Qjongzhusi (the Bamboo Monastery) is situated on Yu'anshan Hill (the Jade Desk Hill) on the northwestern outskirts of Kunming, some 12 kilometers from the downtown area. The quiet and tastefully laid out temple is surrounded by verdant woods and green bamboos affording crisp and cool air. It is therefore called "the Jade Desk Hill in Fine Clouds and Mists".
The name "the Bamboo Monastery" indicates that it is closely related to bamboos. As the legend goes, in the period of Nazhao Kingdom under the reign of Tang Dynasty, the two sons Gao Guang and Gao Zhi of the Marquis of Shanchan (today's Kunming) once went hunting on the Western Hills and suddenly came rushing into their view a rhinoceros. They chased the beast to the northern slope of Yu'anshan Hill, but lost sight of the animal then and there. Standing instead in front of them was a silver-haired and ruddy-complexioned monk leaning on a bamboo stick in the midst of clouds hovering around the hills. The two brothers hurried forward to greet the monk, only to find him vanishing in a flash. His stick was found firmly stuck in the ground. The bamboo stick was seen sprouting and soon growing into a dense bamboo grove. Right on the very spot the two brothers then built a temple named Qiongzhusi to express their gratitude to the mysterious monk for making his appearance before them.
Just inside the gate of the monastery are two peacock cedars (cryptomeria) about 600 years old. They are believed to have been planted during the reign of Emperor Hongwu of the Ming Dynasty. The hardy old trunks uphold two canopies of luxuriant branches and leaves high above the ground. In front of Luohantang (the Hall of Arhats) stand two ancient wild magnolia trees (magnolia delavaji) some hundred years old with thick branches and leaves. You will be greeted by pervading fragrance when the trees are in bloom with flowers resembling lovely white lotus.
Before the Song Dynasty, a religious sect of Buddhism, similar to Lamaism in Tibet, was commonly professed. At the turn of the Song and Yuan Dynasties, a famous monk from Kunming studied Buddhism in the interior of the country. During his twenty-five years' stay in the Central Plains of China, he became quite learned and was granted a Buddhist name "Hongjing" by Kublai Khan. Then he returned to Yunnan and preached Buddhism at the Bamboo Monastery, preaching the doctrines of the Chan (Dhyana) sect (a branch of Buddhism in China). It grew more and more famous in Yunnan with the passage of time, as the first Buddhist temple in which Buddhism from the interior of China was introduced. The construction date is still wrapped in obscurity. Nevertheless, it can be inferred that the Buddhist monastery was built before the Yuan Dynastyjudging from the time when the famous monk began preaching at the temple. The monastery was renovated again and again in the Ming and the Qing Dynasties.
The 500 arhat statues in the halls are the pride of the temple. Of the 500, 432 arhat statues are arranged on three tiers in the Fanyin Pavilion and the Tiantailai Pavilion on both sides of Tianwangdian (the Hall of the Heavenly Kings) and the rest of 68 are arranged in the same way on both sides of Daxiong Baodian (the Majestic Hall for Great Siddhartha). These statues were the artistic creations of a famous sculptor Li Guangxiu from Sichuan and his five apprentices through painstaking efforts from the 6th year to the 16th year in the reign of Emperor Guangxi of the Qing Dynasty. They plunged themselves deep into the thick of life to study the images and mental attitude of people. These exquisite clay sculptures, based on the traditional technique of Buddha sculpture and showing ingenuity and superb craftsmanship, were completed by the sculptors with great dexterity and precision through infinite pains. These highly individualized statues have distinctive facial expressions of anger and ease, sorrow and joy. Their postures and gestures are also extremely varied. Some are sedate, while others are full of motion; some are looking at each other and some chatting. Among the sc~ptures are Buddhas with kindly faces, Lord Buddha's warrior attendants with glaring eyes, industrious Xingzhe (a monk with his hair unshaven), the humorous Amitabha, the meditating bhiksus, the joyful sages and hundreds of others. These vivid, true to life clay sculptures catch the eyes of the visitors as soon as they come to the gate of the pavilions. Of all the statues in the three tiers, those in the middle tier are the best. It is said that they were sculptured by Li Guangxiu himself and the rest were done by his apprentices under his guidance.
These sculptors broke away from the stereotyped mode of the traditional Buddhist sculpture and modelled their statues on real people of all social strata. The combination of realism and romanticism applied in their artistic creation resulted in the immortal images of the 500 true-to-life arhat statues with vivid facial expressions and impressive dispositions. They are the treasures of the day Buddhist sculptures of China and are reputed as "a jewel in the treasure of the sculptural art in the Orient."
In the temple there are also many valuable inscriptions and couplets on tablets and pillars. In the main hall of the temple stands a tablet bearing the "Emperor's Edict" written in the Mongdian language and translated in vernacular Chinese. Therefore the relic is also named the Vernacular Stele (Baihuabei). This tablet provides some evidence of the close ties between Kunming, then called the "Duck Pond Town" or Yachi, the same way of addressing it as Marco Polo did in his Travels, and interior China in their political, economic and cultural rdations. It also reveals a lot of historical information about Yunnan's history, geography and languages in the 13th and 14th centuries and has a high value for academic researches.
In the courtyard, there grow many kinds of exotic flowers and rare plants, diffusing fragrance all the year round. It is a nice place for people to relax.
Qiongzhu Temple is a restorative, peaceful and beautiful attraction offering natural, artistic and cultural insight. What a wonderful way to spend a few hours!