Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Ancient Lotus Pond Revisited

In December 2013 I took a trip to the Ancient Lotus Pond (Gǔ Liánhuā Chí 古蓮花池) in Baoding in order to see the latest surviving relics of the Tangut script, a pair of Ming dynasty dharani pillars dated 1502. I have decided to revisit Baoding so that I can take additional photographs of the Tangut dharani pillars because some of the Tangut characters were not clear in my original photographs.

In 2013 we drove down to Baoding from Beijing by car, which took 3½ hours. This time I go by high-speed train from Beijing West station to Baoding East station, which takes a mere 40 minutes (and then 30 minutes by taxi to the Ancient Lotus Pond).


Entrance ticket for the Ancient Lotus Pond

Different size and style compared with the 2013 entrance ticket


I started the morning with a lightning visit to the White Stupa of Miaoying Temple, which as I mentioned probably housed some Tangut monks during the Yuan dynasty as six volumes of Tangut Buddhist sutras were discovered there in 1900. The Tangut dharani pillars now located in the grounds of the Ancient Lotus Pond were discovered in 1962 on the site of a Buddhist temple in what was then the northern suburbs of Baoding. This temple, thought to be the Temple for Promoting Goodness (Xīngshàn Sì 興善寺) mentioned in local gazetteers, obviously housed a contingent of Tangut monks up to at least the early 16th century, and like Miaoying Temple it had a white stupa (although on a smaller scale). Sadly the temple and its white stupa were burnt to the ground in 1900, in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, by the forces of the Eight Nation Alliance, and any Tangut scriptures that might have survived in the temple library were destroyed.

Although we often think of the Mongols as having annihilated the Tangut people and destroyed their culture and language, it is clear from historical sources and from sites such as Baoding that communities of Tangut monks and laypeople lived in Northern China during the Yuan dynasty and later. Examples of Tangut writing dating from the 13th through 16th centuries have been found at four sites in Northern China:


  • Tangut manuscript copy of the Lotus Sutra (Saddharma Puṇḍarīka = 𗤓𗹙𗤻𗑗𗖰𗚩) at Miaoying Temple (White Stupa Temple) in Beijing.
  • A commemorative stele for the Tangut official Xiaoli Qianbu (小李鈐部 = 𗼽𘝾𘒏𗩈), with the name of him and his wife engraved in Tangut script, found at his tomb on the western outskirts of Daming (1278).
  • Tangut versions of the Dharani-Sutra of the Victorious Buddha-Crown (Uṣṇīṣa-vijaya-dhāraṇī-sūtra = 佛頂尊勝陀羅尼經) and Dharani-Sutra of the Tathagata Heart (Tathāgata-hṛdaya-dhāraṇī-sūtra = 如來心陀羅尼經) carved on the inside walls of the Cloud Platform at Juyong Pass northwest of Beijing (c. 1345).
  • Two dharani pillars engraved with the Tangut version of the Dharani-Sutra of the Victorious Buddha-Crown (Uṣṇīṣa-vijaya-dhāraṇī-sūtra = 佛頂尊勝陀羅尼經) at Baoding (1502).

Map of Hebei and Beijing showing Tangut Sites

{Map data ©2017 Google}


I have been to three of these four sites, and considered going to Daming to see the Stele of Xiaoli Qianbu today instead of coming here to Baoding, but as Daming is not on a railway line it is not practical to go there for a day trip from Beijing, and I don't even know whether the stele is on display in the local museum or not. So here I am at the Ancient Lotus Pond in Baoding again. The pond which four years ago was cold and empty is now lush with lotus plants, even though their summer flowers have already wilted, but otherwise there is little change from the last time I was here.


The Ancient Lotus Pond in Baoding in Early Autumn

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


Bridge over the Ancient Lotus Pond

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


But I am not here to admire the lotus plants, and after a quick perambulation of the pond I make my way to the Courtyard of Steles where I spend nearly an hour uninterrupted taking photos of the inscriptions on the two dharani pillars and the neighbouring 1350 Chinese stele for the Tangut official Laosuo. My photography is only brought to a conclusion when I inadvertantly trigger a sensor by the gateway through the painted balutrades, and a guard comes to investigate. I had taken enough photos by then anyway, so I apologised and left.


The Two Dharani Pillars and the Stele of Laosuo

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


Whilst waiting for a taxi to take me back to Baoding East station I took a photo of Baoding Cathedral, which is immediately opposite the entrance to the Ancient Lotus Pond. I have no doubt that there would have been Christians living in Baoding during the Yuan dynasty, as well as Tangut Buddhists, but they left no traces.


Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Baoding

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


I arrive back at Beijing West station at 3:15 pm, and decide to try to go to the Beijing Liao and Jin City Wall Museum which is about 20 minutes fast walk from Beijing South station. I went there in August 2011 to take a photograph of the Khitan Small Script epitaph for Yelü Dilie (1026–1092), but the sun was shining on the epitaph stone, and the photograph was not good. I went there again in December 2013 to take a better photograph, but the museum was closed for repairs. That was four years ago, and I am sure the museum must have reopened by now. I arrive just before 5 pm, and find to my dismay that the museum is once again closed for repairs, and is not expected to reopen until May 2018. "Closed for repairs" seems to be a repeating motif haunting my trips to Beijing in both 2013 and 2017. Tomorrow I leave Beijing, travelling by train to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia.


Beijing White Stupa

When I was last in Beijing in December 2013, I tried to visit three pagodas, but two of them, incuding the famous White Stupa of Miaoying Temple, were closed for repairs. Today I am going on a day trip to somewhere I also visited in 2013, but my train departs from Beijing West station at 10:15, so I think I have just enough time for a quick visit to Miaoying Temple, commonly known as White Stupa Temple (Báitǎsì 白塔寺). I get out of the Fuchengmen underground station at 9:00 am sharp, and it should only be a five minutes' walk to the great white stupa, but I still manage to misremember the location of the entrance to the temple (it is facing the main Fuchengmen Inner Street), and take a 10 minute detour around the alleys behind the temple. When I eventually get to the temple entrance, I see that the entire front of the entrance is being dug up and is unpassable. My heart sinks as I imagine that it is again closed for repairs. But I ask one of the labourers, and he signals me to go through the vehicular entrance on the side, and I find to my relief that the ticket office can be reached by this route, and the temple is open for visitors.


Entrance ticket for Miaoying Temple


I won't say anything more about the history of the White Stupa (see my 2013 entry for a brief history, and photographs of various Qing dynasty artefacts that were found in the stupa 1978), but will just show a few photographs I took of the stupa from various angles. Annoyingly, because of the huge size of the stupa, and the number and size of surrounding buildings I found it impossible to take a photograph of the whole stupa.


Six Views of the White Stupa of Miaoying Temple

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


After no more than fifteen minutes I have to leave in order to get to the station just in time for my train to my next stop for today.



But I cannot leave the White Stupa without noting that during the Yuan dynasty this temple must have housed at least some Tangut monks. The evidence for a Tangut connection to the temple was discovered in August 1900, during the chaos of the Boxer Rebellion, when Georges Morisse (an interpreter at the French Legation in Beijing) and M. Berteaux (an interpreter at the French Legation in Korea) found six discarded volumes of the Tangut translation of the Lotus Sutra (Saddharma Puṇḍarīka = 𗤓𗹙𗤻𗑗𗖰𗚩) in a pile next to the White Stupa of Miaoying Temple.


Annotated copy of a page of the Tangut Lotus Sutra from Miaoying Temple

G. Morisse, "Contribution préliminaire à l'étude de l'écriture et de la langue si-hia" (1904)

The Chinese interlinear translations were already present when the sutras were found, and it is not known who made them or when. Were they written during the Yuan dynasty or early Ming when Tangut was still a living language? Or were they written much later by an unknown decipherer of the dead Tangut language?


According to Imre Galambos, Morisse sold his three volumes to a German buyer in 1912, and the three volumes belonging to Berteaux were eventually acquired by the Musée Guimet in Paris (see Translating Chinese Tradition and Teaching Tangut Culture p. 63). The three volumes acquired by the Musée Guimet are apparently still there, but I do not know what happened to the other three volumes.


Monday, 18 September 2017

Wansong Laoren Pagoda

After this morning's excursion to the Haotian Pagoda in the Fangshan District I decide to walk from my hotel near Wangfujing to a small and little-known octagonal brick pagoda near Xisi, about an hour away (although it ends up taking longer as I once again stray from Google's suggested route). This is the sepulchral pagoda for the Chan Buddhist monk Wansong Xingxiu 萬松行秀 (1166–1246), also known as the Old Man of Ten Thousand Pines (Wànsōng Lǎorén 萬松老人), who lived during the time of transition and conflict between the Jin dynasty and Mongol Empire.


