Birdview of the Yonghe Temple
Yonghegong, the Lama Temple, or the Yonghe Lamasery, is located at the northeast corner within Beierhuan (the North Section of the Second Ring Highway).
Building work on the Yonghe Temple started in 1694 during the Qing dynasty on the site where originally stood an official residence for court eunuchs of the previous dynasty. It was then converted into the residence of Yinzhen (Prince Yong), the fourth son of the Kangxi Emperor. After Prince Yong ascended the throne as the Yongzheng Emperor in 1722, half of the building was converted into a lamasery, a monastery for monks of Tibetan Buddhism. The other half remained an imperial palace.
After the Yongzheng Emperor's death in 1735, his coffin was placed in the temple. The Qianlong Emperor, who succeeded the Yongzheng Emperor, gave the temple imperial status signified by having its turquoise tiles replaced with yellow tiles which were reserved for the emperor. Subsequently, the monastery became a residence for large numbers of Tibetan Buddhist monks from Mongolia and Tibet, and so the Yonghe Lamasery became the national centre of Lama administration.
After the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949, the temple was declared a national monument and closed for the following 32 years. It is said to have survived the Cultural Revolution due to the intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai. Reopened to the public in 1981, it is today both a functioning temple and highly popular tourist attraction in the city.
(You may download the guide picture at the bottom of the article. )
Architecture and artworks
The Yonghe Temple is arranged along a north-south central axis, which has a length of 480 metres. The main gate is at the southern end of this axis. Along the axis, there are five main halls which are separated by courtyards: the Gate of Peace Declaration (Zhaotai Gate), the Hall of Harmony and Peace (Yonghegong), the Hall of Everlasting Protection (Yongyoudian), the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (Falundian), and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses (Wanfuge).
The Gate of Peace Declaration (Zhaotai Gate) is the southernmost of the main halls, it served originally as the main entrance to the monastery. In the center of the hall stands a statue of the Maitreya Buddha, along the walls statues of the four Heavenly Kings are arranged.
The Hall of Harmony and Peace is the main building of the temple. It houses three bronze statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages, the statue of the Gautama Buddha (Buddha of the Present) is in the center, it is flanked by the statue of Kasyapa Matanga (Buddha of the Past, right) and the Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the Future, left). Along the sides of the hall, the statues of the 18 Arhats are placed. A mural in the hall shows the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
The Hall of Everlasting Protection was Emperor Yongzheng's living quarters as a prince and the place where his coffin was placed after his death. Today, a statue of the Bhaisajya-guru (healing Buddha) stands in this hall.
The Hall of the Wheel of the Law functions as a place for reading scriptures and conducting religious ceremonies. It contains a large statue of Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Geluk School. The hall also contains the Five-Hundred-Arhat-Hill, a carving made of red sandalwood with statues of the arhats made from five different metals (gold, silver, copper, iron, and tin).
The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses (sometimes referred to as "The Hall of Boundless Happiness") contains an 18m tall (with an additional 8m underground, making it 26m in total) statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood. This was a gift from the seventh Dalai Lama to the Qianlong Emperor and took three years to transport from Tibet to Beijing. The statue is one of three artworks in the Temple which were included in the Guinness Book of Records in 1993.
It is strongly recommended to hire a guide. She/He will explain to you the historical stories of the buildings as well as the origin and meanings of even the trivial decorations. The administration provide guide in Chinese, English, French, German and Japanese.