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Temple to the Dragon Kings, Lord Guan, and the Goddesses (Longwang, Guangong, Niangniang miao 龍王、關公、娘娘廟) Taubes, Hannibal


Village name and precise coordinates concealed to protect potentially vulnerable sites from looters. The temple is located in Yangyuan County of Hebei Province (Hebei sheng Yangyuan xian 河北省陽原縣). The temple sits on a grassy rise outside the south-west corner of the old walled village, facing south across the fields towards the Sanggan River 桑乾河. The long, low building contains three halls: a shrine to the Goddesses (Niangniang 娘娘) on the east, a central shrine to the Dragon Kings (Longwang 龍王), and a shrine on the west to Lord Guan (關公). The Lord Guan shrine is almost totally destroyed, but fragmentary murals can be made out depicting scenes from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo yanyi 三國演義). The central shrine to the Dragon Kings is only marginally better preserved. This contains central (north) wall images depicting the Five Dragon Kings, the Mother of Waters (shuimu 水母), and the Master of Rain (yushi 雨師). The two side walls depict a standard procession scene, in which the Dragon Kings ride out dispensing rain on the east wall, and return on the west. The best-preserved and most interesting shrine is that of the Goddesses. The two side-walls show life-sized women preparing food, including what seems to be several women working on different stages of steamed buns (baozi 包子). The rear (north) wall, which would have formed the backdrop to statues on the altar, contains a trompe-l’œil image of prayer beads hanging from a rod, rendered with realistic Western-influenced chiaroscuro and cast shadows. In 2013 one could see that this was originally matched on the left by a similar depiction of a hanging lantern and a dish-cloth, also with cast-shadows; by 2018, rain damage had blotted out this section of the image. A very similar trompe-l’œil depiction of these same items (prayer-beads and a lantern) is found not far away in the Shrine of the Harmonies in Hunyuan County (Hunyuan xian Lülü shenci 渾源縣律呂神祠), from 1783. This connection between womens’ space, spatial interiors, and visual recession is strengthened by the two life-sized women on either side-wall, depicted passing in and out of an unseen room behind the altar. The images are not dated, but style and content both point to a late-18th or early-19th century date.

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