The Pagoda of the Old Man of Ten Thousand Pines (Wànsōng Lǎorén Tǎ 萬松老人塔) stands in a courtyard immediately south of Brick Pagoda Alley (Zhuāntǎ Hútóng 磚塔胡同), as can be seen in the Late Qing and Republican Period maps shown below.


Detail of a Late Qing Map of Beijing showing Wansong Laoren Pagoda

From a reprint of a Late Qing map entitled "Complete Map of the Inner and Outer Districts of the Capital City" (Jīngchéng nèiwài shǒushàn quántú 京城内外首善全圖) printed and sold by the Zhengyang Shuju 正陽書局 bookshop located in the pagoda courtyard.

The pagoda is marked with a 🛔 symbol between Mutton Alley (Yángròu Hútóng 羊肉胡同) and Brick Pagoda Alley (Zhuāntǎ Hútóng 磚塔胡同), although in fact it fills the space immediately south of Brick Pagoda Alley. Click on the image to show the whole north-west corner of the map.



Detail of a Republican period Map of Beiping showing Wansong Laoren Pagoda

From a reprint of a Republican period map entitled "Detailed Map of the Inner and Outer Districts of Beiping" (Běipíng nèiwàichéng xiángtú 北平内外城詳圖) printed and sold by the Zhengyang Shuju 正陽書局 bookshop located in the pagoda courtyard.

The pagoda is marked with a 🛔 symbol, and the pagoda courtyard is shaded in orange. The pagoda is labelled as the "Yuan dynasty Pagoda of Wansong Laoren" (Yuán Wànsōng Lǎorén Tǎ 元萬松老人塔). Click on the image to show the surrounding area.


The geography of the area has changed little over the centuries, but during the second half of the 20th century shops and houses were built up around the pagoda, with the result that it was inaccessible and largely obscured from the outside until quite recently. The pagoda was restored in 1986, and then again during the construction of the Xisi subway station in 2009, but it has only been open to the public since the courtyard was renovated in 2013–2014 and dedicated as a public space by the local Xicheng District government.

The pagoda is located just south of Brick Pagoda Alley (as it has always been), with an unassuming entrance (no entrance fee or doorkeeper) facing onto Xisi Street. From the hustle and bustle of Xisi, I stepped over the threshold of the gate and entered into another world and another age — an unexpected oasis of greenery and tranquillity in the heart of modern Beijing. The pagoda is surrounded on all sides by roses and pomegranate trees, in a small courtyard with bookshops specializing in the history of Beijing on the north and the south sides. Quite the most pleasant place I have ever found within Beijing city.


Pedestal Tablet in front of Wansong Laoren Pagoda

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


Wansong Laoren Pagoda from the South-East

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


Wansong Laoren Pagoda from the West

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


After the death of Monk Wansong in 1246, his disciples erected a brick pagoda to house his remains in the western outskirts of the former Central Capital of the Jin dynasty (at that time called Yanjing 燕京). After several centuries the pagoda fell into disrepair and it became lost in the busy streets of the bourgeoning city of Beijing. In 1606, during the late Ming dynasty, a monk called Le'an (樂庵) raised money to repair the dilapidated pagoda. But it is not this pagoda that stands here today.

The nine-storeyed octagonal brick pagoda pagoda which we see now dates to the mid Qing dynasty. It was constructed by order of the Qianlong Emperor in 1753 under the direction of the Prince Kang (Aisin Gioro Yong'en 愛新覺羅・永恩). The original 13th-century pagoda was not demolished, but instead the new pagoda was built around the original pagoda, entirely encasing it. At 15.9 metres in height it is about three times as high as the original pagoda.


South Face of the Wansong Laoren Pagoda

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Above the faux door is an inscription commemorating the restoration of the pagoda in Qianlong 18 [1753] by Prince Kang on the order of the Qianlong Emperor (乾隆十八年岁次癸酉七月榖旦康亲王臣永恩奉勅重脩).


During renovations in 1986 the original brick pagoda was discovered to be still intact inside the pagoda. This original pagoda is octagonal in shape, seven-storeyed, and about 5 metres in height, but with a flat top ( the original finial had presumably been lost by the time the new pagoda was built). On the front is a stone plaque engraved with the words "Pagoda of the Old Man of Ten Thousand Pines" (萬松老人塔). The original pagoda is now invisible, hidden inside the 18th-century brickwork.

