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Temple to the Dragon Kings and Avalokiteśvara-Guanyin (Longwang, Guanyin miao 龍王、觀音廟) Taubes, Hannibal


Village name and precise coordinates concealed to protect potentially vulnerable sites from looters; the village is located in Yu County of Hebei Province (Hebei sheng Yu xian 河北省蔚縣). The temple is built on a small rise outside the south-east corner of the old village walls, which according to the gate inscription were erected in 1546. The building was once part of a larger complex of houses and courtyards, but the structures have now all fallen to ruin, and their original purpose is unclear. The temple space is small but complex, with three distinct sections, each one bay (jian 間) in width and built on a single north-south axis, accessed via a fenced corridor on the west side of the building. The main temple building is divided by a central wall into two rooms facing north and south. The northern shrine is dedicated to Avalokiteśvara-Guanyin (觀音); such a shrine is known as ‘Reverse-Facing Guanyin’ (daozuo Guanyin 倒座觀音), that is, a specific type of Guanyin image that faces north instead of south. This deity is depicted in the central-wall mural, with the Buddhas of the Three Times (san shi Fo 三世佛) above. Guanyin is flanked by the bodhisattvas Samantabhadra (Puxian pusa 普賢菩薩) and Mañjuśrī (Wenshu 文殊), as well as Sudhanakumāra (Shancai tongzi 善財童子), Lord Guan (Guangong 關公), and Wenchang (文昌). The two flanking wall show scenes from the Gaṇḍavyūha or ‘Entering the Dharma-Realm’ (Ru fa jie pin 入法界品) of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Huayan jing 華嚴經). This motif, in which the pilgrim ‘Child of Good Wealth’ visits fifty three spiritual teachers and finally attains enlightenment, is known as the ‘Fifty Three Stations of Sudhanakumāra’ (Shancai tongzi wushisan can 善財童子五十三參), and was relatively common in the area during the Ming and early Qing dynasties. An inscription is written in raised characters on the inner border of the east wall and followed by a makers’ mark: ‘Erected on an auspicious day of the fifth month of the thirty-seventh year of the Kangxi reign (June-July 1698). Tablet [sic?] work by Zhang Huai and Zhang De.’ (康熙三拾七年五月吉日立扁?工張懷/德.) Zhang Huai and Zhang De were presumably brothers or father-and-son. Zhang Huai is attested on a 1683 plaque hung from the rafters of the Tower of the Jade Emperor (Yuhuangge 玉皇閣) in the Yu County seat as having been among a team of painters who repaired the temple in that year. The southern shrine, occupying the other half of the same building, is dedicated to the Dragon Kings (long wang 龍王). The central image shows the Mother of Waters (Shuimu 水母), surrounded by her sons the Dragon Kings of the Five Seas (Wuhai longwang 五海龍王), the Master of Rain (Yushi 雨師), and their retinues. The two side-walls show a standard Dragon King procession, with the party riding out on the east wall to dispense rain, and return in peace on the west. One of the figures on the west wall holds a scroll with a rain invocation: ‘The Dragon God asks the Judge (panguan), how widely should it rain? [The Judge replies:] Let clouds cover a thousand-thousand li, a bumper crop for ten thousand-thousand years. The full moon of the fifth month of the thirty-seventh year of the Kangxi reign [June 23, 1698].’ (龍神問判官,下雨多來寬,行雲千千里,豐收萬萬年。康熙三十七年五月望日.) In the lowest register, human figures can be seen preparing a Daoist procession with a shawm band to give thanks for the harvest at the temple gates. The southernmost section of the shrine complex is a wide room, open to the south, which forms a sort of antechamber to the Dragon King temple. Given that the wall-paintings in this room resemble those of opera stages elsewhere in Yu County, it’s possible that this unusual space was originally used for opera performances, such that the interior of the Dragon King temple and adjacent the courtyard to the west formed the backstage. This ‘stage’ was originally faced across the road to the south by another building, but this is now entirely collapsed. The two flanking walls both have images of folding screens with life-sized figures peaking around either end. The western wall is in monochrome ink-wash and could be of a similar date to the 1698 paintings in the temple proper; the east wall has been repainted in a different hand with color, probably in the 19th century.

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