Situated in Xicheng District, the White Cloud Taoist Temple formally reopened in 1984 for the first time since 1949. It is the largest and the only one of its kind open to the public.
Taoism, a religion native to China, has a history of 1, 800 years. It originated from shamanism and the various practices intended to ensure immortality in the Qin (221 BC-206 BC) and Western Han (206 BC-AD 23) dynasties. Zhang Daoling is credited with founding the religion of Taoism on Heming Mountain (in Dayi County, Sichuan Province) during the reign of Emperor Shundi (AD 126-AD 144).
Laozi, the ancient Chinese philosopher, is the chief deity of Taoism and is honored as Taishanglaojun (Lord the Most High). Taoists believe that Tao (the Way), Laozi' s school of thought, is all-embracing and external, conceiving and governing everything, including the sky and the earth. They also believe they can attain longevity and become one with the Tao through special practices of meditation.
The White Cloud Taoist Temple is the chief temple of the Quanzhen Taoist sect and the centre of the Longmen sub-sect. According to historical records, Emperor Xuanzong (712-756) of the Tang Dynasty built a temple called Tianchangguan to enshrine a stone statue of Laozi. The Tianchangguan was burned down in 1202, but was rebuilt from 1203 to 1216 and renamed Taiji Palace. It was later damaged during war.
Emperor Genghis Khan (1206-1227) of the Yuan Dynasty ordered the temple be rebuilt and invited Qiu Changchun, founder of the Longmen sub-sect under the Quanzhen sect, to live there in 1224. Qiu died in 1227 and the Emperor renamed the temple Changchun Palace in his memory.
The temple got its present name in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was damaged twice by war and fire, and rebuilt and repaired several times. Today it is more or less the same as it was after renovation in 1706.
Before 1949, a large fair was held in the temple during the first 20 days of the first lunar month. People came from far away to venerate the enshrined statues, do business and enjoy themselves.
Since 1949, the Chinese Government has had a policy of freedom of religion, and it has protected cultural relics and historical sites. Twice, in 1956 and 1981, the government allocated large sums of money to renovate the temple. During the "cultural revolution" it was preserved intact, thanks to an army unit stationed here.
The temple is fronted by a magnificent archway. Its buildings are laid out around three parallel axes in several courtyards.
On the central axis, from south to north, are the shrine halls of Lingguan (the door guard), the Jade Emperor, Qiu Changchun, Siyu (four major deities) and Laolu (the old way).
Qiu Changchun Hall is on the site where Qiu died in 1227. Inside the hall, Qiu's statue is enshrined. In front of the statue is a valuable relic - a huge bowl made of the knotted root of a tree. It was given in offering by Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795). Qiu's remains are buried beneath the bowl, into which the faithful still put money.
There are seven statues of Taoist saints in Laolu Hall, including Qiu Changchun. On the right is a drum dating from the Ming Dynasty with a dragon painted on the leather drumhead.
Along the west axis stand shrine halls of Yuanjun (major female deity), Yuanhen (60-year-old deity), Baxian (the eight immortals), Luzu (or Lu Dongbin), and the Citang (the ancestral worship hall).
Yuanchen Hall dates from 1190 when it was built by Emperor Zhangzong (1190-1208) of the Jin Dynasty to worship the deity of the year in which his mother was born. On the side walls are portraits of the deities for the 60-year cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar. Some visitors like to find the deity of the year in which they were born. This hall has been the most frequently visited place by worshippers over the centuries.
There are about 30 Taoist priests in the temple who came from Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Zhejiang and other provinces. They are in robes and wear their hair long and tied into a knot that is kept in place with a silver or jade pin. Some also wear a head-band.
The temple was listed by the Chinese Government as a national key relic under special preservation in 2001.