There is a small exhibition room on the north side of the courtyard, next to one of the bookstores, and in it are a few artefacts dating from the Yuan dynasty to the Republican period, including this lovely example of a grey pottery sculpture of a Kalaviṅka (Chinese 妙音鳥 "beautiful-sounding bird"), unfortunately missing its head. It dates to the Yuan dynasty, and was found at Dafangjia Hutong (大方家胡同) in Beijing, which was part of the Huanghua Quarter (皇華坊) of the Yuan capital of Dadu. Kalaviṅka sculptures like this one are a particular feature of Tangut art, and as there were many Tangut Buddhist monks in the Yuan capital this sculpture may have been part of a Tangut Buddhist temple.


Yuan dynasty grey pottery sculpture of a Kalaviṅka

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


On the west side of the courtyard are some modern decorative pieces, including a couplet written on a door by local artist Lao Wu 老伍 (pen name of Wu Peixian 伍佩銜) in 2015. I buy a signed set of eighteen door couplet drawings by Lao Wu from the bookstore, along with a set of Beijing maps. I had inadvertently left my reading glasses back in my hotel room, and so unable to read any of the books on Beijing history on the bookstore shelves, for once I leave a bookstore without buying any books.


Decorative board at the West side of the Pagoda Courtyard

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


Door couplet by Lao Wu

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

無事可靜坐,閑情且讀書

If you have nothing to do you can sit quietly, if you are feeling idle then read a book



When I finally leave the comfort of the pagoda courtyard, I walk south along Xisi Street to the underground station at Xidan. On the way I pass by two giant sculptures by Bi Heng 毕横 which seem somehow to be a fitting conclusion to a good first day in China.


Sculpture of A Panda by Bi Heng

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

"A Panda" 阿潘达


Sculpture of Sun Wukong by Bi Heng

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

"Sun Wukong defeats Buddha in battle" 斗战胜佛孙悟空


Haotian Pagoda

I arrived in Beijing this morning for a three-week trip, mostly to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia where I will be attending meetings of SC2 and WG2 next week. I have two days in Beijing, and today I want to visit some pagodas. There are several historic pagodas of interest to me in the Fangshan District in the south of Beijing Municipality, but most of them are difficult to get to without a car, so I decide to visit the Liao dynasty Haotian Pagoda 昊天塔 as it is within walking distance of the Liangxiang University Town West 良乡大学城西 subway station on the Fangshan line.

It takes about 45 minutes to get from central Beijing to Liangxiang University Town West, and then I spend 45 minutes trying to get to the pagoda following a shortcut Google Maps has suggested to me. But although every now and then I can see the pagoda in the distance, I keep hitting dead ends and diversions, and finally I return defeated to the subway station. However, from the subway station I simply follow the main road north, and after quarter of an hour I arrive at the ominously derelict entrance to Haotian Park. The park gates are firmly closed and padlocked, and signs pasted to the entrance proclaim that the park is closed for renovations to the pagoda. I am reminded of my last visit to Beijing in 2013 when two out of three pagodas I visited were closed for repairs. I hope this is not an omen for what is to come.


Approach to Haotian Pagoda from the South

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


The pagoda is a couple of hundred metres away, at the top of some steps at the end of a broad concrete avenue leading from the entrance. I am about to try to take a distant shot of the pagoda through the bars of the gate when I see three ladies walking down the avenue from the direction of the pagoda. As they get nearer to the entrance they look to me like tourists, so I shout out to them whether it is possible to enter the park. They say it is, and awake the gatekeeper from slumber in the gatehouse I had not clearly noticed before. I ask the gatekeeper nicely if it would be possible to go a little closer to the pagoda to take a picture. He reluctantly agrees, and opens the gate to let me in, telling me to hurry and take my picture and then come straight back. I see him watching me anxiously as I hurry down the avenue to take my pictures.

The pagoda is an octagonal brick pagoda of five stories, 36 metres in height, which was built during the Liao dynasty (907–1125) to replace an earlier pagoda erected during the Sui dynasty (581–618). The pagoda is hollow, with a staircase allowing access to the top, but I am not going to be able to climb up it today.


Haotian Pagoda

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}


I go as far as the top of the steps, but I do not want to overstay my welcome, so after I have taken a few pictures I return back to the entrance, and the gatekeeper sees me out, and eagerly locks the gate behind me. In the end it was not a wasted trip, and I return back to my hotel in central Beijing satisfied, but eager for more pagoda adventures.