Situated in Suzhou is one of the most famous temples and monasteries in Chinese history. Hanshan Temple was the subject of a poem by Tang dynasty poet, Zhang Ji. Also known as ‘Cold Mountain Temple’, it is a both a Buddhist temple and monastery. Hanshan Temple is renowned for its bells and Buddhist culture. It is a must-see destination, and an attraction that cannot be missed when visiting the Suzhou area.
- Hanshan Temple is located 5 km (3 miles) west from the old town of Fengqiao (translated to “Maple Bridge”) in Suzhou.
- The temple was immortalized in a poem written by Zhang Ji titled “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge”.
- Hanshan Temple is also famous for its huge bells that when struck, are believed to bring good luck.
- Another temple named ‘Hanshan Temple’ was established in a suburb of Tokyo, Japan in 1929.
History Of Hanshan Temple
The temple was built during the Liang dynasty (502 AD to 557 AD), also known as the Southern Liang dynasty. It is believed Hanshan Temple was established sometime during the Tianjian era (502–519) of the reign of Emperor Wu of Liang. He was founder of the Liang dynasty, and is known to be one of the most prosperous and stable periods of the Southern Dynasties in Chinese history.
Hanshan Temple gets its name from the legendary Tang dynasty (618 to 907) monk and poet, Hanshan. An enigmatic figure in Chinese history, there are a collection of poems written in the Taoist and Chan tradition associated with him. According to Chinese Buddhist legend, Hanshan wrote 600 poems, of which 313 survive to this day. In Chinese and Japanese paintings, he is often depicted with his friend and disciple Shide and Fenggan (both monk-poets, respectively).
Hanshan and Shide are said to have arrived at the monastery during the reign of Emperor Taizong of Tang (598 to 649). Eventually, Hanshan became the head monk of the monastery, and it was renamed Hanshan Temple.
Between the Yuan dynasty (1271 to 1368) and the early Qing dynasty (1636 to 1912), the temple was looted and seriously damaged five times. Over the subsequent centuries, thankfully Hanshan Temple has been reconstructed and renovated several times. Throughout Chinese history, the monastery has had a strong influence on people, largely because of its associated history with Hanshan and Shide.
The present state of the monastery complex is representative of the architectural style of the Qing dynasty. It now comprises about 10,600 square metres (three acres).
Culture Of Hanshan Temple
Hanshan Temple is renowned in East Asia because of the famous poem by Zhang Ji. “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge” describes the melancholy scene of a traveller hearing the bells of Hanshan Temple toll at midnight. Although the bell described by Zhang Ji has long disappeared, two gigantic bells are now located in Hanshan Temple. Both date from the late period of the Qing Dynasty, when the complex was last reconstructed. In 1906, one was forged in China, and the other in Japan.
On every Chinese New Year’s eve, the bell is rung 108 times to pray for health, safety, and happiness for the coming year. After the bell ceremony, visitors to the temple are invited to write New Year’s wishes on the prayer wall. This Spring Festival event attracts visitors from throughout China, Japan, and Korea. Many regard it as a major pilgrimage.
Hanshan Temple is comprised of numerous halls and pavilions. The Grand Prayer Hall contains a large statue of Buddha, where visitors and faithful make offerings. Located in the Hongfa Hall are three bronze statues of prominent Buddhist monks in history: Kong Hai, Xuan Zang, and Jian Zhen. Kong Hai was reputedly a Japanese Buddhist monk who studied in China during the 9th century AD. After visiting Hanshan Temple, he returned to Japan and commenced preaching Buddhism.
Other structures that can be found within the monastery complex include the Bell Tower, the Fengjiang Pavilion, and the Puming Pagoda. This five-storey structure has become emblematic of Hanshan temple. It was constructed in 1995, and measures 42 metres (138 feet) in height. Although visitors are not permitted on the top level, Puming Pagoda offers a great view of the city of Suzhou.
Hanshan Temple contains many historical relics within its walls. There is a stature in honour of Hanshan, himself. There is also a plaque inscribed with the famous the poem by Zhang Ji, “A Night Mooring Near Maple Bridge”. The great bell from Japan has a dedication inscribed on it from former Japanese Prime Minister, Itō Hirobumi.
- Hanshan Temple is open from 7:30 AM to 5 PM.
- Visitors must remember that the temple is a religious site, therefore be respectful.
- The temple can be easily accessed via public transportation.