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Temple to the Perfected Warrior in Wang and Liang Families Village (Wangliangzhuang cun Zhenwu miao 王良莊村真武廟) Taubes, Hannibal


The Temple to the Perfected Warrior (Zhenwu miao 真武廟) is located at ground level in a small, barbican-like enclosure protruding from the northern wall of the old fortified village. Originally the only access to the temple was through a small gate leading to the main north-south street of the town. The temple was faced by an opera stage down the road in the town’s southern barbican; this is now in ruins. The photos in this collection are from visits in 2013 and again in 2018. In 2013 the temple was being used to store coffins and was already partially looted, with one wall broken in and two of the three mural panels on the central wall removed. By 2018, the east-wall murals had been cut away by looters, while the remaining portion of the wall had collapsed. In the same year, officials from the county cultural bureau finally removed the remaining half of the west-wall mural for preservation in the Yu County Museum, and the entire structure has since been renovated. A stone inscription standing outside the temple records the repair of a nearby well in 1851, but there is nothing by which to precisely date the murals. The style, bright colors, innovative composition, and especially the incorporation of Western architecture and receding perspective on the central wall panels all suggest a late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century origin. The content of the murals is almost completely unique. The two side wall murals both show images of the ‘Palace of the Northern Dipper’ (Bei Ji Gong 北極宮); this name is inscribed over the gate that leads from the village into the barbican area. In the palace, the Perfected Warrior holds court, flanked by the Duke of Zhou (Zhou Gong 周公) and the Peach-Blossom Girl (Taohua nü 桃花女). On the east wall, the Perfected Warrior is surrounded by male martial figures, while on the west wall the figures are women bearing swords, who may represent the Six Jia (Liu Jia 六甲). These women-warriors appear in a few other depictions of the Perfected Warrior in this region. Around the palaces are depicted scenes from the Perfected Warrior’s hagiography (‘The Apotheosis of the High Emperor of the Dark Heavens’ Xuantian shangdi qisheng lu 玄天上帝啟聖錄). Unfortunately, the cartouches here are empty, indicating that the probably illiterate painter never found someone to fill them in. The sole remaining panel of the rear wall shows Western-influenced architectural scenes, depicting the ‘rear palace’ (hougong 後宮) or the Perfected Warrior’s harem, where beautiful women stroll along the balustrades.

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