In the Dali 大理 region, Yunnan province, there are two towns named Zhoucheng. There is the Zhoucheng (周城) not far from Xizhou (喜州) and famous for the Butterfly Spring (蝴蝶泉) which is a popular attraction among the domestic tourists, and there is Zhoucheng (州城), a small town which is on the way to the Chicken Feet Mountain (鸡足山) in Binchuan county (宾川).
I had seen pictures of large ancient temple, the Wenwu temple (文武庙), which combined a palace dedicated to Guan Di (关帝), another dedicated to Confucius (孔子) and a screen wall even larger than the one of Shaxi valley’s Aofeng village City God temple. On the photographs I saw, the Zhoucheng’s Wenwu Temple was a crumbling adobe walls structure.
When I arrived in Zhoucheng, I got two surprises. First, the entire temple had been entirely renovated and the woman in charge of the local Cultural Office, Miss Zhang, exceptionally opened the gates of the complex to give us a private tour.
The contrast between the crumbling adobe walls I had seen on pictures and the brick, concrete, wood and the bright red color that dominate in this re-actualized version of the temple was impressive. It seemed as though nothing remained of the original structure which was erected during the late 1500 century.
Confucius and Guandi
In this blog, I have already written about (and glossed over) a number of gods and / or deified historical figures which populate the Chinese folk religion pantheon. We have encountered Pak Tai (北帝) in Huangpu (黄埔), Foshan (佛山) and Huangyao (黄姚), the Jade Emperor (玉皇) on Mount Qianshi (千狮山) and on Mount Weibao (巍宝山), the prince Na Cha (哪吒) in Macau, the goddess Tin Hau (天后) in Hong Kong. The figure of Confucius does not need to be introduced. Confucius, or Master Kong, and his philosophy are making a come back in contemporary China. However, in the context of Zhoucheng’s temple, Confucius is the guardian of harmony.
Guandi (关帝) was a historical figure who lived during the period of the three Kingdoms (三国), between the 3rd and the 2nd century AD, when the rival kingdoms of Wei (魏), Shu (蜀) and Wu (吴) were at war with each others, and during the Han dynasty. Revered as an example of loyalty and righteousness, he was deified in the 12th century and integrated into the Taoist canon. Guandi’s identity is defined by both his military past and his reputation has a loyal and righteous man.
In the Taoist tradition, high-ranked priests have the power to promote or demote deities. Guandi became a the king of military pacification and guardian of the frontiers. When Zhoucheng’s Wenwu Temple was established in the late 15th century, Yunnan had been integrated into the Chinese empire for barely two centuries. It was a borderland region, but also a buffer zone where Chinese soldiers were sent to to settle and defend the border from eventual invasions from the south.
In this historical context, Confucius was there to insure the harmony within the borders of the Chinese empire and Guandi was there to defend the borders from external threats and thus contributing to the harmony brought by Confucius.
In the very name of the temple, Wenwu (文武), the character 文 (wen) stands for Confucius (all Confucian temples are called wenmiao 文庙), while the character 武 (wu) stands for Guandi (关帝), the red-faced god of war.
In 2006, Zhoucheng’s Wenwu temple was listed as an important cultural and historical relic at the national level. With this nomination, funds were allocated to renovate and give the temple a new face.
During the private tour Miss Chen, an employee of Zhoucheng’s Cultural Office, was kind enough to give, I asked her why the temple was still empty. Where were the statues of Confucius and Emperor Guandi ?
She explained that at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards stormed the place and destroyed everything, leaving the place bare and empty. The temple became a grain storage facility until the end of the Mao era. During the renovation process that was undertaken over the past decade, the temple got a makeover. Some of the ancient frescoes that ornate the walls were left untouched, and Zhoucheng Cultural Office is writing a new page in the Wenwu temple’s history.
Even tough the temple was listed as a cultural and historical relic at the national level, the local government still lacks of funding to complete the renovation of the temple and, maybe, put back altars and statues.