The Hongluo Temple (or Red Shells Temple) is located at the foot of Hongluo Mountain, about 7 km north of downtown Hairou District, “a bright pearl inlaid in the suburbs of Beijing”. It is the largest Buddhist temple in northern China, covering an area of 8 square kilometers and integrating the natural landscape with man-made features.
With a history of nearly 1,700 years, the Hongluo Temple was first built in 338 during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (316-420), but was later renovated and enlarged during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). It was originally called Daming (Great Brightness) Temple, and renamed Huguo Zifu Buddhist Temple during the Ming Dynasty. Because of a beautiful fairytale that two spiral shells gave out red light in the evening, local people call it Hongluo (Red Shells) Temple.
In ancient China the temple’s abbots were appointed by the emperor, and lots of eminent monks who had a good command of Buddhist doctrines lived in the temple. An old saying goes: “Putuo Temple is the most famous in south China; and Hongluo Temple in north China.” Given its location on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, Hongluo Temple was also frequently visited by Chinese emperors through the history.
Hongluo Temple leans against the grand Hongluo Mountain in the north and overlooks the graceful Hongluo Lake in the south, enjoying beautiful natural surroundings. The area now has six main scenic zones: Hongluo Mountain, Hongluo Temple, the Temple of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Chengxiu Garden, Songlinyu Garden and Garden of 500 Arhats. Scenic spots and cultural sites are perfectly combined in the area.
The temple itself is divided into five courtyards, the central of which serves as the entrance to the temple complex. The central courtyard is surrounded by the Hall of Heavenly Kings, Mahavira Hall, the Meditation Room, and a hall where Buddhist scripture is taught. The other courtyards correspond to the four directions of the compass: the eastern, western, northern, and southern courtyards.
A temple dedicated to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is situated in a secluded courtyard behind the temple complex, a little way up the mountain. In the temple there are three halls, with 108 steps between the main hall and the rear hall. These are supposed to represent the 108 human vexations, which, it is said, are each dispelled as the individual treads over them.
To the east of the Hongluo Temple you will see one of the highlights of the area – Garden of 500 Arhats. Surrounding a statue of the Laughing Buddha, the life-size statues of 500 Arhats, in red or yellow robes, are nested in groups amongst the forest of trees up and down the mountainside, and the expressions on their faces are all different. Also, you can have a nice walk along a winding path lined with a variety of stone carvings depicting images of the Chinese zodiac, which makes good opportunities for photos with the animal from your particular birth year, or just an animal that you like.
The Hongluo Temple is especially famed for three wonders – “Imperial Bamboo Forest”, “Female and Male Gingko Trees”, and “Pine Tree Entwined with Chinese Wisterias”, which are must sees.
The imperial bamboo, dating back to more than 600 years, was first planted by Yunshan, a Buddhist monk in the Yuan Dynasty. Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty enjoyed the sight of these bamboos here. There are tens of thousands of bamboos which form the bamboo forest, as one of the largest areas for bamboo with the longest history in northern China.
Before the Mahavira Hall, the Female and Male Gingko Trees, planted in the Tang Dynasty, are over one-thousand-year-old.
Behind the Mahavira Hall, an 800-year-old pine tree is entwined with two Chinese wisterias, making a large shadow.
With immense forests and tall ancient trees around, the temple’s tasteful layout creates an atmosphere of quiet contemplation. It is a great place to see as an off-the-beaten-track destination when visiting Beijing. The area has much to offer you throughout the year, with blossoming flowers in spring, cool temperatures in summer, golden leaves in autumn and snow covered plum blossoms, bamboos and pines in winter.
1. It is possible to see the Great Wall of China from the top of Red Shell Mountain if you are willing to make the long trek past the temple grounds to the summit.
2. The temple is not far from the Mutianyu Great Wall.
3. Now temple fairs have evolved into part of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivities. Hongluo Temple Fair, one of the fairs in Beijing held in a functioning temple, will be an interesting experience for you.