Tuesday, May 24, 2005

China | Inner Mongolia | Dolonnuur#2

I asked our informant at the Janja Khutagt residence if he knew anything about the San-kuan-miao Temple mentioned in Podzneev’s 1892-93 account. He knew of no temple by this name but he did direct us to some ruins about half a mile from the Yellow Temple. One gateway building seemed to be in fairly reasonable shape, and just behind it was another very dilapidated gateway building which was being used as a storage shed. A guy was sitting on the steps of the first gateway building, but when we questioned him he launched into some convoluted nonsense about the Three Kingdoms period. From the glazed look in his eyes he may have been under the influence of some locally produced narcotic. Mr. Li quickly dismissed him and turned to a woman slopping down a pig in the courtyard in front of the second temple. She knew nothing, but directed us to a nearby house where Mr. Li roused an old man who appeared to be in his eighties.

Gateway to the Central Temple of the San Yin Si Complex

This old man claimed that the remaining temples here were once part of a large temple complex known as the San Yin Si which dated from the period of the Emperor Kangxi. Kangxi himself, according to the old man, had once visited here. According to the old man the remaining two buildings were the gateways to the Central Temple complex. There was also a East Temple and a West Temple on either side of it. According to the old man the feng-shui of temple was very auspicious, with the West Temple built on the tail of a large dragon, the Central Temple on the back of the dragon, and the East Temple on the head of the dragon. The old man says that the main temple of the central complex was huge and contained “thousands” of statutes of what he termed Buddhas. Both the East and West Temple complexes were totally destroyed by the Soviet Red Army, again according to the old man, as well as the main temple of the Central complex. No one knows what happened to the statues.

Second Gateway to Central Temple now used as a storage shed

Podzneev claims that the San-kuan-miao Temple complex was at the time of his visit the grandest building in town and that the bell tower was the town’s highest structure. He also notes that according to local tradition Kangxi visited the temple in 1691 when he came here to met Zanabazar, so apparently it existed by then. No one has any idea what happened to the San-kuan-miao Temple and indeed no one even recognizes the name. So it seems quite possible that the San Yin Si was what Podzneev called the San-kuan-miao Temple. After perusing Podzneev’s account, Mr. Li opined that most of the Chinese names he used for local landmarks are now unrecognizable. In any case, as mentioned nothing now remains of the San Yin Si / San-kuan-miao Temple except the two aforementioned buildings.

Our elderly informant also told us we should check out the Shanxi Merchant’s Meeting Hall, which had now been turned into a museum. This was news, since up to then everyone had said there were no museums in Dolonnuur. The Meeting Hall or more properly complex of buildings was surrounded by a high wall and very similar in appearance to a monastery. Created in 1745, it served as a meeting place for merchants and traders from the province of Shanxi, who apparently dominated the commercial life of the town. The complex had been heavily damaged during the Cultural Revolution but has now been restored. A sign at the complex says that by the late nineteenth century there were over 4000 merchants in Dolonnuur and that fifty percent of them were from Shanxi Province. The complex featured an outdoor stage on which operas were performed and a variety of meeting and eating halls.

Stage of the outdoor opera

Newly carved wooden door on the opera stage

One of the meeting halls

More meeting halls

We were fortunate enough to met the director of the museum, a man in his thirties, who agreed to guide us to our next stop, Khubilai Khan’s capital of Shangdu.