A  pilgrimage through temples from Luoyang to Datong across China's Shanxi Province

(The following outlines are taken from various online sources, the English is of varying qualities. All the photos except the photos of statues on this page were taken by me during the week August 7-14, 2009)

洛阳 / 洛陽 The original city of Luoyang was constructed by the Duke of Zhou in the 11th century BC. It became the capital of the Zhou Dynasty in 770 BC. In AD 25, Luoyang became the capital of Eastern Han Dynasty. For several centuries, Luoyang was the focal point of China. Luoyang was restored to prominence when Emperor Wen of the Wei Dynasty declared it his capital in AD 220. The Jin Dynasty, successor to Wei, was also established in Luoyang. In AD 493 the Northern Wei Dynasty moved its capital from Datong to Luoyang.

Shaolin Temple. Founded in the 5th century, not very far from Luoyang, the monastery has long been famous for its association with Chinese martial arts and particularly with Shaolin Kung Fu, and it is surely the Buddhist monastery best known to the Western world. It was almost completely destroyed in 1928, when the warlord Shi Yousan set fire to the monastery, destroying 90% of the buildings including many manuscripts of the temple library. Attacked by red guards during the Cultural Revolution (1966-), it stayed stripped and empty for many years. It is now a major attraction for young martial arts enthusiasts, with practice fields and a training center within the grounds. The Forest of Pagodas is the oldest surviving part of Shaolin Temple.

White Horse Temple 白马寺 was the first Buddhist temple to be founded in China, established under the patronage of Emperor Ming in the Eastern Han capital Luoyang in the year 68. Nothing remains from very ancient times.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟 One of the great Buddhist cave sites, coming after Mogao and Yunhang. There are 2345 caves and niches, 2800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas and over 100,000 Buddhist images at the site. 30% of the caves date from the Northern Wei Dynasty, 60% from the Tang Dynasty.

Zhenguo Temple (镇国) was first built in 963 in the Northern Han Dynasty (951 - 979), Zhenguo Temple is famous for  the Ten- Thousand-Buddha Hall, which is one of the three oldest timberworks in mainland China. Inside the temple there are eleven sculptures that belong to the Five Dynasties period.  Photography of them is not allowed. See Flikr photos  /  The China Guide photos

Shuanglin Temple (林寺) was originally founded in the 6th century during the Northern Wei period, although the present buildings date to the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is notable for its collection of over two thousand decorated clay statues dating from the 12th-19th centuries.

Photography of the statues is not allowed.   Other photos from the InternetThe China Guide photos

Pingyao () is a township that lies about 715 km from Beijing and 80 km from Taiyuan. During the Qing Dynasty, Pingyao was a financial center of China. It is now renowned for its well-preserved ancient city wall, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 300 sites in or near the city have ancient ruins. Preserved Ming- and Qing-style residences number close to 4,000. The streets and storefronts inside the walls still largely retain their historical appearance.  The China Guide:_street_life     /  old_city_wall

Jinci Temple (晋祠 25 kilometers southwest of Taiyuan) is a stunning group of shrines, pagodas and towers set among gardens with a 1,400 year history. The Hall of the Holy Mother, the Double Wooden Bridge and the Xiandian Hall are regarded as the most beautiful of the temples’ 100 or so buildings. Each was produced during a different dynasty. The carved dragons on the wooden pillars of the Hall of the Holy Mother are some of the oldest wood carvings in China.

The Song Dynasty stone maids are famous.


Tianlongshan 天龍山 ("Heavenly Dragon Mountain") Located near the summit of a towering massif which is located 40 kilometers southwest of Taiyuan City, are the Tianlongshan Grottoes 天龍山石窟. The existing grottos have 1,500 statues. 15 grottos  were excavated during the Tang Dynasty (618 -907). The grottos excavated during the Eastern Wei Dynasty (534-550) are the most vivid.  Most are in a poor state.

Taiyuan (太原) The Shanxi Museum (山西博物馆) is closed on Mondays. Inside the city in an alley is Chongshan Temple崇善寺. Originally built during the Tang Dynasty, Ming dynasty renovations extended the site to make it the biggest Buddhist monastery in China.  Today only one-fortieth of the complex remains, including the Bell Tower, Da Bei hall and the colourful frescos.  

