After long periods of hectic big-city life, it's natural for people to seek a peaceful break in quiet, scenic places. The small towns of Shanxi Province, with their liberal smattering of ancient temples, are good choices.
Originally known as Zhongdu Temple, this site - featuring attractive, colourful sculptures - is located in Qiaotou Village, 6 kilometres southwest of Pingyao Ancient Town. The exact age of the temple is unknown due to its extreme antiquity, but its name first appeared in historical records during its rebuilding in 571.
Inside the temple there are over 2,000 Ming- and Qing-era painted sculptures of great artistic and historical value. These represent the artistic style of those dynasties (1369-1644 and 1644-1911 respectively) and are revered as treasures of oriental painted sculpture.
Shuanglin Temple was opened to the public in 1997, and together with Pingyao Ancient Town and nearby Zhenguo Temple, was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site.
Take train K371 from Shanghai to Taiyuan, Shanxi. Then take a bus along the highway to Pingyao Ancient Town. Admission is 12 RMB (US$1.50).
Zhenguo Temple, listed as part of the same World Cultural Heritage that includes Shuanglin Temple, is located in Haodong Village, 15 kilometres northeast of Pingyao Ancient Town. It consists of two interlinked courtyards that cover a total area of 13,000 square metres.
Of particular note is the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which has undergone numerous renovations but still retains its original style and unique structure. Zhenguo Temple is the only one remaining in China which exemplifies the architectural style of the Five Dynasties period (907-960).
The temple has many other remarkable features, such as a huge iron bell cast in 1145. Its stele, remaining from the Five Dynasties period, is considered of special historical importance to students of history, archaeology and calligraphy. In addition, the Dragon-Scholar Tree in front of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall is of incredible age, having been planted in the Jin Dynasty (265-420). It still flourishes and looks somewhat like a flying dragon.
Take train K371 to Taiyuan, Shanxi and then a two hour bus ride to the temple.
Visitors may buy through tickets for 85 yuan (US$10) to tour the entire scenic spot, including Zhenguo Temple, over a two-day period, or a single ticket for 15 yuan (US$2) for the temple only.
Zishou Temple, in Suxi Village, is also close to Pingyao Ancient Town. It was first built over 1,100 years ago and comprises 15 halls and buildings on 15,000 square metres, such as the Classics Collection buildings; the Buddhist Hall Courtyard; the Buddhist Abbot's Courtyard and the Bell and Drum Building.
The name "Zishou" originally meant "ensuring the longevity of all creatures.
Public Buddhist worship and ceremonies have been actively held in the temple since ancient times, but Zishou Temple is famous mainly for its large Ming Dynasty frescoes and colourful sculptures of the 18 Buddhist Saints. Zishou was rated a National Cultural Relic Preservation Unit in 2001 and is included in the "Dictionary of Scenic Spots in China".
First take train K371 to Taiyuan, Shanxi from Shanghai. Then continue to Lingshi County by bus. Admission is 15 yuan. Call (0354)772-8393 772-8377 for further travel information.