Taoist Temples in China

Yuquan Temple, Tianshui, Gansu
Yuquan Temple, Tianshui, Gansu
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A Chinese Taoist temple, generally called Gong, Guan or Miao in Chinese, is the holy hall where Taoists perform their religious ceremonies. It blends Taoist taste and ideas on construction with traditional Chinese thoughts and methods of construction. It thus has formed a unique style among the many different types of Chinese ancient architecture.

Taoist temples of different scales are scattered all over China. Generally, they can be divided into three kinds: palace-like and ordinary temples, and simple hut or caves. Though of various sizes, they are built to serve the same function.

People may get confused in distinguishing a Taoist temple from a Buddhist temple because they are much alike from the outside. It is true that many methods of Taoist construction imitate those of Buddhism, but there exist some minor difference between them. For example, the holy statues of Dragon and Tiger are set in front of the main gate of a Taoist temple, while statues of two giants guard in the same position in a Buddhist one. The Taoist trinity, San Qing (Three Pure Gods), is worshipped in Taoist halls. They are Yu Qing (Jade Pure), Shang Qing (Upper Pure) and Tai Qing (Great Pure). In the main hall of a Buddhist temple on the other hand, the Buddha trinity is placed. Besides, themes of statue and murals in Chinese Taoist temples are those familiar to common people and the religious atmosphere is not as intense as in Buddhist temples.

Dai Temple, Tai'an, Shangdong
Dai Temple, Tai'an, Shangdong
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City God Temple, Pingyao, Shanxi
City God Temple, Pingyao, Shanxi
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Taoism pursues a prolonged and fruitful life, and this theme is greatly reflected in the decorations used in temple construction. Windows, doors, eaves, and girders of Taoist constructions are carved with Chinese characters such as Fu (blessing), Shou (longevity), Ji (auspicious). Cypress, tortoise, bamboo, kylin, dragon and phoenix represent friendship, long life, man of honor, warding off evilness, and auspicious sign, respectively. The description of fan, fish, narcissus, bat and deer symbolizes kindness, rich, immortal, blessing and salary. The pictures depicting sun, moon, star and cloud mean glorious sunshine illuminating all things. The idea of Taoist decoration has influenced Chinese folk culture, as you can find a lot of pictures depicting stories from Taoism such as 'The Eight Immortals cross the sea' in many ordinary people's houses.

Taoism encourages human beings to live harmoniously with nature. Most Taoist temples are built along a mountain side. Many of them are wooden-framed, which is believed to be beneficial to health.

Related Link: Taoist Architecture Style