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Suzhou Hanshan Temple Introduction


suzhou hanshan temple
Suzhou Hanshan Temple

Suzhou Hanshan Temple(苏州寒山寺), literally translated to be Suzhou Cold Mountain Temple, is located in Fengqiao Town, five kilometers away from Xichangmen of Downtown Suzhou. Hanshan Temple is a classic tourist attractions and heritage site of China. The influence and significance of Hanshan Temple in Chinese culture history is unsurpassed by any other Buddhist temple in China. In some way, it is a symbol of Chinese classic poem, even the traditional literature of China. Why? Please read on:

A Poem Makes Hanshan Temple Widely Famous

For Chinese people, Suzhou Hanshan Temple is a symbol of Chinese elite culture also partially brings people some tranquility and peace. People naturally remind themselves of a classic poem of Tang Dynasty when hearing this temple. This is an ancient poem with a great imagery that created by Zhang Ji(张继, 715-779), and its name is Feng Qiao Ye Bo(枫桥夜泊, literally translated into Night Berth at Maple Bridge), the original and English version(created by author of Seeraa International, copyright absolutely reserved, if anyone plan to quote this translation, the permission from Seeraa International is the must. Two ways for availability: one is marking the translation from Seeraa International or giving an external link to; the other is sending us a request and get our permission via negotiation) hereinafter:

月落乌啼霜满天, Frost covers the world as the moon falls and crows ululate
江枫渔火对愁眠. Falling maple and weak fishing light worsen the non-sleeper’s fate
姑苏城外寒山寺, The midnight bell waft to this lonely boat,
夜半钟声到客船. Far from Hanshan Temple beyond Suzhou Gate

This is a sorrowful poem created after a failure in Imperial Examination of Zhang Ji. Zhangji was born in today’s Xiangyang. He was acknowledgeable and talkative. One of his bosom friends named Huangpu Ran was also a great poet in Tang Dynasty, but he was not a famous poet of Tang Dyansty. Zhang Ji ranked as Jin Shi in 753 when Tang Empire declined gradually, but finally failed in the position assignment. He returned to his hometown. In Oct, 762, Emperor Daizong recovered his reign to Changan and Luoyang, Zhang Ji was assigned as Yuanwailang worked in Xifu, a west power center of Tang Dynasty, and he took charge of the finance and taxes. Today’s people are blessed with the sacrifice of Zhang Ji’s failure, if not; we would not get such a great poem for spiritual and aesthetical appreciation and enjoyment. This poem is a confession of an isolated figure. It brings us not only resonance of mentality but the aesthetical depth of Chinese traditional literature. It gifts Suzhou the life of literature and the enchantment of Hanshan Temple.

The Name Origin Story of Hanshan Temple

hanshan temple
The Pagoda of Hanshan Temple

It was said that during the reign of Emperor Taizong, the second emperor of Tang Dynasty, there were two young men, one named Hanshan(寒山), and the other was Shide(拾得), who were best friends from childhood. After growth, Hanshan proposed to a girl living in a village named Qingshanwan, however, the girl fell in love with Shide. Occasionally, Hanshan learnt of this news. He got a complicated mood. After several days’ thinking, he decided to let them get married. He quietly left hometown to Suzhou, and became a monk. Shide had not seen Hanshan for a long time. He felt quite strange and got to Hanshan’s home. He found nothing but a letter sticked in gate. He figured out the good will of Hanshan after reading the letter. He felt terribly sorry to Hanshan. Finally, he also made a decision to leave that girl, and went to Suzhou in search of Hanshan, and he also became a monk. On the way to Suzhou, Shide found a special lotus flower blooming in a roadside lake. He got refreshed and picked a flower for good luck. Eventually, he found Hanshan, and Hanshan was quite happy, and quickly welcomed this lotus flower with his food box. It was said that Hanshan and Shide were the earthly aspects of Bodhisattva Wenshu (Bodhisattva Manijushri) and Bodhisattva Puxian (Samantabhadra Buddha) Today, there is a stone style carved with the picture named Hehe Erxian(和合二仙), and it show the scene of their meeting. This is a quite auspicious picture. Over the past, the local citizens usually hanging this picture on some folk special days like wedding ceremony, also in many places of Suzhou, the local citizens paste their profiles on the gates – one holding a bamboo-made box, and the other keeping a lotus flower. They both are smiling and lovely. In folk community, two of them were considered as the gods and their earthly experience was for influencing and guiding the common people. So, there was a temple called Hanshan in Suzhou. Shide was said to move to Japan to teach the Buddhism, and he built Shide Temple in Japan as well. A famous dialogue between them is quite influential in Buddhism and folk community:

Hanshan asked Shide:”How can I treat those who defame me, deceive me, insult me, deride me, despise me, belittle me, offend me and cheat me?”

Shide answered Hanshan:”You can do nothing but bear him, follow him, obey him, avoid him, respect him, pay no attention to him, you take a look at him after ten years” How about their talk, isn’t full of philosophical understanding?

The History of Hanshan Temple

the calligraphic inscription of name of Hanshan Temple
The Calligraphic Inscription
of Hanshan Temple

Hanshan Temple has more than 1500 years of history and ranked one of top ten famous ancient temples in China.

