The oldest Buddhist temple in Beijing and its historic ties to the Korean peninsula
Sundays in Peking
In 1957 French filmmaker Chris Marker visited Pyongyang. Like many before him and many after, Marker stopped in the Chinese capital of Beijing on his way to Korea. In Pyongyang Marker documented his trip with a photo essay. In Beijing he made a short documentary entitled Sunday in Peking (Dimanche à Pekin,1956).*
In the footsteps of Chris Marker, we here are Koryo Tours would like to introduce some of old Peking to our friends, new and old. Along the way we will find and discuss any and all connections to our specialty of Korea, however tangential they may be.
Serene beauty, dramatic history, and cats. These are the characteristics of Beijing’s Fayuan Temple (法源寺). Hidden amidst the sprawl of the Beijing south side, Fayuan is, in fact, the city’s oldest Buddhist temple institution.
The Tang Emperor Taizong commissioned the temple in 645 AD to commemorate the war dead in China’s wars against Koguryo, an ancient Korean kingdom which occupied the territory that makes up today’s DPRK and much of northeastern China. The Koguryo, known for their martial prowess, fought a series of bloody wars with the Tang and their predecessor the Sui.
In once such war, Koguryo forces are said to have destroyed a million-man Sui army somewhere northeast of Pyongyang. The story goes that the Korugyo army dammed a river and while the Sui army crossed the riverbed, released the waters upstream, thereby drowning much of the Sui army. Surviving elements of the drowned-army were then hounded and hunted down as they fled back to China. Later generations likely exaggerated this million-casualties figure to underline the folly of the Sui emperors, but the victory was nevertheless overwhelming. The Sui defeat on Korean soil contributed to the end of that dynasty, making way for the Tang, who then tried their hand at subduing Koguryo. In 668 AD the Tang, allied with the kingdom of Silla on the southeastern side of the Korean peninsula finally took down Koguryo.
Fayuan Temple, like most Chinese temples, has been rebuilt several times in its 1300 years history and the current buildings date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. On site there are a number of ancient steles, numerous garden plots, and ancient trees, some said to date back to the Tang Dynasty. While there is minimal on-site interpretation, the temple is a pleasant place to visit on a free morning or afternoon.
Today the temple also houses the Buddhist Academy of China and Buddhist Library and Museum of China. For a detailed description of all the halls making up the temple and other relevant history, see Travel China Guide’s entry on Fayuan Temple.
The temple is popular with cats, which roam about the grounds.
Fayuan Temple is located in southwest Beijing, near Caishikou Subway Station on Line 4 and 7. The entry fee is 5 RMB.
'Sundays in Peking' introduces sights and activities in Beijing with even the slightest connection to Korea. Sometimes we just write about other stuff happening around Beijing.