China Travel Guide
Beijing Temples, Churches & Mosques
- 13 Guozijian Jie, Dongcheng
- 2 E2
- Yonghe Gong
- 010 8401 1977
- 9am–5pm daily
Adjacent to the Lama Temple, the Confucius Temple is the largest in China outside Qufu, the philosopher’s birthplace in Shandong province. The alley leading to the temple has a fine pailou (decorative archway), few of which survive in Beijing. First built in 1302 during the Mongol Yuan dynasty, the temple was expanded in 1906 in the reign of Emperor Guangxu. It is a tranquil place that offers respite from the city’s bustle. Around 200 ancient stelae stand in the silent courtyard in front of the main hall (Dacheng Dian), inscribed with the names of those who successfully passed the imperial civil service exams. Additional stelae are propped up on the backs of bixi (mythical cross between a tortoise and a dragon), within pavilions surrounded by cypress trees. On a marble terrace in the main hall are statues of Confucius and some of his disciples.
Cow Street Mosque
- 18 Niu Jie, Xuanwu
- Xuanwu Men, then taxi
- 010 6353 2564
- 8am–6pm daily. Avoid Fri (holy day)
jing’s oldest and largest mosque dates back to the 10th century. It is located in the city’s Hui district, near numerous Muslim restaurants and shops. The Hui, a Chinese Muslim minority group mainly from Ningxia province, are now scattered throughout China and number around 200,000 in Beijing. The men are easily identified by their beards and characteristic white hats.
The Cow Street Mosque is an attractive edifice, with Islamic motifs and Arabic verses decorating its halls and stelae. Its most prized possession is a 300-year-old, hand-written copy of the Koran (Gulanjing).
Astronomical observations and lunar calculations were made from the tower-like Wangyue Lou. The graves of two Yuan dynasty Arab missionaries engraved with Arabic inscriptions can be seen here. The courtyard is lush with greenery, making it an idyllic escape from Beijing’s busy streets. Visitors are advised to dress conservatively (you can hire clothes if necessary). Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the prayer hall.
Dong Yue Miao
On Beijing's eastern side near Chaoyang’s Workers’ Stadium, the mesmerizing Dong Yue Miao takes its name from the Daoist Eastern Peak, Dong Yue, also known as Tai Shan. It is fronted by a fabulous glazed Ming dynasty paifang inscribed with the characters “Zhisi Daizong,” meaning “offer sacrifices to Mount Tai (Tai Shan) in good order.”
This colorful and active temple, dating to the early 14th century, was restored at considerable cost in 1999, and is tended by Daoist monks. The main courtyard leads into the Hall of Tai Shan, where there are statues of the God of Tai Shan and his attendants. The greatest attractions here are over 70 “Departments,” filled with vivid Daoist gods and demons, whose functions are explained in English captions. In Daoist lore, the spirits of the dead go to Tai Shan, and many Departments dwell on the afterlife. The Department for Increasing Wealth and Longevity, for example, offers cheerful advice.
- 7 Fayuan Si Qian Jie, Xuanwu
- 3 A3
- Xuanwu Men
- 010 6353 4171
- 8:30am–3:30pm Mon, Tue, Thu–Sat
A short walk east from Cow Street Mosque, the Fayuan Temple dates to AD 696 and is probably the oldest temple in Beijing. It was consecrated by the Tang Taizong emperor (r.626–49), to commemorate the soldiers who perished in an expedition against the northern tribes. The original Tang era buildings were destroyed by a succession of natural disasters, and the current structures date from the Qing era.
The temple’s layout is typical of Buddhist temples. Near the gate, the incense burner (lu) is flanked by the Drum and Bell Towers to the east and west. Beyond, the Hall of the Heavenly Kings (Tianwang Dian) is guarded by a pair of bronze lions, and has statues of Milefo (the Laughing Buddha) and his attendant Heavenly Kings. Ancient stelae stand in front of the main hall, where a gilded statue of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) is flanked by bodhisattvas and luohan – those freed from the cycle of rebirth.
At the temple’s rear, the Scripture Hall stores sutras, while another hall contains a 16-ft (5-m) Buddha statue. The grounds are busy with monks who attend the temple’s Buddhist College.
Great Bell Temple
- 31a Beisanhuan Xi Lu, Haidian
- Dazhong Si
- 300, 367
- 010 6255 0819
- 8:30am–4pm daily
Home to a fascinating collection of bells, the 18th-century Dazhong Si follows a typical Buddhist plan, with the Heavenly Kings Hall, Main Hall, and the Guanyin Bodhisattva Hall. Its highlight is the 46.5 ton (47,246 kg) bell – one of the world’s largest – that is housed in the rear tower. The bell was cast between 1403 and 1424, and brought here from Wanshou Temple in the reign of the Qianlong emperor. Buddhist sutras in Chinese and Sanskrit embellish its surface. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the bell was struck 108 times to bring in the New Year, and could be heard for 25 miles (40 km). The gallery above has a display on bell casting, and visitors can toss a coin into the bell for luck. Hundreds of bells from the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing eras can be seen in a separate hall on the west side.
the colorful Lama Temple
Beijing’s most spectacular temple complex, the Lama Temple (Yonghegong) was constructed during the 17th century and converted into a Tibetan lamasery in 1744. Its five main halls are a stylistic blend of Han, Mongol, and Tibetan motifs. The first hall has a traditional display – the plump laughing Buddha, Milefo, is back-to-back with Wei Tuo, the Protector of Buddhist Doctrine, and flanked by the Four Heavenly Kings. Yonghe Hall beyond has three manifestations of Buddha, flanked by 18 luohan – those freed from the cycle of rebirth. Even farther back, the Tibetan-styled Falun Hall or Hall of the Wheel of Law has a statue of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
The highlight, however, is encapsulated within the towering Wanfu Pavilion (Wanfu Ge) – a vast 55-ft (17-m) high statue of Maitreya (the Future Buddha), carved from a single block of sandalwood. The splendid exhibition of Tibetan Buddhist objects at the temple’s rear includes statues of the deities Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), and the Tibetan equivalent of Guanyin, Chenresig, alongside ritual objects such as the scepter-like dorje (thunderbolt) and dril bu (bell), symbols of the male and female energies. Few captions are in English.
