China feels distopian these days. Up in Yu County, plastic bags blow across dead fields underneath skies black with coal dust. Toothless old men in collapsing villages stand staring blankly in the cold. Off in the gray distance, the frames of tower blocks loom. I go wandering through dry, garbage-strewed villages, prying open old doors and hopping mud walls, searching for treasure.
Above top: coffins stored in a ruined temple. Bottom: the interior of an Empress Temple (娘娘廟).
Fifty years ago every village in Yu County had at least one temple, and often four or five, plus a large opera stage. All of these were adorned with frescoes, sculptures, and wood- and stone-carving. Some of them still remain.
Above top, another Empress Temple. Bottom, the words “Destroy the Private” written on a temple wall, left over from the Cultural Revolution. On the opposite wall, not pictured, is written “Erect the Public” (立公).
A lot of these places have just been boarded up, or turned into sheep pens or grain storage houses. I have to do a lot of entreating with elderly men who own the keys to rusty locks and scaling walls to get into some of these places. Nobody seems to care.
Above top, a Temple to the True Warrior (真武廟) and bottom, an opera stage (戲臺), both now used as storage spaces.
Since I don’t have all that much intelligent to say about this stuff as a whole I’m going to let it speak for itself. Note that I’m not going to say where any of this is, because a lot of it is quite valuable, and does get stolen. Here are some of the highlights:
Above: Three different Shrines to the True Warrior (真武廟), all located on mud towers on the northern walls of villages. The last one was repaired and repainted recently, paid for by what appears to be the last remaining resident of the village.
No idea what the above represents, although I intend to figure it out. The procession is marching towards the Crystal Palace (水晶宮), which is the residence of the Dragon Kings. And yet it doesn’t seem to be a temple dedicated to the Dragon King, which is peculiar.
These are from the interior of a Buddhist monastery, built in the Qianlong Reign of the Qing. Another interesting element is the presence of “comic-book” style paneled narrations. Common topics are the life of Sakyamuni in Buddhist temples, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and other popular stories.
Since this collection is going to be growing endlessly, I’ve decided to put up the rest, including details of some of the more intricate frescoes, as a sidebar. So if you scroll down you’ll see it on the right and you can look through the whole set.
Another thing I’ve been collecting is specimens of wood and stone carving from around Yu County.
This is the gatehouse of a fort. Note the ornamental brackets (斗拱) and the little panels bearing images of animals to either side of the gate inscription in the center. I’m not sure what the significance of these little panels is but every fort seems to have some. Similar panels show up on either side of door lintels in temples or what were wealthier homes, often as ornamental pillar-caps.
Another good area for carving is the ornamental screens (影壁) that still sit opposite to the doors of the more sumptuous courtyard houses.
Below is the most spectacular example I’ve come across of this yet, from an abandoned courtyard in the back of some crumbling village.
Detail of the lower panel of the screen, from the left:
Here’s the rest. I’ll keep adding to these as more come in, so check back.