Along the way to Wǔtái Shān are the Tang Dynasty (618–907) era timber halls located at Foguang Temple (佛光寺)and Nanchan Temple (南禅寺).

Foguang Temple's East Hall (大殿) was built in 857 AD, during the Tang Dynasty (618–907). According to architectural records, it is the third earliest preserved timber structure in China.

Inside the hall are more than twenty sculptures and murals on each wall that date from the Tang Dynasty and later periods. The second oldest pagoda in China (after the Songyue Pagoda), dating from the 6th century, is located in the temple grounds.

Photography is not allowed inside the hall.

Nanchan Temple's main hall is the earliest preserved timber-structured building in China, built in the Tang Dynasty.

The sculptures of the Tang Dynasty are masterpieces. Photography is not allowed.

Mount Wutai (五台山 Wǔtái Shān), is one of the Four Sacred Mountains in Chinese Buddhism. The mountain is home to many of China's most important monasteries and temples. Mount Wutai's cultural heritage consists of 53 active monasteries. It is known as the residence of the bodhisattva Manjusri, and as a result is  a major Buddhist pilgrimage destination, with strong Tibetan links.  Its name means Five-terrace mountain, since it has rounded summits to North, East, South and West as well as a central height. The North Terrace rises to 2000 meters, the township of Taihuai nestles in a bowl surrounded by the verdant hills.

Nanshan Temple
南山寺) is a large temple in a secluded region of Mount Wutai, first built in the Yuan Dynasty. The whole temple comprises seven terraces, divided into three parts. The lower three terraces are named Jile Temple (极乐); the middle terrace is called Shande Hall (善德堂); the upper three terraces are named Youguo Temple ().

The great white stupa at Tayuan Temple was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
Other major temples on the same central hill of Taihuai include Xiantong Temple and Pusa Ding.

Ying Xian Mu Ta (應縣木塔) is one of the oldest wooden pagodas surviving in China.

The Hanging Temple (
空寺 xuán kong sì) is built into a cliff face near Mount Heng, near Datong. Most of the historical sites in this region date to the Tang and Ming dynasties, but the Hanging Temple originally dates to the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534).

Datong (大同) was the capital of Northern Wei from 398 AD until 494 AD. Within the city itself, there are only a very few surviving sites of historical interest such as the Nine Dragon Screen ( jiǔ lóng bì) (the first 2 images are of a 5-dragon screen opposite the entrance to Shanhua Temple). The Huayan Monastery华严 huá yán sì) is being restored and the Shanhua Temple(善化寺 shàn huà sì) was not very interesting on the outside. 

The most impressive site is the renowned Yungang Grottoes (石窟), located about 16 km south-west of Datong, in the valley of the Shi Li river at the base of the Wuzhou Shan mountains, mainly constructed in the period between 460-525 AD. All together the site is composed of 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes. After the decline of the Jin Dynasty, the northern parts of China came under the control of the Northern Wei dynasty, ruled by a proto-mongolic tribe called Tuoba. They made the city of Pingcheng, now known as Datong, their capital in 398 AD. The Northern Wei early adopted Buddhism as their state religion and launched the creation of the grottoes.

The work on this first period of carving, the caves now known as caves 16–20, lasted until the year 465 AD. These each contain a single, enormous seated Buddha that is a portrait of an emperor, indicating that the emperors claimed to be "living Buddhas."
Beginning around the year 471 AD, in a second construction phase that lasted until 494 AD, the twin caves 5/6, 7/8, and 9/10 as well as the caves 11, 12, and probably 13 were constructed under the supervision and support of the imperial court. These are the most richly carved caves, that were subsequently colored.
The imperial patronage ended 494 AD with the move of the Wei court to the new capital of Luoyang. All other caves emerged under private patronage in a third construction period, lasting until 525, when the construction came to a final halt due to uprisings in the area.

The photos of Yungang: After a few views of the huge statues at the center , exposed to the open air, the photos in the slideshow begin at the late cave 40, and descend toward caves 16–20 and the more elaborate, painted caves,  culminating in 5/6 and 7/8 where photography is not permitted.