Masterpiece on the Cliff

The Hanging Temple is located on the crag of Jinlongkou west cliff at the foot of Hengshan Mountain, five kilometers to the south from Hunyuan County, Shanxi Province. The Hanging Temple was first built at the end of the Northern Wei Dynasty (about the sixth century). After many times of repairs, the Hanging Temple had a large scale, and became a rare high altitude building in China, known as a high building on cliff.


All buildings in the temple were hung on the crag at the slope of Hengshan Mountain. The buildings stand vertical to the cliff, and the peak of the cliff seems upside down. Seen from upwards, the whole building seems that it just sticks to the cliff. More than forty halls, rooms and pavilions in the temple are divided to three groups. Statues of Confucius, Laozi (a scholar in ancient China) and Sakyamuni the founders of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism respectively, are enshrined in various halls. Different cultures directly encounter one another here. The Hanging Temple is a perfect combination of religion and culture of Chinese feudal society. There are all sorts of inscriptions, poems and another 78 statues of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism made of copper, iron, clay and stone, which are valuable cultural craftworks.


The Hanging Temple was designed skillfully and constructed audaciously. The method is to chisel a horizontal hole in the cliff, and then put a beam through the hole out of the cliff, at last put board and pillars on the beam to build various beam frames and roofs. Balusters are set around all the buildings outside the cliff. Looking from the top of the mountain, visitors can see some impending wooden poles under the buildings that are far from the cliff. These wooden poles are set to protect the buildings. The temple was arranged in random from north to south, with a bluff inside and devious plank roads built along the face of the cliff. Beam frames are harmonious up and down, and balusters are connected to each other, with appropriate density, like one integrated mass.


Why build a monastery like this? Location is the first reason; building a monastery on the cliff could shield it from floods. In addition, the mountain peak protects it from rain and snow; and the mountain around it also diminishes damage from long-time sunshine. The second reason is that the builders followed a principle in Taoism: no noises, including those from rooster crowing and dog baying; so from the upper ground, all noises drop away.