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Buddha Hall at West Threshing-Floor Valley Village (Xichangyan cun Fo dian 西場墕佛殿) Taubes, Hannibal


‘West Threshing-Floor Valley’ (Xichangyan 西場墕) is a small hamlet of cave-houses (yaodong 窯洞) on a remote ridge in the loess hills, now seemingly abandoned. The village originally contained three temples, one to the Dragon Kings (longwang 龍王), one to Avalokiteśvara-Guanyin (觀音), and one to the Buddha (Fodian 佛殿). The former two temples contain murals painted in the 1990s, while the two flanking walls of the Buddha Hall contain pre-Revolution Water-and-Land (shuilu 水陸) murals. Huyan Sheng’s 呼延勝 dissertation provides transcriptions of the steles and other relevant information for this site (“Shanbei tudishang de shuilu hua yishu” 陕北土地上的水陆画艺术, Xi’an meishu xueyuan, 2012: pp. 79-101, steles at pp. 85-87.) The temple was founded at this location in 1732 and repaired multiple times, including once in 1912 and again in 1989. The 1732 stele says nothing specific about the murals other than to name a painter called Wang Yanchen 王彦臣 and to state that the temple was “resplendent with golden adornment and the five colors” 五彩金裝煥然. The language of the 1912 stele is formulaic and ambiguous, but it is clear that the murals were heavily refurbished during the repairs: ‘Now [since the temple’s founding] “the years have become distant and those days long ago.” [The temple] was collapsing from rain and wind, to the extent that the glowing patterns and figures were rubbed out, and the color on the eaves was withered and fallen. Thus Li Xingde, a believer and disciple, felt that “his eyes were attacked and his heart wounded,” and he “could not bear to sit and watch.’ He gathered together the masses to discuss the matter. All agreed that if their forebears had taken the pains to build this temple, then how could men of today not make plans to repair it? Therefore they agreed to invite a painter (danqing) to draw its forms [sic], and commanded a carpenter to restore its old lines. Within a few days, that which before was dilapidated had become “all bright and new.”’ 迄今年遠日久風雨傾圮以致黼光人物损壞檐頭彩色凋零愛有信士弟子李興德等目擊心傷不忍坐視聚眾商議皆曰先人有創建之苦心後人岂無補葺之良方于是謹請丹青繪其形也愛命梓人仍舊貫也數日之間昔日之损壞者今則煥然一新矣. The painter is listed as Zhang Fengqing 張鳳清. Huyan Sheng argues that the steles imply that there were other, now-unrecorded repairs, and that the murals as we see them now should have been created in the late-19th century. The 1732 stele confirms that the statues now on the altar have not changed: A central image of the Buddha surrounded by Ānanda and Kāśyapa (?) (Anan Jiashi 阿難迦釋), with two flanking statues of Skandha (and?) Dharmapāla (Weituo Hufa 韋陀護法). The central (northern) wall behind the altar was painted over in 1989 by an artist named Zhang Yanzhen 張彥珍 and his disciple Tian Wangzhong 田王忠, but they seem to have followed the original design. The images show the Ten Vidyārājas (shi mingwang 十明王), esoteric guardian-deities displayed in both wrathful and pacific forms. The two side-walls with Water-and-Land paintings are difficult to photograph due to the statues set in front of them. The composite images here cut out parts of the statues to reveal the murals behind them, with a somewhat awkward effect. The progression of deities is as follows, transcribed by Chen Pei’an 陳姵安: East wall, top row, left to right: ☐☐☐界四禪天聖眾, ☐☐界四☐☐☐☐☐, [...], ☐☐持國天王, ☐☐☐長天王, ☐方廣☐天王, 北方多聞天王, 北極紫微大帝聖眾, 太乙諸神五方五帝聖眾, 日光天子聖眾; second row, left to right: 月光天子聖眾, 道法? [...], [...], [...], [...], 土星真君神眾, 羅候真君神眾, 計都真君神眾, 紫微☐君神眾, 月孛星君神眾; third row, left to right: [...] 子 [...], [...], ☐宝瓶磨☐, 寅卯辰巳午☐☐君, ☐☐☐☐子丑元君, 角亢氐房心尾☐星君, 斗牛女☐☐室☐星君, 奎婁胃☐☐☐參星君, 井鬼柳星張翼軫星君, 北斗☐☐君等眾, 普天列矅一切星君; fourth row, left to right: 天地☐☐☐官大帝, [...] 崔☐☐, [...], [...] 祿 [...], [...] 官, ☐月日時四直使者, 大威德菩薩聖眾, 阿☐☐☐眾, 大羅☐☐眾, 羅☐☐☐☐; fifth row, left to right: ☐支☐☐將, [...], [...], [...], ☐☐☐眾, 大聖引路王菩薩, 徃古帝王一切王子等眾, 徃古官妃美人等眾, 徃古文武官僚等眾, 徃古一切☐☐☐等眾; bottom row, left to right: [...]. West wall, top row, right to left: 東嶽天齊☐☐☐, 西嶽大帝, 北嶽大帝, 中嶽大帝, 東海龍王, 南海龍王, 江何淮☐☐凟龍王, 五胡百州龍王, 西海龍王, 北海龍王; second row, right to left: 佊池井泉諸龍王神眾, 空藏王菩薩聖眾, 風雨雷電龍王神眾, 主五谷主☐藥神眾, 守齋護供諸龍神眾, 地府三官, 風調雨順龍王, 安樂夫人, 太歲太煞太陰太陽神眾, 大將軍黃☐☐虎五鬼神眾; third row, right to left: 陰官奉書帰元?伏兵力☐☐☐, 金神能庶豹虎上相目玄神☐, 吊客喪門☐☐☐宅龍諸神, 護軍護☐誠皇土地社庙神眾, 地藏☐菩薩, 秦廣大王, 楚江大王, 宋帝大王, 五官大王, 閆羅大王; fourth row, right to left: 變成大王, 泰山大王, 平等大王, 都市大王, 轉輪大王, 地府六曹判官☐, 地府都市判官眾, 地府三司判官眾, 地府五道將軍神眾, 善惡二薄牛頭馬面阿傍曹官; fifth row, right to left: 八☐☐獄, 八熱地獄, 近邊地獄, [犭+介]獨地獄, 咸教大王面然鬼王, 主病鬼王五瘟使者, 火風火雪飢☐☐死諸鬼神眾, 水陸空居依草附水無主無依眾, 灶熱黑獄却冤?炮恨諸鬼, 投岩赴火自行自縊?諸鬼眾; bottom row, right to left: 赴刑都市幽死囚圈?諸鬼神, ☐☐☐☐☐☐諸鬼神眾, 牆 [...] 吞諸☐☐, 飢☐☐☐疾病錦?纏?諸鬼神眾, ☐寒大暑獸咬虫傷諸鬼神, ☐臉產☐☐冤抱恨諸鬼神眾, 朕☐☐☐橫遭遭毒藥諸鬼神眾, 身沮道路客死他鄉諸神等眾, 地獄餓傍生道一切等眾, 四生六道種者邢等眾.

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