New life for old temple lane

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Bai Lin Temple. Photo: Yin Yeping

Bai Lin Temple. Photo: Yin Yeping

Located near the old Pao Ju prison, Bai Lin Hutong offers a picture-perfect image of an ancient temple lane.

It was originally named Bai Lin Si Hutong, or Bai Lin Temple Lane, after Bai Lin temple that was built in 1347 during the Yuan Dynasty. Today the temple is closed to the public, but it went through several periods of reconstruction and expansion, the most significant of which were in 1713 and 1768, during the governing periods of the emperors Kangxi and Qianlong, when it was one of the eight main temples of Beijing. The signatures of one of emperors can be seen on a stele inside the temple, and Qianlong even wrote a poem for it.

Yet what makes this temple truly unique is its abundant collection of the Buddhist scriptures, including the Long Zang Jing, which was accomplished in 1738 during Qianlong's reign. It contains the research of monks during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The books were once kept in the Forbidden City, but later moved to Bai Lin Temple and remained there for more than 200 years until they were transferred to Zhi Hua Temple in 1982.

After the late Qing Dynasty, the temple went through several changes of occupancy, and at vari-ous times housed an army hospital, city library and a school. Now the Beijing Bureau of Culture has cemented its place as a historical landmark and restricted any outside visitors.

The hiding of a general's ashes

One of the temple's greatest stories is about General Tong Lin'ge, who died on the battlefield during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). After the Japanese occupied the city, the general's ashes were secretly stored in this temple by an abbot who admired the general's devotion. He risked his life to keep the secret until the war was over.

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