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Shrine Complex at South Upper Fort (Nanshangzhai 南上寨) Taubes, Hannibal


The shrine complex at South Upper Fort (Nanshangzhai 南上寨) has now been expanded into a village square with a new temple and opera stage. What relationship this complex had to the now-vanished old village walls is now difficult to know. Originally the complex centered around a shrine to Lord Guan (Guan gong 關公), a building of three bays (jian 間) of which the outer two bays held shrines devoted to the River God (Heshen 河神) and to the Dragon Kings (Longwang 龍王). These two subsidiary shrines survive with the original procession murals intact. Although procession murals of this type would usually depict the gods riding out on the east wall and back on the west, here the artists have shown the entire circular procession on a single wall, with the gods moving out in the lower register and back in the upper. River God temples were once very common in this region, but almost none now survive. The murals show a figure in golden armor with a teal and red robe, riding a white horse and brandishing a sword. Around him, attendants with long tubes pour out springs of water. The Dragon King iconography is relatively standard, showing the ride of the gods out and back from the Crystal Palace (Shuijinggong 水晶宮), where they are awaited by the Mother of Waters (Shuimu niangniang 水母娘娘). As is standard with such depictions, the lowest register shows harvest rituals in the human world. In this case, the image shows both a Daoist priest offering willow branches and a sacrificial goat at the temple, as well as a masked mummers’ procession (shehuo 社火), with figures in costume performing martial-arts shows and peeking out from behind their masks to grin at passerby. The style of the murals in this hall is 19th century, and an artists’ graffito on one of the rafter paintings dates the entire creation to 1860. Adjacent to the shrine to Lord Guan is a small building marked with a plaque that says “Temple of the Sun” (Taiyang miao 太陽廟). The room is deep and narrow, making photography difficult; the images here are poor-quality composites with many inconsistencies. The shrine contains north-wall icons of two gods, male and female. The side-walls show something similar to a God of Wealth (caishen 財神) iconography, with a male figure holding a silver ingot and exotically-dressed foreigners bringing wealth on camels and carts, as well as small panels in the upper register depicting the “hundred trades” (baigong 百工). The images are in a different and much inferior hand to those in the adjacent Lord Guan shrine, probably also from the 19th or early 20th centuries. No other such shrines to the “sun” are found in the region. A final interesting object in the temple complex is a very tall and fine dhāraṇī pillar (tuoluoni zhuang 陀羅尼幢) with multiple carved Buddha images. An inscription on one face records its creation in 1111 CE.

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