits quietly the temple's pride and joy -- a historically valuable engraving of Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism, drawn by the famed Tang Dynasty painter Wu Daozi.

Despite the depredations of war and severe damage during the Taiping Rebellion of the 1860s, this building maintains its Song Dynasty roots and remains the largest such construction in east China. Regrettably, the original Taoist god statues were mostly lost to the Cultural Revolution and have since been replaced.

Outside and directly in front of the main hall is a well, identified as the Ancient Well of Five Dynasties. Believed to have been first excavated in the tenth century during the Five Dynasties period, this well was the source of some thirty ancient relics during one of the temple’s modern-era renovations, including nine green dragons shaped from tin. To the right of the Hall of Three Purities stands an enormous stone tablet, seven or eight feet tall. Labeled the Inscriptionless Stele or No-Word Tablet, this Ming Dynasty remnant represents a tale all its own. After being first inscribed as a Taoist memorial by Fang Xiaoru, Emperor Zhu Di ordered Fang to replace his writing with an imperial edict. Fang refused, leading to his death and that of his family and relatives as well as the "erasure" of his words from the tablet. Thus it stands now without words, a symbol of resistance to tyrannical authority.

The temple complex includes several other buildings, all of which are accessible with a single admission ticket. A walk around the grounds takes the visitor to the Hall of the Thunder God, the Hall of the Wealth God, the Goddess Tower, and the Hall of Literary Prosperity. Along both the eastern and western flanks are shops and stands carrying all manner of clothing and souvenirs, a faint allusion to past centuries when the Xuanmiao Taoist Temple anchored one of Suzhou’s prime street markets and public spaces.

The night view of Guanqian Street, Suzhou

Guanqian Street(观前街, according to the literal meaning, it means the street in front of the Taoist temple), a famous shopping and snack center of Suzhou always filled with diverse stores and thousands of shoppers, also including the popular McDonald’s KFC and Pizza Hut. In history of Suzhou, the small stores and craftsmen thrived in this area. To view the history of Suzhou and feel today’s life of Suzhou people, Guanqian Street is a must-see destination, apart from this time-honored Taoist temple.

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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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