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Temples to the Perfected Warrior, Wenchang, and the Three Officials (Zhenwu, Wenchang, Sanguan miao 真武、文昌、三官廟) 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). Three shrine rooms in two buildings are represented here, all from the same village and seemingly in the hand of the same artist. None of the images are clearly dated, but the palette of cool greens, grays, and oranges marks them as 18th-century productions. The shrines to the Perfected Warrior (Zhenwu 真武) and Wenchang/Zitong (文昌/梓潼) are located on northern and southern halves of the same structure, built atop an arch in the center of the old village. The village originally had a second temple to the Perfected Warrior, located in a more standard position on a plinth atop the northern wall, although this is now destroyed. Why the village needed two such temples is unclear; according to an inscription on the eastern gate, the village was originally walled in 1534, and the 18th century temple as it stands today may represent some expansion or modification to the original geomantic street plan. The structure is locally referred to as the “Temple of the True/Perfected King” (Zhenwang miao 真王廟), as is common in neighboring Shanxi province. The shrine to the Perfected Warrior faces south, down across the main north-south axial street of the southern half of the fortified village. The central (north) wall shows a life-sized image of a gate with latticed windows, which would originally have formed a mimetic or trompe-l'œil backdrop to the now-vanished statues on the altar. Two painted couplets (duilian 對聯) on either side read: “An Officer of the Jade Void - He Subdues Demons, Protects the Way, and Pacifies the First and Last” 玉虛師相降魔護道鎮乾坤; “In a Golden Tower He Transforms his Body - Flashing Lightning and Rumbling Thunder, He Patrols the Realms” 金闕化身擊電轟雷巡世界. The two side-walls show scenes from the Hagiography of the Perfected Warrior, unusual for the way all of these episodes are integrated into a single continuous landscape. The captions read: East wall, bottom row, left to right: 夢吞日光, 九龍助?水, 經書默會, 辭[ ][ ]道. Middle row, right to left: 天□□□, □□□□, □□成真, □君授教. Top row, left to right: 路遇八仙, 折梅濟[木+邓], 童真内炼, 剖腹肚□. West wall, bottom row, left to right: □□□□, □□□□, 二虎□□, 請聖還朝. Middle row, right to left: 五龍捀聖, 降服水火, 聖像仙逢, □□□火. Top row, left to right: □□□□, 五聖現像, 玉清演法, 分判人鬼. The temple building is split down the middle by the altar wall, and the north side of the same building is a slightly smaller shrine to the god of literature, Wenchang/Zitong. The central (south) wall is heavily faded by exposure to the elements, but shows a realistic image of a screen and a rolled-up rattan curtain, which would have been the backdrop to the statues on the altar. The two side-walls each have life-sized images of civil officials in court robes, facing out across the village beneath. The Temple of the Three Primes (Sanyuan miao 三元廟), also called the Temple of the Three Officials (sanguan miao 三官廟), is a located on a low stone-plinth just within the western gate of the village. The central (north) wall is almost entirely effaced, but the locations of the three altars are still visible, on which would have stood images of the officials of Heaven, Earth, and Water. The east and west side walls show faded but still legible images of these deities riding out on phoenix, qilin 麒麟, and dragon mounts. The room is now used for winter hay storage; a toppled stele outside records the foundation of a charity school (yixue 義學) in the village during the 1830s.

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