Miaoying Temple White Dagoba
Celebrated for its distinctive Tibetan-styled, 167-ft (51-m) white dagoba (stupa or funerary mound) designed by a Nepalese architect, the Miaoying Temple (Miaoying Si) dates to 1271, when Beijing was under Mongol rule. In addition to its conventional Drum and Bell Towers, Hall of Heavenly Kings, and Main Halls, this Buddhist temple has a remarkable collection of small Tibetan Buddhist statues in one of its halls. Another hall has a collection of 18 bronze luohan (disciples).
- 141 Qian Men Xi Dajie
- 3 A2
- Xuanwu Men
The first Catholic church to be built in Beijing, South Cathedral (Nan Tang) stands close to the Xuanwu Men underground station, on the site of Jesuit Matteo Ricci’s former residence. Ricci was the first Jesuit missionary to reach Beijing. Arriving in 1601, he sent gifts of European curiosities such as clocks, mathematical instruments, and a world map to the Wanli emperor, thus gaining his goodwill, and was eventually given permission to establish a church.
Like many of China’s churches, this restored building has suffered much devastation. Construction first began in 1605, and it subsequently burned down in 1775. It was rebuilt a century later, only to be destroyed once again during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1904. Also known as St. Mary’s Church, it is the city’s largest functioning Catholic cathedral, and has regular services in a variety of languages including Chinese, English, and Latin. Service timings are posted on the noticeboard. A small gift shop is located near the south gate.
- Mentougou district. 28 miles (45 km) W of Beijing
- to Pingguo Yuan (1 hr), then bus 931 or tourist bus 7
- 010 6086 2505
- 8am–5pm daily
This enormous temple dates back to the 3rd century AD, when it was known as Jiafu Si. It was later renamed Tanzhe Temple, after the adjacent mountain Tanzhe Shan, which in turn got its name from the nearby Dragon Pool (Long Tan) and the surrounding cudrania (zhe) trees. It has a splendid mountainside setting, and its halls rise up the steep incline. The temple is especially famous for its ancient trees, among which is a huge ginkgo known as the Emperor’s Tree. A slightly smaller tree close by is called The Emperor’s Wife.
Stupa Forest Temple
The most fascinating sight, however, is the Stupa Forest Temple (Talin Si) near the parking lot, with its marvellous collection of brick stupas hidden among the foliage. Each stupa was constructed in memory of a renowned monk. The towering edifices were built in a variety of designs, including the graceful miyan ta or dense-eave stupa, characterized by ascending layers of eaves. The earliest among them dates from the Jin dynasty (1115–1234).
White Clouds Temple
Home to the China Daoist Association, the White Clouds Temple (Baiyun Guan) was founded in AD 739 and is Beijing’s largest Daoist shrine. Known as the Temple of Heavenly Eternity, it was one of the three ancestral halls of the Quanzhen School of Daoism, which focused on right action and the benefits of good karma. Built largely of wood, the temple burnt to the ground in 1166, and since then has been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. The structures that survive date largely from the Ming and Qing dynasties. A triple-gated Ming pailou (decorative archway) stands at the entrance. It is believed that rubbing the carved monkey on the main gate brings good luck. The major halls are arranged along the central axis, with more halls on either side. The Hall of the Tutelary God has images of four marshals who act as temple guardians, while the Hall of Ancient Disciplines is dedicated to the Seven Perfect Ones, disciples of Wang Chongyang, the founder of the Quanzhen School. The Hall of Wealth is popular with pilgrims who seek blessings from the three spirits of wealth, while the infirm patronize the Hall of the King of Medicine.
The temple grounds are full of Daoist monks with their distinctive topknots. It is most lively during the Chinese New Year (see Festivals), when a temple fair (miaohui) is held.
St. Joseph’s Church
- 74 Wangfujing Dajie
- 010 6524 0634
- early morning during services
Church, Wangfujing Street
Bustling Wangfujing Street (Wangfujing Dajie), Beijing’s original shopping street, is filled with department stores and giant malls such as the Sun Dong’an Plaza (see Shopping & Entertainment in Beijing). Everything from curios, objets d’art, antiques, clothes, and books are available here. The huge Foreign Language Bookstore is a good place to buy a more detailed map of Beijing. The street has a lively mixture of pharmacies, laundry and dyeing shops, as well as stores selling silk, tea, and shoes.
However, the street’s highlight is the Night Market, with its endless variety of traditional Chinese snacks, including skewers of beef, and more exotic morsels such as scorpions. Other offerings include pancakes, fruit, shrimps, squid, flat bread, and more. The Wangfujing Snack Street, south of the Night Market, also has a range of colorful restaurants.
The impressive triple-domed St. Joseph’s Church, known as the East Cathedral, is at 74 Wangfujing Dajie. One of the city’s most important churches, it has recently been restored at a cost of US$2 million. It was built on the site of the former residence of Jesuit Adam Schall von Bell (1591–1669) in 1655, and has been rebuilt a number of times after being successively destroyed by earthquake, fire, and then during the Boxer Rebellion. It is fronted by an open courtyard and an arched gateway.