In Tang Dynasty (627--649), a monk famous for poem named Hanshanzi settled down the site of Hanshan Temple during the reign of Emperor Taizong. During the reign of Tang Xuanzong, a famous monk called Xi Qian(希迁, 700--790)built a temple and called it Hanshan Temple.

In early Song Dynasty (976--983), the local governor named Sun Chengyou rebuilt the temple and extended the floors to seven. In 1057, Lord Wang Gui scribed the poem of Zhang Ji and changed Fengqiao (封桥) to Fengqiao(枫桥) . During the time from 1056 to 1063, the name was imperially changed to be Puming Chanyuan(普明禅院). In South Song Dynasty, exactly during the period from 1131 to 1162, the temple was named Fengqiao Temple.

In late Yuan Dynasty, Zhang Shicheng with his young brother Zhang Shixin rebelled and occupied Gaoyou and regions nearby. In 1356, he set Suzhou as capital and called himself King of Wu in 1363, but later, he was defeated for many times by Zhu Yuanzhang, a upcoming Emperor of Ming Dynasty. In 1367, Suzhou was occupied by Zhu Yuanzhang and Zhang Shicheng got suicide. In accordance with this historical record, Hanshan Temple plus related pagodas were ruined during last attack of Zhu Yuanzhang. In early Ming Dynasty, Monk Changchong rebuilt the temple.

During the Republic of China, due to the warfare, Hanshan Temple was deserted for a long time. In autumn, 1941, Gao Guanwu and some people rebuilt the sutra library and renamed it Shuangzhong Pavilion. During the Anti-Japanese War, the Hanshan Temple was illegally occupied by Japanese soldiers. After 1949, Hanshan Temple has a similar experience to Hangzhou Lingyin Temple and other famous temples of China

The Scenic Spots of Hanshan Temple

hanshan temple
Suzhou Hanshan Temple

The main buildings of Hanshan Temple include The Grand Hall of the Great Sage, Sutra Library, Bell Tower, Stele Inscription of Poem Fengqiao Yebo as well as the No.1 Tower of Fengjiang River. The two sides of Daxiong Baodian or The Grand Hall of the Great Sage are inlaid with 36 poem steles themed with Hanshan scenery. There are also sixteen arhat pictures hanging on both sides. The main hall of The Grand Hall of the Great Sage is as large as five rooms together and 12.5 meters high. There is a huge bronze-made utensil-style incense burner. The frontage is carved with four characters: “一本正经” (It is an idiom in Chinese to show a man is quite serious. But on the burner, it does not mean this but tell the believers this is a real sutra that can save the believers), and the opposite with “百炼成钢” (this is also an idiom in Chinese and means a real thing should experiences many hardships and suffers a lot). Two carvings is a couplet and tell us a religious story of ancient China: at one time, the Taoists and monks conflicted due to the different beliefs, for verifying whose classics can resist the burning, the Buddhists put the Diamond Sutra into the burner and found the sutra was intact absolutely. For remembering this story, the local Buddhists carved eights characters on the burner.

The attractive stone figures in hall are Monk Hanshan and Monk Shide. The front yard of the hall, there are six five-leaved pine trees planted by a group of Japanese special visitors on April 10, 1976. On the right of the hall, there is a bronze bell presented by a Japanese friend in late Qing Dynasty. The surface of the bell engraved with the reasons to present this bell. There are two same bells, one presented to Hanshan Temple, and the other in Guanshan Temple.

The Sutra Library originally was the place to collect and display the sutras of Buddhism. In Sutra Library, the quite attractive building is Hanshi Hall. The roof of the Hanshi Hall is featured of the figures of Sun Wukong(known as Handsome Monkey King), Monk Tangsanzang, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing, and four of them are all from a classic novel named The Pilgrimage to West(西游记) . Furthermore, there is also a sutra inscription of the Diamond Sutra inlaid on the wall, this calligraphic stele inscription was said to be written by Zhang Jizhi(张即之), a great calligraphist of South Song Dynasty. There are also some calligraphic inscriptions of Dong Qichang, a great literature and calligraphy master of Ming Dynasty.

The bell tower is comprised of two floors. There is a stele erecting on the first floor, and it was erected for rebuilding Hanshan Temple. The frontage of stele content was composed by Cheng Dequan, and the other side is carved with the name of the donators and amount. It was said that the poem of Zhang Ji was created on the Bell Tower. But, today’s bell tower is a reconstructed one. This is a bell made in 1906, and has more than 100 years of history. But the rebuilt tower is built according to the original one. The tradition of striking the bell for luck is quite famous in Hanshan Temple. Generally, the monks may strike the bell for 108 times. It has two meanings. One is connected with Chinese traditional calendar – a year is comprised of 12 months, and 24 solar terms as well as 72 hou (a time term, generally five days equate a hou ), and the total number added together is 108. Striking 108-time bell symbolizes the end of the old year and prays for a better new year. The other is from the legend of Buddhism – the common people have 108 vexations, striking 108-time bell can extinguish these worries. On Lunar New Year’s Eve every year, striking the bell of Hanshan Temple becomes a great tradition of local people.


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Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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